My Travels with Clara, the Indian Rhinoceros, by Mary Tavener Holmes

by DerdriuMarriner

My Travels with Clara by author Mary Tavener Holmes and artist Jon Cannell etch a Dutch captain’s and Indian rhinoceros’ eighteenth-century European tours.

My Travels with Clara concerns Indian rhinoceros super-stardom

My Travels with Clara acknowledges Clara (1738 - 1758), an Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) of:

• Bangladesh, Bhutan;
• India;
• Nepal;
• Pakistan.

Biographical aspects by author Mary Tavener Holmes and illustrator Jon Cannell bear imagined reminiscences of second owner, Knabenhoe sea captain Douwemout Van der Meer. Travelogues consider:

• rafting the Rhine River;
• visiting Ansbach, Augsburg, Basel, Bern, Breslau, Frankfurt-am-Main, Freiberg, Hanover, Leiden, Leipzig, London, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, Paris, Regensburg, Rome, Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Venice, Würzburg, Zurich.

They likewise detail Clara’s private audiences with:

• Augustus III (1696 – 1763) in Dresden;
• Francis I (1708 - 1765) and Maria-Theresa (1717 - 1780) in Vienna;
• Frederick II (1720 – 1785) in Kassel;
• Frederick II (1712 – 1786) in Berlin;
• Louis XV (1710 - 1774) in Versailles.




Clara's first owner, Jan Albert Sichterman (September 19, 1692-January 15, 1764), officer in the East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), gave the tyke free access to his opulent house on VOC property in paradisical city of Chinsurah:

Jan Albert Sichterman with his son Jan: 1745 oil on canvas by Philip van Dijk (January 10, 1683 – February 2, 1753)
Groninger Museum, Groningen, northeastern Netherlands
Groninger Museum, Groningen, northeastern Netherlands

My Travels with Clara describes Europeans welcoming wildlife


Clara’s story elucidates the heartwarming tale of an Assam-born, month-old orphaned calf who perfects, at the Calcutta-area estate of the first -- Dutch East India Company director Jan Albert Sichtermann -- of two owners:

  • eating from plates;
  • moving around furniture;
  • sleeping indoors.

It then finds Clara experiencing six or seven landless months by departing from Calcutta in northeastern India and disembarking at Rotterdam in northwestern Holland on July 22, 1741. The voyage generates such fun facts as Clara’s daily needs for:

  • bowl of beer;
  • 14 to 15 buckets of fresh water;
  • orange peels;
  • 60 pounds of hay;
  • skin lotions of fish oil-enriched mud against parasites, sunburns, and ticks;
  • sniffs of Douwe’s tobacco pipe;
  • 20 pounds of bread.


After rescue from snare in Assam, where her mother was killed, 1-month old Clara was welcomed into resplendent home of Jan Albert Sichterman on grounds of VOC Chinsura Trading Post overlooking Hooghly River. ~

"The Trading Post of the Dutch East India Company in Hooghly, Bengal": 1665 oil on canvas by Hendrik van Schuylenburgh (ca.1620-1689), commissioned by Pieter Sterthemius (1618-April 24, 1676) in year he became director of VOC Hooghly-Chinsura Trading Post
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: object #SK-A-4282
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: object #SK-A-4282

My Travels with Clara emphasizes eighteenth-century rhinoceros-influenced fads


We have no surviving writings by the 36-year-old Dutch East India Company sea captain on the life cycle and natural history of Clara, whose cause of death in London and place of burial remain unknown. But it is clear that Douwe’s posters of town viewings from 9:00 a.m. to noon and 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and tours of eighteenth-century cities inspired others to preserve Clara’s mature description and image as:

  • 5’7” (1.74 meters) tall, shoulder to three-toed feet;
  • 5,000 pounds;
  • 12’ (3.66 meters) long, head to rump (excluding tail).

Posterity indeed judges as accurate:

  • depictions in bronze, marble, and porcelain;
  • models as statues and teapots and on clocks;
  • portraits in beaded textiles and on continental coins. 


souvenir of Clara, with brief biography, sold by her second owner, Douw Moot van der Meer, for exhibitions; also included in souvenir is portrait of Douw Moot van der Meer (bottom, center):

1747 etching by Anton August Beck (August 27, 1713-March 17, 1787) and Johann Georg Schmidt (1685-September 15, 1748)
image (RP-P-OB-75.362) courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
image (RP-P-OB-75.362) courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

My Travels with Clara finds Indian rhinoceroses irreplaceable


Clara’s memory keeps getting re-honored through:

  • engravers Elias Baeck (1679 - 1747) and Jan Wandelaar (1690 – 1759);
  • miniaturists of Archduke Charles Joseph of Austria (1745 – 1761);
  • painters Pietro Longhi (1701 – 1785) and Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686 – 1755);
  • writers Denis Diderot’s (1713 - 1784) and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert’s (1717 - 1783) Encyclopédie, Oliver Goldsmith’s (1730 - 1774) History of the Earth and Animated Nature, Georges Louis Leclerc’s (1707 - 1788) Histoire Naturelle, and Samuel Richardson’s (1689 - 1761) Clarissa.

It leaves posterity happier impressions than Europe’s acclaimed but nameless seven rhinoceros super-stars of:

  • Lisbon, 1515, 1579 – 1583;
  • London, 1684 – 1686, 1739, 1790 – 1792, 1799;
  • Versailles, 1790 – 1813.

Clara’s story indeed memorializes the world’s longest surviving rhinoceros in captivity. 


Clara in Venice, where she arrived in January 1751: Spectators in carnival costumes are bedazzled by Clara while showman holds whip and Clara's horn, removed or rubbed off in 1750 in Rome ~

"Exhibition of a rhinoceros at Venice": ca. 1751 oil on canvas by Venetian genre painter Pietro Longhi (November 15, 1701 – May 8, 1785)
National Portrait Gallery, London, England
National Portrait Gallery, London, England



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Clara in Paris

"Clara the rhinoceros in Paris in 1749": 1749 oil on canvas by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (March 17, 1686–April 30, 1755)
Staatliches Museum Schwerin (State Museum Schwerin), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, northeastern Germany
Staatliches Museum Schwerin (State Museum Schwerin), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, northeastern Germany

Sources Consulted


Carson, Mary Kay. 2007. Emi and the Rhino Scientist. With photographs by Tom Uhlman. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company’s Scientists in the Field series.

“Clara: A Brief Biography.” The J. Paul Getty Trust > News > Press > Oudry’s Painted Menagerie. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @

Crossland, Pamela. 2006. “Clara’s Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe.” Curled Up with a Good Book. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @

Holmes, Mary Tavener. 2007. My Travels with Clara. Illustrated by Jon Cannell. Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A.: J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles Getty Publications.

Lahiri, Oeendrila (Dr.). 2014. The Dutch Histories of Chinsurah. New Delhi, India: Aishwarya Tipnis Architects.

Available via Issuu, Inc. @

Morton, Mary G., and Colin Bailey. 2007. Oudry's Painted Menagerie: Portraits of Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Los Angeles CA: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Pollak, Lisa. 24 April 2005. “Clara, the Traveling Rhino, Belied Species’ ‘Brutal Beast’ Image.” The Baltimore Sun > Entertainment. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @

Rookmaaker, L.C. 1973. "Captive Rhinoceroses in Europe from 1500 until 1810." Bijdragen tot de Dierkunde, Vol. 43, No. 1 (1973): 39-63.

  • Available via UvA-DARE (Digital Academic Repository of the University of Amsterdam) @

Simpson, Samantha. 9 Jun 2007. “Clara the Rhino.” Monkey Fur: Samantha Simpson’s Art Blog. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @

Sullivan, Liam. 25 October 2007. “Book Review: Clara’s Grand Tour by Glynis Ridley.” Panorama of the Mountains: Liam Sullivan's Ideas and Reflections. Blog at The Spring Loaded Theme. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @

Weinberger, Eliot. 2007. “The Rhinoceros.” Rhino Resource Center. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @

Wonfor, Sam. 3 August 2004. “On Horns of a Story.” SOS Rhino > News. Powered by Equitek Incorporated. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ 


Clara in Venice

ca. 1751 oil on canvas by Circle of Pietro Longhi (November 15, 1701 – May 8, 1785)
Banca Intesa Collection, Vicenza
Banca Intesa Collection, Vicenza
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

My Travels With Clara Hardcover by Mary Tavener Holmes illustrations by Jon Cannell ~ Available now via Amazon

A life-size portrait of Clara is massive centerpiece of Getty Museum’s 2007 exhibition Oudry’s Painted Menagerie. In her honor, the Getty produced My Travels with Clara, a picture book of true story of 5,000-pound animal and her Dutch sea captain owner.
My Travels With Clara

Oudry's Painted Menagerie: Portraits of Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Europe by Mary Morton and Colin Bailey ~ Available now via Amazon

published to coincide with exhibition at J. Paul Getty Museum from May 1 to September 2, 2007; first publication to focus on series of life-size portraits painted by 18th-century artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry *includes portrait of Clara (also shown on cover)
Clara stories

Clara~ Available as Art Print ~ Available now via AllPosters

portrait of Clara depicted for Encyclopédie, produced by prominent French Enlightenment encyclopedists Denis Diderot and Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert
Diderot Rhino

14k Gold Rhinoceros Charm for Charm Bracelet by The Magic Zoo ~ Available now via Amazon

Unique 14K gold jewelry design made in America by Magic Zoo Artist Merry Rosenfield, who notes: "I created this piece with respect and the hope that the wild rhino will continue to roam it's habitat for as long as the earth turns on it's axis."
rhino-themed jewelry

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/17/2015, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 08/13/2015

Mira, Evidently there have been efforts at captive breeding, which just have not been successful other than those regarding the northern white rhinoceros in the Czech Republic. Of the black, Indian, Javan, northern and southern white, and Sumatran rhinoceros species, only the southern white species is a bit further away from endangerment and extinction.
My article on the northern white rhinoceros Nabiré's recent tragic death references the zoo's log of attempts, most of which succeeded.
It's a very charming book, whose succinct but enjoyable and informative text and wonderful art make Clara's story come to life.

Mira on 08/13/2015

I had no idea that rhinoceros were that rare. Why didn't zoologists try to breed them more in captivity?
Nice story about Clara, and great to have a book about her adventures!

DerdriuMarriner on 08/13/2015

CruiseReady, Clara evidently had her sea legs and land wits about her since she impressed both of her owners and apparently every person she met in India and Europe.

CruiseReady on 08/13/2015

What a cool book for a kid - or anyone -to love. The part about her living on a chip for eight months really set my imagination running!

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