"Trumpety-trump / Trump, trump, trump” - The “Elephant Hunt of Murten”

29 June 1866, in Murten (Morat, Canton of Fribourg), an Indian elephant brought there by the American travelling menagerie “Bell & Myers” killed his keeper, broke out of his confinement and ran amok in the little Swiss village, ending in the “Elephant Hunt of Murten”
“Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk / And said goodbye to the circus / Off she went with a trumpety-trump /Trump, trump, trump” (Ralph Butler / Peter Hart / The Toy Dolls: ” Nellie the Elephant)


The picture above was allegedly taken on the spot at Murten when the animal was killed, even though there are no entry wounds of a 6-pounder ball visible. However, this is probably one (if not the) first photographs taken of an elephant.

A circus elephant's life in 19th century travelling menageries was by no means appropriate for the species and from time to time, the mistreated animals went berserk. The Elephant of Murten accompanied the circus for 14 years and was cared for by the same keeper, a Mr Moffat, who was responsible for the show’s two pachyderms. The day before, the animals were marvelled at by the locals during market day, where they spattered the audience with water from the village fountain. The bull elephant was obviously in musht though, a periodic condition marked by the rise of reproductive hormones and accompanied by highly aggressive behaviour.

Thus, on the next morning, the bull elephant just snapped, trampled the unsuspecting Moffat to death and ran out of the municipal carriage house where they were accommodated and out into the streets of Murten, smashing everything in his way. Murten was all atwitter, children on their way to school were interned in the school house, the local council and other village dignitaries met in haste and decided to get the berserk jumbo killed. The villagers managed to drive the elephant into a close, barricaded the entrance and, since elephant guns are not that common in Swiss villages, sent for the army. A field artillery platoon arrived from Fribourg with a 6-pounder gun, the crew brought their piece into position, aimed, fired and killed the Elephant of Murten with one ball of round shot. 

A contemporary imagination of the events in Murten (Morat)


The dead animal was subsequently butchered, the meat sold on the next market day to the villagers, the remains were taxidermied and exhibited at Murten, but the costs for the curiosity went out of hand quickly and the stuffed elephant as well as its skeleton were given to the Natural History Museum of Bern. The taxidermied elephant somehow disappeared in 1940, the skeleton is still there and can be admired daily between 09.00 – 17.00.