The English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) was an avid keeper of pets. The garden of the house at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea that he shared with Algernon Swinburne, George Meredith and others contained a menagerie including, as well as ‘ordinary domestic creatures’, at least one of each of the following: deer, kangaroo, zebu, armadillo, laughing jackass, chameleon, squirrel, mole, woodchuck, marmot, white mouse, green lizard, Japanese salamander, talking parrot, raven, wood owl, Virginia owl, Chinese horned owl, jackdaw, undulated grass-parakeet, and wombat.
At one point he bought a white bull because it had ‘eyes like Jane Morris’, but had to get rid of it because it ‘kicked everything to pieces’. His friends wrote of various incidents involving the animals: typical was George Boyce’s recollection that ‘Just as we were sitting down to supper Rossetti sent for his marmot which trotted around the floor for the rest of the evening’. His favourites were the wombats (one of which ate a box of fine cigars that he had bought for his friends).
On 10 November 1869 it was recorded that ‘the wombat is dead – a funeral card has been issued by its sorrowing possessor’. The sorrowing possessor wrote:
I never reared the young wombat
To glad me with his pinhole eye
But when he was most sweet and fat
And tailless he was sure to die!
At a happier time, while awaiting delivery of a wombat, he wrote:
O how the family affections combat
Within this heart, and each hour flings a bomb at
My burning soul! Neither from owl nor from bat
Can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.