Local History

‘The Real Unicorn’: Rhino died in Redhill during 18th century tour of country


The A60 Mansfield road is one of the oldest in the country.

Before it became a road it was an animal migration track through the thick Sherwood Forest that covered the local area.

Animals of all types and sizes used this road, some common and some not so common – but none as strange as the animal that was travelling along the road through Redhill on March 13, 1754. The animal in question was in fact a female Indian rhinoceros, a unique animal, as it was the only one of its species in Great Britain at the time.

‘The Real Unicorn’, as it was called, had arrived in the UK onboard the Shaftsbury under Captain Bookay, who had sailed from Calcutta.

The ship arrived in Britain on October 1, 1737.

A male and female rhinoceros had originally been shipped but the male died during the voyage from India.

By the beginning of the 18th century exotic animals had become all the rage and were toured around the country. They were exhibited at inns, houses, fairs, wakes, parades, circuses and other events.

The ‘Unicorn’ and its strange and unique character is recorded in adverts and reports at the time. This animal was quoted as ‘being 5′( 1.54mts ) high and 12′ 2″ ( 3.7m ) in length’ and ‘weighed over 80cwt (about 40,654kg)’.

PICTURED: Mansfield Road in Redhill in 1925

Moving a creature of this size in the 18th century must have been a major logistics problem with the limited transport and bad roads.

It was first known to be exhibited in London in 1740-41; it was then moved to Derby in 1742 where the Derby Mercury announced that it would be on display at the White Hart on Iron Gate in the city centre on January 6 that year. From Derby it moved on to Burton-on-Trent and then Lichfield before returning to Derby in the December of 1742.

The animal was toured over the whole kingdom over the next few years. It was in Norwich in 1744, up to Edinburgh in 1747 and down to Nottingham in March 1749. Finally being taken back to  London where it was exhibited at several Inns by the end of 1751 – a much travelled creature.

The rhino tour was covered in the Derby Mercury

The rhino would have been transported in a wheeled cage drawn by eight horses.

The owner of this Rhino by 1754 was a Mrs Parsons who early in that year sold the animal to Christopher Pinchbeck.

Pinchbeck was a clockmaker and mechanical toy maker who’s father invented the fake gold Pinchbeck, which was named after him.

Christopher toured around the country exhibiting and selling his clocks and models.

He had decided to buy this unique animal to draw people to his own exhibitions.

Unfortunately for him, while they were travelling up the Mansfield Road – the now A60– the animal died just as the wagons reached the steep hill at Redhill.

We don’t know what then happened to the body. Was it buried at the side of the road?

If anyone in the Redhill area finds Rhino bones in their garden, you will know who put them there.