The famous engraving of New Year’s Eve Dinner in Iguanodon, published in Illustrated London News on 07 January 1854, appeared only one week after readers of the popular weekly magazine were given a glimpse inside the studio where Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) created his spectacular sculptures. “‘The Extinct Animals’ Model-Room, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham” was published 31 December 1853 in volume 23, issue 661, page 600. The connection between the studio image and the New Year’s Eve dinner image is both direct and indirect. The indirect connection, I think, is fascinating. It’s unknown to most historians. And it might be crucial for explaining why the New Year’s Eve dinner in the Iguanodon model occurred in the first place.
Last Piece About a Royal Visit
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were enthusiastic supporters of the new Crystal Palace project at Sydenham. They visited the site both formally and informally during its development. Their formal visit 01 November 1853 was heavily reported in the London press. During this visit, the Royals toured the first completed segments of the glasshouse and its historical courts. They walked through recently planted gardens and recently completed terraces. They also visited the studio where Waterhouse Hawkins was crafting the displays that soon would animate the islands of Tidal Lake. Seeing the sculptures provoked Queen Victoria to wonder, in her diary, why such creatures became extinct.
The Royal visit was covered in The Illustrated London News with an article on 05 November 1853. Coverage continued in the following week’s issue with additional text and two engravings. One engraving was Pompeii Court, where the Royal party lunched. The second engraving showed the gardens and terraces as seen from the glasshouse. Text on 12 November described that vista. Just out of view in the distance were “the excavations for the great tidal lake where the antediluvian monsters are to be immersed.” (page 402)
“‘The Extinct Animals’ Model-Room, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham” seems to me to be a third illustration from the Royal visit on 1 November, intended to invoke a view of the studio approximately as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would have seen it firsthand. The scene makes sense in the context of the coverage on 05 November, and it would have contributed to the overall impression of on-site building and growing anticipation within the attraction.
I suspect “The Extinct Animals Model-Room” was removed late in the day from the plan for the 12 November issue. I think this likely occurred owing to another issue pushing it out. The magazine normally carried one full-page image per issue near its back page. In the 12 November issue, the one full-page piece was a page of sheet music, “The Song of the Danube,” related to events in the Russian-Turkish conflict of the moment (see “Hostilities Between Russia and Turkey,” page 398), with the magazine reporting, “War is now actually raging on the Danube and on the coast of the Black Sea…” I suspect editorial judgement was that the sheet music superseded the studio visit in topicality.
If this is true, the editors likely shelved “The Extinct Animals Model-Room” for possible use another time. I suspect that was a common occurrence in such a busy newsroom and densely packed magazine. The opportunity to resurrect that image came a month later, in mid-December, with talk in newsrooms about a New Year’s Eve dinner being planned by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. That dinner was hastily organised as a publicity event, with invitations sent noticeably late in the social calendar. Invitation cards, extravagantly drawn by Waterhouse Hawkins, were on editors’ desks before the 31 December issue went to press. Knowing there was a story in the making, I suspect, editors at The Illustrated London News revived their dormant image of the Model-Room. They used it to fill the one full-page slot of the magazine issue immediately preceding the event itself. The following week, the story of the “Dinner in the Iguanodon Model” was written and an engraving of the dining scene was made ready for publication.
Further Description in The Illustrated London News
“The Extinct Animals Model-Room” appeared as a full-page engraving (page 600). The preceding page included a short article, “The Crystal Palace at Sydenham”. This article seems to me to be tacked on as an afterthought. It does not refer to the Model-Room or the work undertaken inside. Rather, the article imagines a walk through the gardens and landscape of Crystal Palace Park. The sculptures stand in place on the islands as a completed attraction. The visit is romanticised and intellectualised. This is a view as seen from the visitor’s guidebook rather than a firsthand visit on site.
“One of these winding paths will lead to a collection, now in progress of formation, of all the hardy trees and shrubs worth culture in this country, arranged according to the Jussicuian, or Natural System of Botany, and to a pool of about six acres, which will receive, by open and secret channels, the waters of the larger basins. On this tidal pool, at a convenient distance from the spectators, islands of irregular shapes will be placed, and covered with luxuriant vegetation. On one of these islands will be placed, in natural attitudes, and amid appropriate vegetation, animals of the secondary, and others of the tertiary period’ while opposite to each will be full-proportioned representations of the strata in which the remains of these vast beasts were formed. To add to the illusion, the waters of the pool will rise and fall, partially submerging the amphibious inmates from three feet to eight feet alternately, during the playing of the great waters, after the mannner [sic] of the actual tide. Thus, then we shall see, pausing among the rushes, the Iguanodon, or monstrous lizard, thirty feet high, and a hundred feet from snout to tip of tail. The Megatherium or monster Sloth, will appear in the act of climbing an antediluvian tree; huge Chelonians are to bask upon its banks. The Plesiosaur, with its reptile form and bird-like neck, will wallow in the mud; while the Brobdignagian grandfather of turtles, gaping, shall frighten aldermen with ideas of retribution in its monstrous jaws.” (The Illustrated London News, 31 December 1853, page 599. Full article below.)
If, as I suspect, “The Extinct Animals Model-Room” was resurrected for use in mid-December, copy for an article supporting that image could have been assembled hastily as a more-or-less filler to set a scene for readers and to give the sculptures a purpose in the attraction.