An Early 20thC Mounted Taxidermy Giant Tortoise Head; Dated to 1909 Ascension Island


Origin: Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1909
Shield Height: 14.5 inches
Shield Width: 11 inches
Depth (with Head): 11.5 inches

Presenting Colonel Merrill the giant tortoise, preserved and mounted in the Edwardian era upon a mahogany shield.

Colonel Merrill was a giant of a creature at 280 kg and a giant of a personality. The volcanic island, Ascension Island, was garrisoned by the British Admiralty from 22 October 1815 to 1922 and Merrill was the Colonel of the home guard that safeguarded the sandy shores from the threat of invasion with the British garrisoning the island as a precaution after imprisoning Napoleon I on Saint Helena to the southeast.

In one particularly hairy moment Colonel Merrill helped a distraught pilot land from the ground by radio, telling him to first level the aircraft, correct the pitch and bank and maintain a safe speed. Without Colonel Merrill’s intervention the pilot, and the precious rations that his plane contained, would not have survived. Merrill died in 1909 due to natural causes, living to the grand age of one hundred and forty one, and earned every military honour that the Island was able to bestow upon him.

The highest of these honours was to appear on both the flag and coat of arms of Ascension Island and his head was then preserved by order of the state, mounted on this mahogany shield by the Ascension Island Government, with a small metal shield cartouche beneath stamped `Ascension 1909` to remind us of his many feats and acts of courage.

Asked of Merills’ last words on his deathbed, his only daughter motioned: “He thought dying was a very dull and dreary affair and his advice was to have nothing whatsoever to do with it".