Great ape: Toilet trained, tea-drinking gorilla lived as a boy in English village

Jane Howdle

An extraordinary story has emerged of a gorilla who drank tea, made his own bed and did the washing up in an English village in 1918.

Named John Daniel, the ape was brought back to the UK around Christmas 1917 after his parents were shot by French officers in Gabon.

John was later found for sale at London department store Derry & Toms in 1918 and bought for £300 – now £25,000 – by Major Rupert Penny, who named him.

He brought him home to the village of Uley, Gloucestershire, where his sister Alyce Cunningham looked after him, nicknaming him ‘sultan’.

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John Daniel and Alyce Cunningham (SWNS)

John was soon very much a part of village life, playing with the children, going to classes and eating roses from gardens.

He would be carted around by kids in a wheelbarrow and hang out with the local cobbler watching him repair shoes.

Raised as a boy, the lowland gorilla had his own bedroom and was potty trained. He was said to have ‘led a life of the upper classes at the end of the British Empire’.

Uley, Gloucestershire – the pretty village John Daniel called home (SWNS)

Uley Society archivist Margaret Groom has unearthed a collection of unique photos of John which have been published in her book about the history of the village.

Sadly his adoptive owners were later tricked into selling him to a circus and he moved to America where he died pining for Alyce.

But these pictures show John in his early happy days in the small rural village.

Uley Society archivist Margaret Groom (SWNS)

Margaretm a grandmother-of-three, said: “He grew up in the village with the school children. They were exceptionally fond of John Daniel.

“We have a file in the archives with all these photos in. I think they were collected by people in the village at that time.

“Until recently we had people that remembered him walking around the village with the children. He used to go into gardens and eat the roses.

“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.”

Clever boy: John Daniel was toilet trained and knew how to make his own bed (SWNS)

Local resident Kathryn Talboy’s lives in Uley and remembers her family talking about John.

She said: “Our family lived in Uley until the 1950s. I remember my great aunty, Dolly Cornford, telling me the sad story of John Daniel and her memories of him in the village.”

Miss Cunningham would take John to her London home in Sloane Street where he would attend her VIP dinner parties, drinking cups of tea.

But after three years he grew from a manageable 32lb infant to a colossal 210lb gorilla, and Miss Cunningham couldn’t look after him anymore.

She sold him to an American in 1921 for a thousand guineas believing that he would be sent to a home in Florida.

John Daniel, preparing to set sail for America (SWNS)

But she was deceived and instead he fell into the hands of Barnum and Bailey circus and was also displayed in the Ringling zoo of Madison Square Garden.

However, his health deteriorated and it was believed he was pining for Miss Cunningham. An urgent message was sent to her from the zoo which read: “John Daniel pinning and grieving for you.

John Daniel the gorilla with school children in the village (SWNS)

John Daniel the gorilla with school children in the village (SWNS)

“Can you not come at once? Needless to say we will deem it a privilege to pay all your expense, Answer at once.”

Miss Cunningham set sail immediately, but he died of pneumonia before she arrived, aged four-and-a-half years old.

His body was stuffed and given to the American Museum of Natural History for preservation. He went on display in the New York museum in 1922, where he remains today.

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