Billy the Seal

Victoria Park's best known inhabitant was a seal called Billy. It is commonly believed that Billy was accidentally caught in trawler nets off the Irish coast in 1912 and brought to Cardiff to live at Victoria Park.[1][2]

Parks Committee minutes in Janurary 1914 recorded that Councillor H.M. Thompson was willing to present two seals to the Council if a suitable pond were provided. The Committee selected a site in Victoria Park between the monkey house and the jackel den, and allocated £40 in the next year's finances to cover the cost of constructing the proposed seal pond.[3] In May 1914 it was decided that a more suitable site for the seal pond would be near the existing lake in Victoria Park, and if a length of two foot diameter pipe were laid between the proposed seal pond and the lake, the latter could also be used by the seals.[4]

In January 1915 it was reported that Councillor Thompson had presented a male seal, to be housed at Victoria Park. The Committee expressed its thanks for "a most interesting addition to the Collection already at Victoria Park".[5] After this, other seals were presented to the zoo but did not survive for long, as can be seen on the page showing animals in the zoo. Official documents make no mention of providing a salt water environment for the seals so the assumption is that both the lake and seal pond contained fresh water - not the normal habitat for seals.

The Cardiff trawler company Neale & West was initially supplying fish for the seal free of charge but was unable to continue this throughout the 1914-18 war and in June 1917 the Parks Chief Officer reported that the cost of feeding the seal each week was £1-14s.[6] The Parks Committee discussion about whether the seal should remain in Victoria Park or be returned to the sea, was reported in the Western Mail under the headline "Fate of Billy the Seal" and the report stated that Billy had been presented to the public by Councillor Thompson.[7] In the event it was decided that Billy would remain but be put on "half rations".[8]

In 1920 the fishmonger E. Ashton was supplying fish for the seal free of charge.[9]

Billy died in early April 1939,[10] after which it was discovered she was female. Her skeleton is preserved at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff.[11][12]

A sculpture by David Petersen commemorating Billy the Seal was placed beside the paddling pool in Victoria Park in 1997. The sculpture is made from forged mild steel, galvanised and painted[13]. It was commissioned for the Victoria Park Centenary celebrations by the Cardiff Council, with assistance from the Cardiff Bay Arts Trust and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was officially opened on June 21st 1997 by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor M. Phillips. The opening ceremony included Frank Hennessy singing "Billy the Seal"[14][15].

Billy the Seal sculpted by David Petersen

Billy the Seal sculpted by David Petersen (photo June 2017)

Sources of Information

  1. Mary E. Gillham, A Natural History of Cardiff: exploring along the River Taff, 2002, pages 328-9
  2. South Wales Echo, Victoria Park Anniversary Special, 9th June 1997, page 3
  3. Meeting of the Parks and Open Spaces Committee 7th January 1914
  4. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 7th May 1914
  5. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 7th January 1915
  6. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 6th June 1917
  7. Western Mail 7th June 1917 page 2
  8. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 4th July 1917
  9. Meeting of the Parks Open Spaces and Burial Board Committee 21st December 1920
  10. Western Mail & South Wales News, Thursday 13th April 1939, page 5
  11. Billy the Seal to net new audience for Cardiff museum
  12. My Big Day Out - Billy the Seal
  13. Visual Arts Data Service
  14. Personal Communication (MC)
  15. The Hennessys from Wikipedia