Clara's Grand TourGlynis Ridley
14 July 2005
Published by Atlantic Books
Rhinoceroses were once considered extraordinary curiosities, the ‘true unicorns’ of the world. In 1741, Clara, a young rhino captured in Assam, was transported by ship to Holland where she would begin a Grand Tour of Europe to be displayed before ordinary people and the grandest of royal courts.
A rhinoceros eats up to 70 kilos of vegetation a day – two and a half tons a month – and Clara developed an uncommon fondness for sweets, beer and tobacco. In an age before railways and modern roads, the 3-ton Clara had to travel in an enormous coach drawn by eight horses. For seventeen years she journeyed across mainland Europe and to Britain where she became a great favourite of heads of state, including Frederick the Great; she modelled for scientific portraits and etchings; and she inspired poems, songs, fashions and expensive trinkets. As Clara’s popularity threatened to decline, her owner orchestrated a series of recognisably modern publicity stunts: releasing news of Clara’s certain imminent death, there would be a massive upsurge in interest, sympathy – and bookings. Clara eventually ended her tour in London, where she died of her own sweet tooth, a victim of bread and cakes.Glynis Ridley has wrought a sparkling portrait of this wonderful animal and the fascination and adoration she commanded, in an era that saw the rhinoceros as both the object of marvel and a challenge to both fundamental philosophical and theological beliefs.