An exhibition of stuffed animals goes on show at the Ulster Museum.

Taxidermy, the practice of stuffing and mounting animals, was popular in the late 1800s but went into decline after the Victorian era. According to the Assistant Keeper of Zoology at the Ulster Museum Marshall McKee, some of the finest taxidermy examples held by the museum were made by the Belfast firm Sheals. Established by James Sheals in 1856 the business was continued by his two sons, Alfred and Thomas. They were

Nothing peculiar other than they were just very good at their trade, they were top class taxidermists.

The Sheals were not wealthy and their work was a labour of love. When Alfred died, his funeral costs were paid for by his customers. And when Thomas died, his customers looked after his sister until she too passed away.

Among the items on show at the Ulster Museum exhibition, Marshall considers the Sheal’s work, a lammergeyer bird of prey attacking a wild cat to be the most dramatic. However it is not accurate from an ornithological perspective. The lammergeyer feeds on dead specimens and this one is attacking a live wild cat.

Taxidermist Charles Waterton, ‘the eccentric squire of Walton Hall’, caught his specimens in South America, but faced problems from a customs official in Liverpool when trying to bring them home. Marshall Recounts a tale of how Waterton used taxidermy and a red howler monkey specimen to get his own back on this particular official. 

Also on show in the Ulster Museum is Mick the Miller the famous racing greyhound, mounted and preserved by Gerrards of London and an example of a Tasmanian wolf, a marsupial now extinct, collected by Professor Theodore Flynn of Queen's University Belfast and the father of Hollywood actor Errol Flynn.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 11 July 1983. The reporter is Gary Honeyford.