They were once an integral part of daily life. Visitors to Tudor and Stuart England called it the kingdom of the horse because of the preeminence of the horse in the “economy, social and political life, in learned and agronomic discussions and as an object of both aesthetic and utilitarian concern” writes historian Daniel Roche.
Roche writes that this now-vanished world of daily equestrian culture was utilitarian, exploitative, and also something more. “As it involved living beings, it stimulated sensibilities, establishing constant links between thought and action, horse and horseman, horses and those who domesticated them, mobilized them, loved them or rejected them.”
Indeed, horses were once so ubiquitous that they gave their name to a measure of power: horsepower, essentially the power that one horse produces. The term was coined and calculated by James Watt in the 1770s.
The measure was initially a marketing tool; he wanted to compare his steam engine to the number of draft horses it would replace.
It took a while, however, to replace the power of horses with mechanical horsepower. In the early twentieth century, forty-horse teams pulled individual combines in the wheat fields of Washington. There were issues, of course, with using horses for so much.
In 1872, Boston’s business district burned down when the fire department’s steam pumping engines couldn’t get to the fire… because the horses that pulled the engines were down with the flu.
In 1880, 15,000 dead horses were removed from New York City’s streets, to be converted into leather hides, dog meat, glue, fertilizer, furniture stuffing, candles, and soap. The waste from the city’s 200,000 living horses presented another disposal problem: an individual horse produces 15-30 pounds of manure and a quart of urine per day.
Humans now worry about replacement by machines, but horses have already experienced this and for them it may well have been a good thing. In the nineteenth century, horses were “living machines,” says historian Clay McShane, who details the increasing growth of horse use during Boston’s “Gelded Age.”
Horses were used for “freight delivery, passenger transport, food distribution, and police, fire and ambulance services.” Caring for and cleaning up after horses (or not: cities were a pestilence of horse flies) were industries unto themselves. As late as 1900, more than 11,000 Bostonians earned their living driving horses.
McShane writes that, viewed from an ecological perspective, the horse/human connection was symbiotic, two mammals sharing habitat. Yet he also notes that it was an abolitionist who founded the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1868: the terrible cruelty humans could inflict on other humans in slavery was unfettered when it came to abuse of work animals.
As recently as a century ago, horses were still everywhere, omnipresent in rural and urban areas alike. Even during WWII, write historians R. L. DiNardo and Austin Bay, horses played an enormous role in transport and European agriculture, which suffered tremendously because of their appropriation for war.
The Germans—supposedly the most mechanized military of the day—were highly dependent on horse-drawn transport. The Russian horse population has been estimated at 21 million before the war, 7.8 million after.
Since then, of course, things have changed, and “horse-power” exists only as a metaphor used to sell cars. Humans worry about replacement by machines, but horses have already experienced this and for them it may well have been a good thing.
A monjon and her baby. IMAGE CREDIT: Minden Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo.
by Becky Crew who is s a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals.
MEET THE MONJON (Petrogale burbidgei) – the smallest of all known species of rock-wallaby in in the world.
Stretching just 30 cm long and weighing around 1.3 kg, these diminutive little creatures weigh less than a Chihuahua.
Monjons are very rarely seen, with a very limited range in one of the most remote parts of Australia.
They’re only found in the coastal Kimberley region of Western Australia, and on the islands of the nearby Bonaparte Archipelago.
Scientists didn’t even know they existed until about 40 years ago, when one was found in the Kimberley’s King Leopold Ranges area.
Since then they’ve been teetering towards a ‘vulnerable’ status, and they’re so shy, it makes it very difficult for researchers to know much of anything about them.In fact, we’re not even sure what the remaining population is.
But what we do know is that, just like the other rock wallabies, these little guys are the acrobats of the marsupial world. Not only can they climb almost vertical rock faces in ways that appear to defy gravity, they’re also capable of scaling trees using their sharp claws and strong back legs.
Just imagine spotting one of these guys looking down on you from a tree branch. Their goat-like ability to bound up and around sheer cliff faces is thanks to the unusually thick and spongy pads on the bottom of their feet, which compress on the rock surfaces and maximise their grip.
And their long, flexible tails, (which in the Monjon end in a lovely little tuft), act as a counterbalance and a rudder, allowing them to change direction in mid-air.
Rock wallabies might look fragile, but they’re one of Australia’s greatest survivors.
Of all Philip Henry Gosse’s works, the most successful was The Aquarium, in which he described his observations of coastal life and — a year after establishing the first public aquarium at the London Zoo — gave his readers instructions on how to build a miniature ocean of their very own.
A saltwater aquarium, he asserted, was the perfect way to get acquainted with the peculiar creatures of the ocean without having to descend into the depths using complicated diving equipment.
He was amused by a French zoologist, Henri Milne-Edwards, who stalked around at the bottom of the Mediterranean wearing a “water-tight dress, suitable spectacles, and a breathing tube” in order to take a closer look at the submarine world.
All this was so much easier to achieve, Gosse proclaimed, in the safe environment of one’s own four walls. In his many long-winded reports about his coastal excursions, Gosse told his readers that the aquarium was the objective, but that many obstacles still had to be overcome.
One’s relation with nature required a cautious and respectful approach, for its exploration was, in Gosse’s mind, a spiritual exercise.
For Gosse, religion and natural science went hand in hand: “it brings us, in some sense, into the presence of God”, he said, “or rather it gives us cognizance of Him, and reveals to us some of his essential attributes”.
A Solid Gold toilet is to be installed at Blenheim Palace Oxfordshire.
Visitors will be able to spend an 18-carat gold penny when Maurizio Cattelan’s gold-toilet artwork is set to be installed at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, this autumn and people will be able to use it.Photograph: Jacopo Zotti (Guggenheim Museum 2016)
The 18-carat gold artwork, by Maurizio Cattelan, made headlines in the US after the Guggenheim offered it to Donald Trump instead of the Van Gogh painting he requested.
It will be plumbed into a bathroom at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, near the room in which Winston Churchill was born.
Visitors will be able to admire and use the toilet, an experience that will be new even to the Marlborough family who have enjoyed lives of luxury at Blenheim for more than 300 years.
“Despite being born with a silver spoon in my mouth I have never had a s.h.i.t on a golden toilet, so I look forward to it,” said Edward Spencer-Churchill, the current Duke of Marlborough’s half-brother and founder of the Blenheim Art Foundation.
“It will be an installed, working, usable toilet.”There will be enhanced security, Spencer-Churchill said, but whether there will be a queuing system or booked slots has yet to be decided.
And there is the question of how long people can stay in the toilet. “I’m not sure I can answer that question yet,” he added. “We’d like people to enjoy their time in there without giving them too much time, if that makes sense.”