The Hartlepool Monkey Trial

The football team (soccer, to us Americans) in Hartlepool, England has a very strange name. Called the Hartlepool Monkey Hangers, the origin of this moniker is as strange as the name itself.

Hartlepool, though small, was an important port on England’s North Sea coast during the Napoleonic Wars of the 1800s. Napoleon himself considered the town an important target, so it was well-guarded during that time.

farm3.static.flickr.com

On an unknown date during the war, a French ship supposedly wrecked off the coast of the town. All the ship’s crew died in the wreck; at least, all the humans did. A monkey, the sole survivor, was washed up onshore. The crew might have kept him onboard as some kind of mascot, since he was found dressed up in a special, monkey-sized replica of a French uniform.

Legend says that the locals, having never seen a monkey or a French person before, believed the monkey to be a spy. They allegedly came to this conclusion when they questioned him and he “refused” to answer. So, the Hartlepool authorities held a trial for the poor animal right on the beach where he had appeared. He was then found guilty and hanged from the mast of the wrecked French ship.

Hartlepool has embraced their monkey history, but the true story might actually be darker than the legend. At the time of the alleged monkey-hanging, the term “powder monkey” was used for the young boys who were hired to prime a ship’s cannons with gunpowder. It is possible that the sole survivor of the shipwreck was one of these powder monkeys and that the citizens of Hartlepool executed this unfortunate child. They might have done this so that they could claim salvage rights over the remains of the ship, since these rights could not be claimed over a boat that had survivors (though whether these salvage rules would have applied to an enemy ship captured in wartime is debatable).

Obviously, the murder of a helpless child would not be something anyone would want to boast about, even in those less-enlightened times. The city of Hartlepool is proud enough of the monkey legend to have named their football team and mascot after the incident. There are also monkey statues to be found all around the town. It probably would not look good to commemorate a child murder, so the townspeople might have dropped the “powder” half of the term “powder monkey” to protect their image, even though monkey murder isn’t very admirable, either.

The town loves their monkey legend so much that they even elected the monkey mascot of the football team as their mayor. The man behind the mascot pledged to provide free bananas to all local schoolchildren as his only campaign promise. He is the only mayor in the UK to ever be elected three times.

In addition to all this, there is a memorial to the unfortunate monkey that you can still visit today. It is located on the beach, on the spot where he was supposedly executed.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Weird Food of the Middle Ages

    People often like to romanticize the Middle Ages, imagining it as a time of knights and princesses, all dressed in elaborate medieval garb. Some even dream about going back in time to experience life during that time, and renaissance fairs and a popular dinner show have capitalized quite well on this obsession. But many people...

    Read More
  • Witches and Alewives: The Historical Connection

    From The Wizard of Oz to Halloween costumes, the archetypal image of a scary witch typically includes a tall, pointy hat, a cauldron, and a broom, among other accessories. But where did this popular conception arise? Many would be surprised to learn that our idea of what a witch looks like is based on the...

    Read More
  • America’s Secret Female President

    Edith Bolling Galt Wilson seemed an unlikely prospect for running one of the most powerful countries in the world. The second wife of President Woodrow Wilson was born in 1872 to a very poor family from the mountains of Virginia. Though she was given a chance to go to college, she dropped out because her...

    Read More
  • The Reality Behind the Legend of the Golden Fleece

    If you are familiar at all with Greek mythology, you have probably heard about the legend of the Golden Fleece. In this story, Jason (a Greek mythological hero) gathered a group of fellow-heroes together. This group became known as the Argonauts because their ship was named Argo, and Jason was their leader. The purpose of...

    Read More
  • Aaron Burr: Would-Be King

    Aaron Burr, one of the United States’ founding fathers and its one-time Vice President, has generally gone down in history as a bad guy because of the duel in which he killed Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. But for some reason, most people don’t know anything about another chapter in his life...

    Read More
  • Ancient Crocodile Species Identified

    A research team made up of paleontologists from Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Texas has identified a previously unknown species of prehistoric crocodile. The ancient reptile fossils were found in Arlington, Texas, a busy city located right in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. The massive crocodile, which could reach lengths of up to 20...

    Read More
  • The Murder and Lynching that Changed America

    April 26, 1913 was supposed to have been a good day for 13-year-old Mary Phagan. It was Confederate Memorial Day in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lived. She was off for the day from her job at the National Pencil Company. Her plans included stopping by work to pick up her pay and then joining family...

    Read More
  • Female Viking Warrior Grave Identified

    In the 1880s, a Viking grave was excavated in the town of Birka in Sweden. It was obviously the grave of a warrior because it was filled with grave goods signifying as much. Along with weapons, like an axe, arrows, shields, a battle knife, a spear, and a sword, two war horses were also found...

    Read More