There’s a Tiger in the Town… II

And you might have been wondering what happened to the tiger cub with which we began before going off on an tangent into mid-19th century arrangements over organising India’s armed forces.  Read on….

~~~~ Plassey was by then almost fully grown. From the time of his adoption he had been put in the care of a soldier with a natural love for, and understanding of animals. Plassey was well brought up. He was gentle, biddable and affectionate. In India he had been led by his keeper around barracks and bazaars on a leading rein. Passing soldiers greeted him with friendly pats on the back, tickles behind the ears and strokings of his coat. He and his keeper marched in front of the band on ceremonial parades, and he was brought around the table to be petted at guest nights on the officers’ mess. He had been accepted into regimental society in the same manner and spirit as would have been a big, cheerful dog of unusual configuration. It occurred to nobody that what seemed normal in Lucknow might look different in a small coastal town in Kent.

The shopkeepers were the first to complain. They could think of few more powerful ways of discouraging shoppers, they said, than for them to be suddenly confronted by a large Bengal tiger padding down the High Street on a dog lead held by an unarmed soldier. The shopkeepers sent a delegation to Colonel Raikes to discuss their reservations. They didn’t make much progress. Plassey, the colonel explained patiently, might look alarming to the uninitiated, but he was as peaceful as a lamb. He was in the control of a responsible, reliable and experienced handler. The people of Dover would soon get used to Plassey, an affable and unaggressive tiger who wouldn’t harm a fly.

The shopkeepers left, unconvinced and defeated. Plassey continued to be taken on his daily walk around the town. An increasing number of the residents of Dover took to shopping in Folkestone. As trade fell off, and nervous collapses burgeoned, opposition to Plassey strengthened. Action was demanded of the mayor. His interview with Colonel Raikes was as sterile as that of the shopkeepers had been. The colonel was courteous but adamant: Plassey was harmless and had always been harmless. All that the citizens of Dover had to do was to show a little adaptability.

The colonel did, however, make one concession towards municipal opinion. If Plassey, against all precedent, showed the least sign of becoming a danger to human life then Plassey would go. The mayor left, wondering bitterly what the colonel’s definition of a threat to human life was.

Plassey threatened human life a few days later. He had been fed, bedded in his cage and stroked to sleep by his keeper. The keeper then went out on the town and got riotously drunk. An attempt by the sergeant of the guard to confine him when he returned noisily to the gate led to the scuffle, the disengagement of the keeper and a chase within the barracks led by the sergeant and with two of the guard in tow. It all seemed pretty pointless to the sergeant. The keeper was simply adding to the charges against himself by trying to evade capture in a walled enclosure from which the only way out was one gate. Beside the gate was the guardroom.

Much of the same line of thought passed through the mind of the keeper, until he had an idea. He sprinted for Plassey’s cage, jumped in, lay down beside Plassey and immediately fell asleep. Plassey awoke briefly, and put a protective foreleg on his friend’s shoulder.  Then Plassey went back to sleep too. It was when the pursuit party reached the cage that Plassey lost his temper.

The sergeant, who was as well-disposed towards Plassey as was everyone in the battalion, had never seen him like this before. Plassey made it snarlingly clear, with an extensive exposure of claw to reinforce the message, that any attempt to disturb the rest of his friend the keeper would provoke instant mayhem.

The sergeant withdrew. The keeper had a good night’s sleep. So did Plassey.

On the following morning the keeper fondled Plassey and then, rather sheepishly, gave himself up.

On the day after that the keeper was sentenced to twenty-eight days’ detention, Plassey was donated to the Zoological Gardens, and the mayor, shopkeepers and citizens of Dover cheered up for the first time in weeks.

Plassey lived on in the zoo for seven years. When he died his head was mounted and was presented to the officers’ mess.

There had by then been another of the army’s periodical reorganizations, and the Madras Fusiliers had amalgamated with another regiment to form the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Plassey’s head looked down from various walls upon the revels, joys and sorrows of this itinerant home, in which as a young, live tiger Plassey had been welcomed on guest nights, until the regiment was disbanded after the setting up of the Irish Free State in 1922.

Nobody seems to know what happened to Plassey’s mounted head after that.

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