The walrus at the Horniman Museum has not moved from his artificial ice floe for more than 100 years, but this week he is leaving his long-time home and making a trip to the Kent coast for the summer.
Getting the walrus packed up and ready to go has been a sizeable operation, involving a team of about 20 people. First of all, he was cleaned last week by a specialist taxidermist. This happens annually, but he’s had an extra-special brush down this year as it is the first time he has been removed from his artificial ice floe for so long.
He has also had an X-ray, to find out what exactly is inside him. He weighs in at about a tonne, and measures roughly 2 metres long. Due to his size and weight, scaffolding had to be built within the natural history room at the Horniman to hoist him out. He was then wrapped up tight to prevent him being damaged on the journey.
The walrus is something of a unique character. He was acquired by Frederick Horniman in the 1890s from a hunter who exhibited the specimen in South Kensington.
Jo Hatton is the keeper of natural history at the Horniman Museum. She says that, at the time, it was all the rage to bring exotic and interesting animals from around the world back to Britain to be displayed in museums. Frederick Horniman, Victorian tea trader and philanthropist, wanted to show off the world to the people of London.
As an exotic animal, there may have been few accurate pictorial documents of a walrus in the late Victorian period. It is thought that the taxidermist did not really know what one looked like, which is why the Horniman’s specimen has been over-stuffed.
Hatton explained that the walrus is something of a mascot for the museum, and that visitors hold him dear to their hearts.
“People do come back and see him over and over again,” Hatton said, “And people remember him and reminisce about him quite fondly.”
The Horniman have kept a blog of the progress of moving their walrus, with sketches to explain the logistics.
The natural history exhibit at the museum will re-open on Thursday, and there will be a replacement sculpture to fill the empty space.
The walrus will return in September, well-rested.