# 10829

DAVIES, William (photographer); [SYME, Ebenezer & David (engravers), attributed]

[CIRCUS HISTORY] The Hairless Horse, Caoutchouc

$450.00 AUD

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[Circa 1872]. Albumen print photograph of an engraving, carte de visite format, 63 x 103 mm (mount); verso with imprint of ‘Davies, Photo. Bourke St., Melbourne’, and printed text headed ‘The Hairless Horse, Caoutchouc’; the albumen print is in excellent condition, with a small surface mark at lower right edge; the mount is clean.

We have not been able to trace another example of this carte de visite in Australian collections. A wood engraving similar to the present image, by Ebenezer and David Syme of Melbourne, dated July 16, 1872, is held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria.

This carte reflects popular taste of the period, with its fascination for freaks of nature displayed as curiosities in sideshows or circuses. The horse’s name, Caoutchouc, deriving from the Tupi (an indigenous language of Brazil) word for “rubber”, was intended to describe the appearance and feel of the horse’s coat. The horse was reputedly captured as a wild brumby near the Balonne River in southeast Queensland, and was subsequently exhibited in New South Wales and Victoria in 1871-72. The printed text on the back of the carte states: ‘He has been declared by the savants of New South Wales and Victoria to be the most remarkable deviation of nature from her conventional groove that ever came before their observation. The skin is entirely devoid of one single hair, and in colour is a beautiful glossy black, giving him the appearance of being cast from indiarubber – hence his name – Caoutchouc.’

An entry in the Auckland Daily Southern Cross of November 28, 1873, advertises Caoutchouc’s arrival and presentation there, and also gives a brief history of the horse. The article states that the entrepreneur owner of the horse will not sell him – not even for 1500 pounds – and that the horse is now bound for San Francisco, to be taken thence across the United States and ultimately to the United Kingdom. The British Library holds a poster which advertises an appearance of Caoutchouc at the Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, London (tentatively dated 1885 but most likely 1875), bearing an image of the horse and the caption ‘The marvellous equine phenomenon, Caoutchouc or hairless horse. Just imported from Queensland, Australia, and never before Exhibited in England, is on view daily. Admission threepence.’