A scarce 19th Century Napoleonic era carved ivory pipe tamper / tobacco stopper in the form of the Hartlepool Monkey. The tamer featuring a carved figurine depicting the monkey in military style human clothing set to a silver base with monogram to underside. Measures approx; 9cm long. As illustrated in 300 Years Of Tobacco Stoppers - Fine Works Of Art In Miniature by A. Leslie (privately published in 2012) The Hartlepool Monkey
A story is told that during the Napoleonic wars, a French ship sank in a storm off Hartlepool with none of the crew surviving. The local fishermen, like the rest of the country, were concerned about a possible French invasion and infiltration of spies. The ship had a pet monkey as a mascot who was smartly dressed in human clothes and when found alive was assumed by the suspicious fishermen, never having seen a Frenchman or, for that matter, a monkey, to be a French spy. Not responding to their questioning, the unfortunate animal went through a form of trial, was found guilty, and hanged from the mast of a fishing boat.
A more plausible record recalls the sinking of a ship with the loss of all hands in 1772 off the village of Boddam near Peterhead. The villagers could only claim salvage of the wreck if there were no survivors so when the ship's monkey appeared alive, he had to be done away with and was duly hanged.
Research at Aberdeen University by Fiona-Jane Brown, suggests that the Boddam story travelled down the East coast, was eventually picked up by a Geordie comic singer in the mid-nineteenth century and found root in Hartlepool, where it is still commemorated to this day despite the grave reservations as to its veracity.
The clothing worn by the monkey in the stopper illustrated in Plate 76, that includes a curious mixture of tartan trews, tasseled bonnet and a Continental tail coat with a bow tie, dates not from the period of the alleged incident but to the middle of the nineteenth century, the date the story acquired notoriety. An explanation for this ensemble is that during a visit by Queen Victoria to Brittany in 1855, on her way to the Paris Exhibition, her son had worn a kilt, making highland dress and tartan fashionable locally for a brief period thereafter, from which the carver modelled his creation. This would imply that this finely carved stopper is of French origin.