Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) was an English Anglican Bishop of Oxford, member of the House of Lords, and also a Fellow of the Royal Society; which means he was a scientist, at least as scientists were thought of in those days. He ended his career as The Bishop of Winchester. Although he took his religion seriously, he was not above poking a little fun at it. He achieved a measure of lasting fame in 1860 when he took part in the Society’s debate about the recently published Origins of Man by Charles Darwin. In attendance was Alfred Wallace, the scientist who, independent of Darwin, had developed the idea of natural selection. Wallace and Aldous Huxley were supporting Darwin in the debate. Wilberforce asked the famous question of Huxley whether Huxley thought he was descended from a monkey on his grandmother’s or his grandfather’s side of the family.
As further evidence of his sense of humor we submit the following poem, usually attributed to him.
IF I WERE A CASSOWARY
If I were a cassowary
On the plains of Timbuctoo
I would eat a missionary,
Cassock, bands, and hymn-book too.
The poem sometimes is attributed to W.M. Thackeray. If any of our readers knows more about who wrote it, please let us know in the comments section.
Whoever wrote it had Cassowaries in the wrong place. They are native to Australia and New Guinea, not Africa. They are ratites. We’ve written about them before, in our bird sex series. (Part I, Part 2, Part 3)
Cassowary photograph is from Sydney Wildlife World.