Crocodile Skull and Ornaments

Found inside a crocodile!

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This crocodile skull was brought back to Sheffield by a man named Fred Webster. Don’t feel too sorry for it though: Fred came into possession of the skull when the crocodile tried to eat him!

The event took place at the Baitarani River, on the coast of Orissa in India, in the late 1870s. The event was reported in the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent Newspaper, dated 22nd January 1880. Mr Webster was said "to have literally been in the jaws of death when a bullet saved him by giving the coup de grace to his enemy. Mr Webster preserved the head as an appropriate memento of his narrow escape, and thought it might find a fitting place in the museum of his native town..."

The ornaments, including a toe ring, bangle and bracelet, have an even more horrible story: they were found in the stomach of the beast!

Mr Webster kept the skull as a memento of his near death experience. At some point in the mid 1900s, the skull came to Webster's home town and passed to an iron monger called Joseph Fordham. Fordham instructed Captain Laycock to give the skull and its associated accessories to the museum. Today, salt water crocodiles are considered quite rare in India, but can still be found near to where this one was found in Bhitarkanika National Park. This population includes the largest crocodile ever recorded.

Young person's response to this object:

How many would this crocodile have killed before it was shot?
Tom Burke

Discussion Ideas:

  • How strong do you think a crocodile’s jaws are? (Try and think of something strong to compare with)
  • See if you can find out the name that is given to the procedure (sometimes referred to as an 'art') by which dead animals are preserved?
  • What do you think the story behind the bangles found inside the crocodile might have been about?
  • Why do you think people would want to collect dead animals?
  • What other kinds of mementos might Mr Webster have collected to remind him of India?
  • What children's stories feature crocodiles?
  • See if you can find where the crocodile came from with this Google map

Document icon Learning article provided by: Museums Sheffield: Weston Park | 
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