November 19

The Hartlepool Monkey

According to legend, a monkey in a French military uniform was washed up on the shore during the Napoleonic Wars near Hartlepool, England, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Locals were said to have been baffled by the beast and, supposedly moved by ignorance of what a real Frenchman looked like, hanged the monkey as a spy. 

Some have suggested that it was a “powder-monkey” — a ship’s boy charged with carrying ammunition — that was hanged. Others claim that it was only a myth suggested by a popular song of the era:

In former times, mid war an’ strife,
The French invasion threatened life,
An’ all was armed to the knife,
The Fishermen hung the Monkey O!

The Fishermen wi’ courage high,
Seized on the Monkey for a spy,
“Hang him” says yen, says another,”He’ll die!”
They did, and they hung the Monkey O!

They tried every move to make him speak,
They tortor’d the Monkey till loud he did squeak
Says yen, “That’s French,” says another “it’s Greek”
For the Fishermen had got drunky, O!

“He’s all ower hair!” sum chap did cry,
E’en up te summic cute an’ sly
Wiv a cod’s head then they closed an eye,
Afore they hung the Monkey O!

What is undeniable is that the inhabitants of Hartlepool have warmly embraced the accusation of simiancide and adopted the incident as a part of their public identity. There are two statues to the little hominid in the town; H’Angus the Monkey is the official mascot of Hartlepool United football team and one of the men wearing the costume won election as mayor running under the name of “H’Angus” and promising free bananas for school kids. The Hartlepool Rovers rugby team’s crest is a beret-wearing monkey hanging from a gibbet.

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