Charles Victor Alexander Peel was the son of Charles Peel of North Rode, Cheshire. After attending Eton school he went on safari in Kenya and Uganda. He hunted in Australia, South America, China, the Malay Archipelago, the Arctic Ocean and Franz Josef Land, Assam (in north-east India), North America and Scotland.
The big game hunter
Charles Peel was very enthusiastic about natural history. ‘A love of Natural History should be taught in every school, but, as it is, the ignorance on this subject displayed by so called ‘clever’ people in this country is simply appalling.’
This enthusiasm extended to the sport of big game hunting. He defends this pastime by saying that: ‘it exercises all the faculties which go to make a man most manly. The big-game hunter must be endowed with great powers of endurance, self-denial, forbearance, and tact when dealing with the natives, and he must be able to act with great bravery, often at a moment’s notice.’
Peel wrote books about his hunting trips encouraging others to take up the sport. Yet many of the species he collected are now endangered. The methods of many 19th-century collectors were very different from modern standards. Collectors were fired by curiosity and wanted their collections to look as impressive as possible, they didn’t always give much thought to conserving natural habitats. Today RAMM certainly wouldn’t accept any animal that someone had recently killed for sport.
Charles Peel’s museum
Charles Peel was confident that big game hunting was the best lifestyle for young men in the late Victorian empire. Peel wanted to promote the outdoor life and big game hunting. So he set up a private Museum of Natural History and Anthropology in his home town of Oxford. Peel paid to have many of his ‘trophies’ shipped back to England to display in this Museum. The site of his museum was home to the Oxford Playhouse from 1923-38. The Oxford University Language Centre is now situated here.
The ‘Peel Hut’ at RAMM
When Peel moved to Devon he offered his collection to RAMM. Sir Edward Chaning Wills provided funds for preparation of the specimens, transport and RAMM accepted the collection. Chaning Wills also paid for a ‘temporary’ store known as the Peel Hut to house most of the collection. In fact the hut lasted for 60 years!
The first collection of large game arrived at RAMM in 1919, 14 more skins arrived the following year. Mrs Peel made a final deposit of mounted mammals and heads in 1932 after her husband’s death the year before.
Charles Victor Alexander Peel gained public interest in his hunting trips by writing articles for the press as well as a number of books. These included Somaliland (1899), Hunting Polar Bears, and Through the Length of Africa.
In his Popular Guide to Exhibition of Big-game Trophies he writes: ‘Big-game hunting is the hardest work in the world, but it is the attendant disappointments, the privations, the difficulties and the dangers, that make it the greatest and grandest of all sports. It is true we cannot all be big-game hunters, but it has always been a marvel and a mystery to me why so many young men, such as city clerks and shop assistants, toil away the whole of their lives indoors at fifteen shillings to thirty-five shillings a week, when, by emigrating to one of our many great colonies, they would, in all probability, earn a higher wage and, what is much more important, lead a far healthier life.’