Tuesday, July 03, 2007


New visitors to Dundee will perhaps be surprised to note the preponderance of penguin statuary in the city. However, if they have the foresight to read the explanation contained in this electronic diary entry, they will not be surprised and will instead be well-informed. At the time of writing, over thirty sculptures of penguins can be found around Dundee and environs. Here are some photographs showing just a few of them:

St. Mary's Tower, Nethergate

Riverside Drive

Dock Street (sculpture donated by Roy Castle)

Dundee Law, next to War Memorial
I will now tell you a little about Dundee's connection to penguins. I have decided to do so in the manner of a tourist guide book so that you all pay attention. Dundee's famous association with penguins stems from 1905 and Dundee's ultimately doomed attempt to establish a zoo. Plans for an internationally-renowned attraction in Dundee, featuring hundreds of exotic species and an area selling candyfloss, had been in place for several years. Suitable animal habitats had been constructed in Camperdown, but insufficient funding meant there was a great paucity of animals to delight the people of Dundee. The biggest draws were a tawny owl and a shrew, but both died after only a few months in captivity.

Salvation seemed at hand, however, when Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the RRS Discovery, who had recently returned from his expedition to the Antarctic, donated two valuable penguins to Dundee Zoo as a thank you to the city for building the ship that valiantly remained intact for the two years it was irretrievably trapped in ice. Thousands of Dundonians flocked to see the birds, but sadly their patronage did not save the zoo from closure. Dundee Zoo was downscaled to Camperdown Wildlife Park, which still remains today and displays only dull animals such as foxes, rabbits, and otters, and all the then-useless zoo animals were butchered and served to the homeless.

All that is, except for Gideon and Elnora, the two Dundee penguins. The public had grown so fond of them that there was outcry at the suggestion that their flesh be used to sustain the poor. Thus, to a cheering crowd, the pair were released into the Tay on 21st December 1905. Evidently, the penguins preferred Bonnie Dundee to the chill winds of the bleak Antarctic for they refused to leave Dundee's shores. There they remained for many years, rearing several penguin chicks, which similarly flourished.

Land reclamation work at Dundee's waterfront in the late 20th century displaced the small colony of penguins, but thankfully only as far as Broughty Ferry beach (still technically Dundee), where a modest penguin population still thrives to this day, each of them descendants of the original Gideon and Elnora. As the UK's only wild penguins, they are constantly monitored and highly protected. They are one of Dundee's biggest claims to fame, hence the abundance of penguin statues in the city. Here is a photograph of the birds today:

Penguin colony at Broughty Ferry Beach

And so my dearest and eagerest of readers, my latest Artistic work that I plan to hawk to tourists is one that I have entitled "Penguins". It is my intent to have this image printed onto t-shirts and sell those to people. As you will note, I have embraced all the tenets of modern design to produce a classy yet funky graphic to adorn a range of different sized tees. If you wish to buy one, it will cost you £12.99. Kindly ignore the smudges - my pen leaked.


Anonymous said...

this is absolute nonsense

kodabar said...

Absolutely brilliant. I was with you all the way.

I felt a little dubious at the bit about slaughtering zoo animals to feed the homeless, but I found myself thinking - well, things were a bit odd back then; that might have been the kind of thing they could have done. Edwardians might have done that. And not only Edwardians, but Dundonian Edwardians. Yeah, okay I can just about see them doing that sort of thing and it not even being controversial.

Scott brought Dundee some penguins. Totally believable. Even the name Elenora has some connection to Scott possibly (I really can't remember). Could the Tay estuary support penguins? Maybe. Certainly there have been whales and sharks in there.

Woah, hold on. I'm completely ignoring the fact that I lived there and sailed on that river for many years. I'm pretty sure that I'd have noticed some penguins or at least someone would have mentioned them. They can't shut up about the frigging Tay Whale (it's even got a Wikipedia page). Yeah, if Dundee ever had any penguins I'd never have heard the end of it.

But full marks for such a brilliantly executed tale. It's only because I grew up there that I even seriously doubted it (and even then it took me a while), otherwise I was completely taken in. Full marks to you, sir. And Camperdown Park totally sucks; you cant even tell if the pigeons are an exhibit.