What pet did Lord Byron keep at Cambridge University?

The famous Romantic poet and scandal-prone aristocrat Lord Byron was a great lover of animals, but his choice of pet while he was a student was more than a little unorthodox...

What pet did Lord Byron keep at Cambridge University? (public domain)

In 1805, when he became a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, the college authorities told him that pet dogs were banned. He was so annoyed by the draconian rules that he brought a tame bear instead.

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He argued that as bears weren’t specifically mentioned in their statutes the college had no legal grounds for complaint. Where he acquired the animal isn’t clear but it may have been from a travelling menagerie. Byron won the argument against the college and the bear stayed with him in his lodgings. He would walk the bear around the grounds of Trinity on a chain like a dog, and delighted in the reactions he got from passers-by.

Not finished yet, however, Byron even suggested that he would apply for the bear to join the college. He once wrote: “I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame bear. When I brought him here, they asked me what I meant to do with him, and my reply was, ‘he should sit for a fellowship’.”

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Throughout his life, Byron had many pets – some common choices but many unusual ones too. It is reported that as well as dogs and cats, he kept monkeys, a crocodile, peacocks, badgers, and several birds of prey. But the animal he loved most was a Newfoundland dog named Boatswain. His affection for the dog was so strong that when Boatswain caught rabies, Byron nursed him without any concern for his safety of being bitten. When the dog died, he commissioned a monument to Boatswain and wrote in his will that he wished to be buried next to his beloved pet.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Julian Humphrys. For more fascinating Q&A’s, pick up a copy of History Revealed.