Monday 9 December 2019

Gorilla raised as a boy had its own bedroom, did the washing up and 'liked tea and cider'

John Daniel the gorilla with schoolchildren in the village of Uley in 1917
John Daniel the gorilla with schoolchildren in the village of Uley in 1917

Maya Oppenheim

The extraordinary story of an English village’s resident gorilla that had its own bedroom, went for walks with schoolchildren and could do its own washing-up has been revealed.

The ape – called John Daniel – played with children, ate roses from gardens and even enjoyed drinking tea and cider.

Photographs of its Gloucestershire life – including being carried around by children in a wheelbarrow – have emerged in a new book.

Villagers in Uley adopted the lowland gorilla after it was captured as a baby in Gabon, where its parents were shot. Raised as a boy, John had a bedroom, was potty-trained and even knew how to make the bed.

John was found for sale at London store Derry & Toms in 1918 and bought for £300 (€354) – the equivalent of £25,000 today – by Major Rupert Penny. Maj Penny’s sister, Alyce Cunningham, brought up the gorilla at her country house in Uley.

She raised it as a human boy and John used to go for regular walks with children of  Uley Junior School.

Uley Society archivist Margaret Groom has unearthed a collection of photographs of John, which have been published in her book about the village’s history.


It tells how the gorilla’s adoptive owners were later tricked into selling him to a circus and he was moved to America, where he died.

Ms Groom, a grandmother of three, said: “Until recently we had people that remembered him walking around the village.

“The children used to push him around in a wheelbarrow. He knew which house was good for cider, and would often go to that house to draw a mug of cider.

“He was also fascinated by the village cobbler, and would watch him repairing shoes. He had his own bedroom, he could use the light switch and toilet, he made his own bed and helped with the washing up.”

Miss Cunningham would take John to her London home, where it would attend her VIP dinner parties.

However, she could no longer look after it when, after three years, it grew from a 32lb infant to a 210lb gorilla.

She sold the animal to an American in 1921 for 1,000 guineas, believing it would be sent to a home in Florida. It was instead sent to a circus.

John died of pneumonia aged four-and-a-half. The body was stuffed and given to the American Museum of Natural History, where it went on display in 1922 and where it remains today.


Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News