This is the story of Swindon’s famous crocodile. The one that lives on the top floor of Apsley House, home to Swindon’s museum and art gallery. Well – sort of. More on that later.
The words are courtesy of Sue Pycroft of Vox PR – edited only to pacify the great gods of Yoast and SEO.
A Swindon touchstone
Every museum has an iconic exhibit that is synonomous with it. An emblem if you like. The Louvre has the Mona Lisa, the Natural History Museum has its diplodocus and Swindon Museum has its croc.
But Apsley (who used to go by the name of Geraldine or Georgina??), as staff no doubt tire of explaining, isn’t, strictly speaking, a crocodile. Nor is she an alligator.
She is in fact a Gharial. She is a member of the crocodile family, but she hails from India. Gharials are one of the longest living members of the croc family. They can reach up to 20ft in length and boast 110 razor sharp teeth. These are perfect for slashing apart fish, their staple diet.
The males have a bulbous protuberance on the end of their nose which look exactly like an Indian cooking pot known as a ghara, hence the animal’s name.
Unfortunately, the Gharial is an endangered species thanks to hunting, pollution, the decline in fish stocks and deforestation around the rivers that form their natural habitat.
There are now estimated to be fewer than 250 still alive, although they are being bred in captivity in India. Fishermen hamper efforts to keep them alive in the wild by driving them away. They’re aided and abetted in that by contamination of the rivers in which the gharials once thrived.
Gharials are not known to be very mobile on land. Unlike their crocodile cousins they are unable to raise themselves up right and walk – instead they have to slide along like snakes.
It’s likely that, that’s what accounted for poor Geraldine’s demise. Someone hunted her and killed her in 1915. And she made her way to England sometime after.
The museum’s famously eclectic collector, Charles Gore, acquired her in 1935. His natural history collection had grown from a few fossils to an enormous array of animals, historical and military curios and artefacts. Gore’s collection reached the point where it formed the founding collection at Apsley House in 1930.
Charles was the first curator and it’s easy to Charles was the first curator and it’s easy to imagine his delight at adding Geraldine to his attraction. Indeed, she became the star of the show and has fascinated generations of schoolchildren ever since.
There have always been postcards of her to take home. But some rascals wanted much more of a souvenir and at some point helped themselves to a handful of her teeth. Luckily a nearby dentist stepped in to save the day with some falsies to restore that famous grin.
Read more about Charles Gore here on the Radnor Street Cemetery blog.
FREE Our croc!
Sadly Swindon museum and art gallery is under threat – and with that everything in it – including poor Apsley who is now abandoned and lonely in the museum. Poor old croc!
What you can do:
1. Sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/swindon-borough-council-save-the-swindon-museum-and-art-gallery?source_location=topic_page
2. Follow the campaign on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FreeOurCroc – #FreeOurCroc
3. Follow the SOMAG Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2854368054892584
In varying ways, Apsley House as a building, the art collection and the museum as a thing all feature in Secret Swindon, Swindon in 50 Buildings and my guide book. So it would be very nice not to have to make sad amendments to all of those publications!!! So PLEASE – get signing and get sharing!
Ref the campaign see also this article from the Museum’s association.