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The Hartlepool Monkey: Why a Monkey Was Put on a Trial and Hanged in the 1800s

The legend of the hartlepool monkey has endured over the years. But did the Hartlepool residents really hang a monkey or is the tale quite darker
The legend of the hartlepool monkey has endured over the years. But did the Hartlepool residents really hang a monkey or is the tale quite darker
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The Hartlepool Monkey has two versions. One is of human ignorance and the hanging of a monkey. The other one is a deeply disturbing history.

Picture this: a stormy day during the Napoleonic Wars, the winds howling and the waves crashing against the coast of dear old Hartlepool, a quaint fishing village nestled on England’s northeastern shores.

Now, amidst the chaos of nature’s fury, fate played a peculiar hand. A French ship, caught in the tempest’s embrace, met its untimely demise, leaving a single survivor stranded on the sandy shores—a most unexpected castaway!

For you see, this sole survivor was no battle-hardened soldier or savvy seafarer. No, it was a most unusual creature—an exotic monkey, the ship’s loyal and lovable mascot, who found itself marooned in a land it had never laid eyes on before.

As word spread through the village like wildfire, the locals were baffled by the sight before them. A monkey! Never had they encountered such a curious creature, and certainly not one donning the attire of their continental rivals.

All the artworks depict the hanging place as this beach

All the artworks depict the hanging place as this beach

Here’s where the tale takes a comedic twist: the good folk of Hartlepool, bless their hearts, lacked any prior exposure to the French language or its peculiar nuances. And so, when the monkey began to chatter in its own playful tongue, the villagers mistook its lively banter for the covert language of espionage!

Yes, that’s right — a monkey suspected of being a French spy! The notion, though preposterous, tickled the villagers’ imaginations and ignited a frenzy of curious speculation.

In a trial that could rival the most eccentric of court dramas, the townspeople, with a combination of earnestness and humor, “convicted” the innocent monkey of its supposed espionage endeavors. And, in a display of theatrical justice, they decided to hang the poor creature on the beach.

Let me assure you, dear Morbidders, that the hanging remains shrouded in whimsy and mystery. Some say it’s just a playful legend, a fable spun from the threads of time. Others insist that it is one of history’s most peculiar true stories.

Why are the Townsfolk of Hartlepool Called the Monkey Hangers?

Oh, what an uproarious twist of fate the townsfolk of Hartlepool endured! Branded as the “monkey hangers” in jest, they turned the tables on mockery. They embraced it as a badge of honor, transforming it into a delightfully mischievous chapter in Hartlepool’s illustrious history.

Indeed, this peculiar tale, which has tickled the fancy of creative minds across generations, inspired a play that left audiences in stitches. But oh, that’s not all! This whimsical escapade has taken on a life of its own, weaving its mischievous charm into books, songs, and even a daring graphic novel!

And hold on to your hats, for here comes the cherry on top of this amusing sundae: the town’s very own football club’s mascot, none other than the cheeky H’angus, whose true identity answers to the name Stuart Drummond.

The story of the monkey has been told in songs, books and postcards

The story of the monkey has been told in songs, books and postcards

A figure of unyielding merriment, H’angus, with his monkey persona, did the unimaginable not once, not twice, but thrice—he climbed the slippery rungs of politics to claim the title of Hartlepool’s mayor!

Oh, the mirthful wonders of life’s unfolding script! From a legendary moniker to books, melodies, and captivating illustrations, this saga of the “monkey hangers” shall forever stand as a testament to the uproarious spirit of Hartlepool’s denizens.

But did the infamous hanging truly take place?

In this intriguing dance of contrasting perspectives, Mr. Drummond firmly believes that the bizarre tale must carry a seed of truth. For such an outlandish yarn to be concocted from thin air seems an implausible feat indeed. He reasons that while naysayers may persist, the lack of living witnesses from that bygone era makes it a challenge to confirm or debunk the story’s authenticity definitively.

Yet, in the realm of historical scrutiny, Keith Gregson emerges as a voice of skepticism. A seasoned author, historian, and retired educator hailing from Hartlepool, he maintains no evidence supporting the notion that the town’s populace ever partook in the hanging of a monkey.

A man of facts and scholarly inquiry, he bravely questions the validity of the tale that has enshrouded his beloved town for years.

The peculiar genesis of this enigmatic legend traces back to the whimsical mind of Victorian entertainer Edward “Ned” Corvan, a wandering performer who delighted in satirizing every town he graced with his presence.

Hartlepool’s turn arrived, and in his jestful brilliance, Corvan crafted a song that humorously intertwined a monkey and espionage. It goes as follows:

“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!”

Curiously enough, certain phrases he employed, such as “hairy French spy” and “Napoleon’s uncle,” bore striking similarities to another melodic creation from the neighboring Newcastle—a ballad known as The Baboon, which told the tale of a baboon’s visit to Tyneside alongside Cossack soldiers, a purportedly true anecdote from around 1825.

Touring performer Edward Ned Corvan is credited with the first recorded mention of the hanging story

Touring performer Edward Ned Corvan is credited with the first recorded mention of the hanging story. Credits: BBC

Indeed, as the vibrant new industrial town of West Hartlepool blossomed alongside the traditional fishing haven of Old Hartlepool, the townspeople reveled in this comical narrative that seemingly highlighted the perceived disparities between the two communities.

With a cheeky wink and a dash of jest, the denizens of the burgeoning town might have playfully embraced the notion that their counterparts in the old port were somewhat intellectually “distinct,” making them the ideal candidates for such a quirky escapade as hanging a monkey!

Yet, as the wheels of time turned, the boundaries of geography and perception softened, uniting the towns into a single cohesive entity. In this harmonious amalgamation, the story transcended its initial local confines, transforming into an endearing tale beloved by all of Hartlepool.

The Disturbing Truth Behind the Hartlepool Monkey?

Amidst this twisted tale, there is another haunting possibility, a shadowy facet of the tale that lies shrouded in the mists of history. Indeed, within the enigmatic folds of the past, there exists the haunting notion that the creature hanged might not have been a playful primate at all but, instead, a small boy known as a ‘powder monkey.’

In those tumultuous times, warships sailed the tempestuous seas, their cannons roaring with the ferocity of war. Among the crew, young boys, hardly more than children, would serve as ‘powder monkeys,’ entrusted with the perilous task of priming the canons with gunpowder. The solemn weight of responsibility masked their innocent faces; they traversed the treacherous decks, vulnerable yet determined.

The monkey's legacy can still be felt in Hartlepool

The monkey’s legacy can still be felt in Hartlepool

Within this narrative of maritime conflict, whispers linger, hinting at a tale that may be darker than whimsical folklore would suggest. Could it be that the tragic hanging was not an act of comedic misunderstanding but rather a somber reflection of the harsh realities endured by those caught in the throes of history’s turbulent chapters?

And so, this darker undertone lends depth and gravitas to the legend of Hartlepool, reminding us that beneath every tale lies a myriad of layers, both amusing and poignant.

In the exploration of these multifaceted narratives, we unveil the profound truths of our shared history, understanding that the past is a mosaic, with each piece contributing to the beautiful, and sometimes somber, mosaic of human existence.

So, should you find yourself wandering the enchanting streets of Hartlepool, let your heart be light with the knowledge that behind every whimsical name and every playful tale lies a treasure trove of laughter and the indomitable human spirit, willing to embrace the absurdity of life with open arms and a knowing wink.

Or it could be a town that is cursed by the spirit of a young boy who was strung up for speaking a different language during the Napoleonic Wars.

Either way here’s to the “monkey hangers” of Hartlepool!

Next, read about the Only Confirmed Deaths in Space: The Soyuz 11 Cosmonauts. Then, if you are interested in reading how humanity can survive even in the midst of war, read the time A German Fighter plane Spared a British Bomber

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Marta P.

    August 5, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    I always enjoy your interpretation of history. You are an avid storyteller and I find your articles informative and factual, to the best of your ability. I am forever looking for your next contribution.

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