How the Pre-Raphaelites Became Obsessed with the Wombat

One of the things I love about the internet is the strange combinations you can find. Who knew the Pre-Raphaelites were obsessed with wombats?


It’s a long story with lots of wonderful illustrations. Here are some highlights:

Only one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood actually visited Australia — the sculptor Thomas Woolner who, after failing to earn a proper living with his art, emigrated there to seek his fortune on the goldfields. The Pre-Raphaelites and their friends met regularly to read aloud from the letter–journals that Woolner sent home. He had no luck at all, and did not like the Australian landscape. He confided to his diary that he thought it topsy-turvy. The seasons were the wrong way around, as were the times of day. The birds, he claimed, did not sing, cherries grew with their stones on the outside of the fruit, the trees shed their bark, not their leaves, and so on. On one occasion he was shocked to encounter the fragrance of lilac because he had made his mind up that Australia was scentless, barren, “a land without fruit or vegetable”. Although wombats don’t get a specific mention in the surviving letters, it is quite possible he brought word of the exotic marsupial home with him when he moved back to England just a year later.


In the 1860s, Rossetti often took his friends to visit the wombats at the zoo, sometimes for hours on end. On one occasion Rossetti wrote to Ford Madox Brown: “Dear Brown: Lizzie and I propose to meet Georgie and Ned [the Burne-Jones] at 2 pm tomorrow at the Zoological Gardens—place of meeting, the Wombat’s Lair.” In this period a number of new wombats arrived at the Regent’s Park Zoo: a rare, hairy-nosed wombat on July 24, 1862, and two common wombats despatched from the Melbourne Zoo on March 18, 1863. Rossetti also made regular visits with his brother, William Michael, to the Acclimatisation Society in London and its counterpart in Paris, to keep an eye on the hairy-nosed wombats residing in both places. This was no passing fancy.


From the beginning, William Michael had sensed that something was wrong: “I went round to see the beast, which is the most lumpish and incapable of wombats, with an air of baby objectlessness — not much more than half-grown probably. He is much addicted to following one about the room, and nestling up against one, and nibbling one’s calves or trousers.” Top the wombat also got on well with the other animals, particularly the rabbits.

Soon, however, Top was ailing. William Michael wrote: “The wombat shows symptoms of some malady of the mange-kind, and he is attended by a dog doctor.” The next day: “Saw the wombat again at Chelsea. I much fear he shows already decided symptoms of loss of sight which effects so many wombats.” At length, on November 6, the wombat died. Rossetti had him stuffed and afterwards displayed in the front hall.

What strange combinations have you seen lately? Open thread!

61 replies
  1. 1
    MobiusKlein says:

    Some Eucalyptus trees are copious bark shedders.

  2. 2
    Mike in NC says:

    I’ve heard of some fellow who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue and wears a wombat on his head.

  3. 3
    Jay says:

    Casual racism isn’t just limited to Virginia, 1984.

    “Groups allege black visitors to Parliament Hill were called ‘dark-skinned,’ asked to leave cafeteria“

  4. 4
    Amir Khalid says:

    Saith Wikipedia: female wombats have upside-down pouches so that the joey doesn’t get covered in earth as Mum digs a burrow. Wombats also leave cubical poop. It seems a fascinating animal.

  5. 5
    germy says:

    I remember years ago when our kids were little, we were on vacation somewhere (I don’t remember where) and visited a small zoo. I saw a tiny marmoset that stayed in my mind for some reason. Our eyes met and I wanted to take (him? her?) home. Such a wise little face and soulful eyes.

  6. 6

    The obvious reason to be obsessed with wombats is their unusual feces. Who wouldn’t be obsessed with an animal that literally shits bricks?

  7. 7
    waratah says:

    I wonder where he went. He must not have stepped into the Australian bush because you can smell it immediately. I love the smell of the bush.

  8. 8
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    The “rabbit hole” aspect of the Internet is both its greatest hazard and most appealing lure. I stumbled on an odd one yesterday, whilst looking for something utterly different: Don’t ask me how, but I ended up being seduced by the fact that three rather notorious young women (Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman; Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington; and Deborah “Debo” Mitford Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire) were all born in 1920 and had intersecting lives. Further, that a trio of elegant, gracious, iconic ladies all born in 1929 (Audrey Hepburn; HSH Princess Grace of Monaco, née Grace Kelly; and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis) had lives that intersected again and again not only with each other but also with the earlier three. In the Great Scheme it’s mere coincidence, but I found the links among them absolutely compelling. Wish I were a better visual/graphic artist: it would be a knockout properly mapped.

  9. 9
    waratah says:

    Must have been sniffing the eucalyptus heavy because I have not seen a cherry with the seed outside. Might have been some native tree that might do that.

  10. 10
    Amir Khalid says:

    I know (well, I know of) just the guy for that job: journalist and rock-music historian Pete Frame.

  11. 11
    waratah says:

    Thank you Cheryl for this post.

  12. 12
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Amir Khalid: an historian of rock music? How delightful!

  13. 13
    gbbalto says:

    @Jay: Grew up in NS. Plenty of racism, I’m sorry to say (including my own, which I continue to work on).

  14. 14

    This is the sort of content I come here for! Thanks.

  15. 15
    Chris T. says:

    Darn, multiple people beat me to the unusual wombat poop mention.

  16. 16
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Oh, perfect!

  17. 17
    Brickley Paiste says:


    This, this is fantastic.

    I admire it like a polished svarovski crystal chandelier.

  18. 18
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @Chris T.:

    This, this is the essence of the internet. Smell its magnificent musk.

  19. 19
    Jay says:


    Yup, but when you have an POC MP inviting a “testimony” group to the House to discuss structural racism with the PM and other MP’s, they shouldn’t be exposed to both casual racism, ( the weak assed “complaint”) and structural racism, ( the Hill Cops kicking them out).

  20. 20
    Brickley Paiste says:

    I mean we live in a day and age when you can use your phone to summon people to drive their cars across town and pick up an order of Ban-mHi fries and present it at my front door.

    And they are one 27 minutes away.

  21. 21
    Brickley Paiste says:


    Man, I love our Canadian Cousins.

  22. 22
    Yutsano says:

    @Amir Khalid: Australia is where evolution asks reality to hold its beer, so to speak.

  23. 23
    Brickley Paiste says:

    Engravings of wombats? My god, it’s today’s cat videos.

  24. 24
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    Sorry, just got here and that last thread is a mine field. This is a very safe and comfortable conversation about… marsupials who shit little squares??? Ewwwwwww!

    OT: Hello, Ms. Rofer! I was curious if you had any thoughts about the French pulling their Ambassador to Italy after Italian Deputy PM Luigi met with a couple of ‘yellow-vests’?

    The rest of you… carry on.

  25. 25
    Brickley Paiste says:

    And, in another case, two button-willow mango bills, just appeared in the tree over the stream.

  26. 26
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @The Midnight Lurker:

    Carry on indeed we will. Those damn little marsupial retards are the only reason I get up in the morning.

  27. 27
    Brickley Paiste says:

    The russian BOT language talk simulature is on malfunction. Must recalibrate with ban-mHi garlic fries.

  28. 28
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    @Brickley Paiste: No judgement! No judgement! Whatever spins your propeller, I’m cool!

  29. 29
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @The Midnight Lurker:
    Indeed as we all are! And there are no fewer than 3 of us posting her under this same name via shared passwords that we are communicating with ourselves on a public forum.

    That prop is about to go into the DANGER ZONE!!! Duh duh, DUDUUU.

  30. 30
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    Welcome to the world of the art historian who loves the PRB! Rossetti’s fascination with wombats has enthralled me since graduate school. It is thought by art historians that Rossetti’s name for his wombat, “Top,” is a reference to William Morris, who was built like a wombat and whose nickname was “Topsy.” For a longer look at the PRB and wombats, I recommend “Rossetti’s Wombat,” by John Simons. Yes, I own this book. For a more realistic book on wombats, I recommend “The Secret Life of Wombats,” , written by a naturalist who as a student actually went into wombat burrows. It is fascinating. And yes, I also own that book.

  31. 31
    Brickley Paiste says:

    We have been hosting our friends 3 corgies this week and they are just the most delightful, really charming little dogs. Our Vislas and Weimies love them.

    Seriously thinking about getting a couple of small ones. What’s the difference between 6 dogs and 8 if you think about it. You can fit all of them into the custom kennels on your f350 flatbed that you damn well spent a mortgage on because that goddammint is how you make a living in this world.

    You get off the sofam Bharlie and you go get it.

    Calibration complete.

  32. 32
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    @Brickley Paiste: Okay, okay! Uhhhhh… I saw a kangaroo once! Does that count? (smiles unconvincingly)

  33. 33
    Brickley Paiste says:

    And, you don’t give a good goddamned if everyone in the world knows you’re the RUSSIAN BOT sent to invade a nearly (in the since of an apron is really a compression of a napron and not the other way around) to 10,000 blog with literally hundreds of readers???

  34. 34
    Brickley Paiste says:

    And there was silence across the land. The fingertips caressed the keys, again and again until “Well, there it is” was actually considered a cool saying at the time tells you a lot more about victorian era morality shape shifting than I don’t know what does.l

  35. 35
    AnneWith says:

    Wombats always remind me of Wilson “Bob” Tucker, because he wrote the intro to Gene DeWeese & Robert Coulson’s book, Charles Fort Never Mentioned Wombats, which had just been released when I attended my 1st science fiction convention where Tucker was Guest of Honor. He was a genial soul, & fairly active on the convention circuit, so I saw him a fair bit over the years. Once I ran into him on the way out of the dealer’s room, & he offered to sign my books. I told him that none of them were his, and I in fact owned more than one copy of pretty much all his books, which had already been signed by him on previous occasions. He said that he’d sign anyone’s books, so I handed them over for his autograph.

    His main tipple was Jim Beam, because it was “Smmoooooth!” Here’s a virtual glass to you, Bob.

  36. 36
    chris says:

    @gbbalto: I live in NS now. I was not at all prepared for the racism when I moved here nearly 20 years ago and it hasn’t gotten much better.

  37. 37
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @The Midnight Lurker: And then it becomes clear that the group actually posts under two names. Why not just add your name to the list there dear gentle reader. There will be a timestamp showing the world when you realized where the true light and life of your love was… it’s here, right here.

  38. 38
    Brickley Paiste says:

    So that is why I am saying to you my name is Brickley Paiste and the email is a totally fake so I expect to be seeing a lot more posts by myself hereabouts.

    With the power to create comes the power to destroy. But follow the bright path through the dark woods of doubt.

  39. 39
    Brickley Paiste says:

    Just think when you come across a screed like that there is someone who actually believes that shit is not the result of hash oil cut with too much na4.

    Signs are clear

  40. 40
    Mnemosyne says:

    I am very confused right now, but I’m avoiding the thread below like the plague. I am so sad and disappointed that I don’t even want to know the details. Ugh.

  41. 41
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    @Brickley Paiste: Uhhh… I think I hear my wife calling. What’s that, hon? Unstop the sink? I’m on it!

    Sorry guys, I’ll come back for some of that hot wombat love a little later.


  42. 42
    Brickley Paiste says:

    No need to be confused.

    You are in a safe warm space even though coolness brushes over California before settling in the great basin.

    So pour some tea, have a bit of honey maybe – and yes those scones did just come out of the oven when I walked through that door.

    And the fact that your sad and disappointed just proves what a wonderful capacity you have to heal and grow yourself and others.

  43. 43
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @Mike in NC:
    But can we return to this for a moment because i8 thing that i t aproves that there iano question that a new algorittttium is needed.

  44. 44
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @Brickley Paiste:
    The deterioration is noted. The stone faced turned to look away as a new iteration surged onward.

  45. 45
    Brickley Paiste says:

    And then you realize that that shit just got real. That the Ban mHi fries were just 14 of a full platter setup that was delivered.

    I was the one that sent that team there. I was the one responsible for making the actual blood in the dirt decisions that you have to make when you are pushing men to ignore their very basic instinct to claim your place among the brightest dots of light in the sky. Levinson, Levinson, Levin and Levin (which are pronounced differently even though they’re spelled exactly the same way.) forces to have you some realizations of what magnificant carnage follows when the identity of the poster becomes less important than the content of the post you have to get past the idea that a group dynamic thinking process does inflict real harm on some. It is a form of bullying. You see the effects as identities are split and refined and shaded instead of just arguing that silence implies some sort of consent. That is rape culture.

    And I don’t know nor give a good god damn who has the spec papers on the ceramic custom speaker enclosures that you just bought for more than you paid for your last car.

    We need to fund it and nurture it and somehow get it to realize its full potential.

  46. 46
    Brickley Paiste says:


    Get you some really quality colored pencils and pastel paper (pronounced pas-tle please) which is really just ultrafine sandpaper and who really gives a fuck if it is acid free or not because you are going to be dead in 40 years and why in the world would you ever give a fuck about something that didn’t have your last name and that’s when that shaggy little puppy with the brown patch around its eyes is running towards you across the kitchen floor and just so happy to see you again since he had forgotten that he just saw you 2 seconds ago when he turned to look at the squeaking porch door where, on the other side, stands willie that faithfully hewed to the outlines of a little to well costumed 18th century political farce featuring a man wearing blackface makeup over his blue skin which never even got near yellow so no way to know what green even be talking about.

    Shout out Spokane!

  47. 47
    Brickley Paiste says:

    Because you all really step back now because this one is coming straight outta the heart. I am feeling the silence that is louder than any possible cheer could be. And that silence is saying, we’ve hitched our evening to the tour of the cosmos you are passing out from the trunk of your 1968 Oldsmobile Custom supreme where you lost it that night you thought was a great fruit of a marriage of equal part on flek cultural commentary paired with the hottest in Walmart Fashion.

  48. 48
    J R in WV says:

    @Brickley Paiste:

    Judging from your sequential comments here, you need to seek medical help for your brain and/or mind.

  49. 49
    Brickley Paiste says:

    But, and now let me say this in all seriousness and with deep apologies to any of those offended because your volunteer and perhaps unwanted guide is just trying to show you the implications of some of your argument.

  50. 50
    Brickley Paiste says:

    @J R in WV:

    Oh, and based on where you be livin, you need to be movin.

  51. 51
    Brickley Paiste says:

    And now, here’s the thing, there’s one thing that’s sure to get a gal’s attention as she slides off her peak at 27, its that the knowledge of what was reveled to her was the real payment that she received on all of those cold [insert regionally known cold location here] nights would be just a continued demonstration that anyone who thinks ISPs and SSEINs were in any way reliable, just demonstrates that the fucking back end of the website is clomping along while the Ferrari in the front is turning in record laps at Monte Carlo.

    AGAIN, a reminder, it is all better read aloud with Gusto. Start at the top, please.

  52. 52
    opiejeanne says:

    @Yutsano: And just about everything there wants to kill you, including some of the plants.

  53. 53

    Well, that was, um, unusual.

  54. 54
    Steeplejack says:

    I was hoping for a “koo-koo-ka-choo” in there somewhere. Or maybe a backwards guitar solo (1:30). I did catch a whiff of patchouli, though.

  55. 55
    Bill Arnold says:

    Well, that was, um, unusual.

    Yes, it was. :-) I was amused by a quick-read. (See also the tail end of the previous thread.)

  56. 56
    opiejeanne says:

    @Mnemosyne: Good choice. It’s hard to read, seeing people I like getting angry with each other is disturbing. I think in the end most of the regulars will make peace even if they don’t see eye to eye. The subjects are personally disturbing.

  57. 57
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @opiejeanne: The presence of Pasty Bricks isn’t helping anything.

  58. 58
    Atticus Dogsbody says:

    @Amir Khalid: I once did a cubical poop and was immediately fired and escorted from the premises.

    On another note, I once had a Pre-Raphaelite stuffed and displayed in the sitting room. It gave Aunt Nora such a dreadful fright, bless her, that she left a cubical poop on the runner.

  59. 59
    MobiusKlein says:

    This thread is weird. My paper square must have been a blank.

  60. 60
    opiejeanne says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: You’re right..

  61. 61
    Frank McCormick says:


    You broke my Balloon Juice-Fu! I play a game with myself where I start reading an article and try to identify the author of the post. (I’m often correct.) I could of sworn that Tom Levenson wrote this one .

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