It was one of the most coveted invitations to a New Year’s Eve Party on December 31, 1853. Only a few (20+) guests received the hand made invites. All were “celebrity” scientists of the day. Why such a small, intimate affair? Space was limited because the wild Victorian New Year’s Eve Party was hosted in the belly of a dinosaur. Only so many could fit.
The invitation read: “Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of (guest’s name) at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday Evening December the 31st at five o’ clock 1853. An answer will oblige.”
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs were a series of 33 life-sized sculptures of prehistoric mammals for Crystal Palace Park. They were to be placed in a geological time trail and lead mine. The park was created when the Crystal Palace was moved from the site of The Great Exhibition of 1851 to its new “permanent” location.
Renowned Victorian animal artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins created the sculptures under the direction of Sir Richard Owen with the most advanced scientific knowledge of the time.
Professor Owen marveled at the remains being uncovered at the time in southern England. He called them “terrible lizards.” He categorized a number of distinctive features shared by them and assigned them their own taxonomic group. He called it “Dinosauria.”
These first sculptures of dinosaurs ever created even predated On The Origin Of The Species by Charles Darwin by six years.
Publications played with the outlandish Victorian New Year’s Eve Party for days. The headline in Punch magazine read “Fun In A Fossil.”
On January 7, 1854, the Illustrated London News published the famous drawing by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. It is now preserved at Drexel University in the Academy of Natural Sciences.
The drawing depicts a group of men in formal attire sitting around a large banquet table. The table sits inside the mould of the 30-ton, 30-foot long Iguanodon, which is covered by a large tent that’s lit by an enormous chandelier. Stairs to a stage surrounding the Iguanodon allow guests and waiters access.
Four plaques in the drawing honor famous guests. They were paleontologists: William Buckland (megalosaurus); Georges Cuvier (Pterodactyle, Megatherium and more); Gideon Mantell (Iguanodon, Hyaeolosaurus) and Richard owen. Much was made out of the fact that Owen was seated where the Iguanodon’s brain would be located.
The press said the Victorian New Year’s Eve Party got a bit out of hand. The banquet went on until well after midnight. According to Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (FCPD), the eight-course dinner was a spectacular affair.
Maybe you will get some ideas from the menu for your own Victorian New Year’s Eve Party.
Soups: Mock Turtle, Julien, Hare
Fish: Cod and Oyster Sauce, Fillets of Whiting, Turbot à l’Hollandaise
Removes: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce
Entrées: Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix, Mayonnaise de filets de Sole
Game: Pheasants, Woodcocks, Snipes
Sweets: Macedoine Jelly, Orange Jelly, Bavaroise, Charlotte Russe, French Pastry, Nougat à la Chantilly, Buisson de Meringue aux [Confiture ?]
Dessert: Grapes, Apples, Pears, Almonds and Raisins, French Plums, Pines, Filberts, Walnuts &c, &c
Wines: Sherry, Madeira, Port, Moselle, Claret
Twenty-nine of the original sculptures still exist. Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs offer detailed information on the Hawkins’ great sculptures and how you can see them today.
Wishing you a year filled with fabulous friends and famous parties.
Racing Nellie Bly
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