The Banquet In The Belly Of The Beast

Hawkins’ Sydenham Studio. Image from The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Steve McCarthy & Mick Gilbert, 1994.

In 1851, Richard Owen used his influence with Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, to propose the financing of the three-dimensional reconstruction of the first known dinosaurs: Megalosaurus, Iguanodon and Hylaeosaurus, for the closure of the first international exposition in modern European history: the Crystal Palace exhibition, that would be placed in Sydenham Park, south of London, instead of the original site in London’s Hyde Park. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, sculptor and natural history artist, was commissioned to make the full-size replicas of the dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles for Sydenham Park.

Invitation To Victorian New Year’s Eve In the Iguanodon.

On New Year’s Eve of 1853 a banquet was held inside the reconstruction of the Iguanodon, which had not yet been completed, and under the portraits of Cuvier, Buckland, Mantell and Owen the twenty one privileged guests to this unusual inauguration proposed a toast to the glory of the dinosaurs and Queen Victoria. The special invitation to enjoy an eight-course feast was suggested by Hawkins: “Mr Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of — at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening December the 31st at five o’clock 1853. An answer will oblige.”

The sophisticated menu included soups, fillets of Whiting, roast turkey, ham, raised pigeon pie,  mayonnaise de filets de Sole, pheasants, sweets and desserts, and a great variety of wines. Richard Owen was sat at the head of the table, while Hawkins was at the centre.

The famous banquet in Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ standing Crystal Palace Iguanodon. From Wikipedia Commons.

On January 7, 1854, the Illustrated London News reported the special dinner and published the drawing mady by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. The drawing included a small report with details of the banquet: “The arch in the head of the animal was occupied by Prof R Owen the celebrated Palaeontologist who with Prof Edward Forbes liberally aided Mr Waterhouse Hawkins with counsel and scientific criticism during the whole time occupied by his unique, arduous and successful undertaking. The wider arch at the opposite end was filled by Mr Francis Fuller the Managing Director of the Crystal Palace with Prof Edward Forbes on his right and a musical friend on his left whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening. The two sides contain nine seats each that in centre of left was occupied by Mr Hawkins as host and Chairman, was supported on his right by Mr Joseph Prestwich one of his earliest pupils & constant friend during the previous twenty five years. Mr John Gould FRS was on his left.”



A. BUCKLAND, ‘“The Poetry of Science”: Charles Dickens, Geology and Visual and Material Culture in Victorian London’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 35 (2007), 679–94 (p. 680).

Jose Luis Sanz, Starring T. rex!: Dinosaur Mythology and Popular Culture, Indiana University Press, 2002.

MacCarthy, S. (1998). Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: The Story of the World’s First Prehistoric Sculptures (London, 1994), and WJT Mitchell. The Last Dinosaur Book.

The British Newspaper Archive

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