Biography of English Naturalist and Eccentric Charles Waterton Part 3

About the English Naturalist and Eccentric Charles Waterton, his biography, history, adventures and crocodile hunter lifestyle.

CHARLES WATERTON (1782-1865). English naturalist and eccentric.

As a young man Waterton had proved that his climbing ability was truly extraordinary. On a trip to Rome, taken to relax after one of his jungle journeys, he and a friend scaled their way to the top of St. Peter's. But as though that were not enough, Waterton shinned up the lightning conductor to place his gloves at the pinnacle as a token of his prowess. The unamused papal authorities ordered the gloves removed and, good Roman Catholic that he was, Waterton quickly climbed back up again to retrieve his high-flying gloves.

Waterton's home life, as expected, was far from ordinary. Although he was wealthy, he lived a Spartan existence, sleeping on the bare floor of his room with a scooped-out block of oak for a pillow. At midnight every night he arose and went--barefoot, of course--to his private chapel for prayer. After another short stretch of bare-board sleep, he got up at 4 in the morning to start his day's labors.

His labors consisted primarily of a strange sort of taxidermy. He developed a method for hardening skin so that dead creatures would look just as they did when alive--with no stuffing. Not content with preserving the animals nature had created, however, Waterton invented some of his own--composite creatures made from the parts of various species. He confounded professors of natural history with his monsters, many of which he named after prominent Protestants. Waterton's favorite creature (dubbed "the Nondescript") looked amazingly like a human being, but it was actually a South American red howler monkey.

When he ventured away from the animal sanctuary that was Walton Hall, Waterton often appeared so shabby that he was mistaken for a tramp. As a matter of fact, he seemed to have a special fondness for tramps, often showing them extraordinary generosity. He would buy new boots for any ill-shod tramp he happened to meet, and on several occasions he gave away the boots he was wearing to some unfortunate-looking soul and returned to Walton Hall in jungle fashion--barefoot.

Waterton was married in 1829 to the granddaughter of a Guiana Indian princess. His 17-year-old bride was 30 years his junior, and after their wedding (at 4 in the morning!) she accompanied the squire of Walton Hall to Paris to study stuffed birds. She died a year after the wedding, and Waterton never remarried. The remainder of his life he devoted to the preservation of wildlife at Walton Hall and to the strange adventures that he enjoyed so thoroughly. He was never seriously ill, and he baffled friends who visited him with his climbing feats and general physical dexterity well into his old age. During his 83rd year, however, he tripped while carrying a heavy log and seriously injured himself. He died shortly after the accident.

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