Animal-lover and Inventor Jemmy Hirst
James “Jemmy” Hirst was born to a farmer family of Rawcliffe, Yorkshire. Even at school he kept a pet jackdaw and trained a hedgehog to follow him around. His parents’ hope that he would become a priest never materialised when he was thrown out of school for his pranks. Hirst was apprenticed to a tanner, fell in love with his daughter and became engaged to her.
Reputedly Hirst’s eccentricity began when his betrothed died of smallpox after he rescued her from a flooding river. At first Hirst retired to his bed and reputedly contracted “brain fever”. When he recovered he continued his habits of animal training.
He made a remarkable comeback and he earned a small fortune speculating on farm produce. This allowed him to spend the rest of his long life back in Rawcliffe as a gentleman farmer, and to be generous in the most eccentric way possible. He supposedly would blow a hunting horn to invite the poor and elderly to his house for refreshments…which were served in his favorite coffin, because where else would you serve them?
In any event, the real boon of his newfound wealth was the ability to take his love of animals to the next level. His two most frequent companions were apparently a fox and an otter, and he even kept a bear named Nicholas. This creature, unfortunately, resisted Hirst’s efforts to tame it, resulting at least once in injury to the eccentric farmer. Equally unsuccessful but significantly less painful was Hirst’s attempt to train a litter of pigs to be foxhounds, but he could never get the piglets to stop grunting, which made them spectacularly ineffective when it came time to sneak up on foxes.