Builds week by week into a treasury of wonderment
The Platypus has a short, thick trunk and short, powerful limbs for swimming. A full-grown male is two-feet long, a female (or Platypusse) is 19 inches. The whole surface, save for the bill and feet, is covered in a coat of velvety fur; the snout and upper jaw are developed into a structure roughly resembling the bill of a duck.
The credible, ill-educated or ‘new chum’ reader might wonder why, if all this is so, he has never seen a platypus in life. Why can he not keep one as a pet, obtain a stuffed one as a toy for his children, or go hunting for platypi and come home with the makings of a tasty ‘plate o’ pie’ at night? The answer is, of course, simple: the ‘platypus’ was one of the most elaborate hoaxes of the 18th century, a contrivance so skillful that many even in modern times still believe it to be a real animal, in the face of the blasphemous absurdity of the concept.
Sir Joseph Banks, botanist on the Endeavour and friend to Lord Sandwich, was compelled to spend large stretches at sea with no-one to talk to but Captain Cook, whose only topic of conversation was the intricacies of navigation. Banks found himself ‘so unutterably bored’, according to his diaries of August 1769, that he decided to ‘cobble together’ a practical joke animal that would ‘really put the wind up’ his fellow countrymen who, once in the southern hemisphere, he had come to regard as ‘just a bunch of flaming ratbag poms’. His expose of the affair, published in 1775 as What’s Been Did and What’s Been Hid, recounts how, after stitching together some parts of a cabin boy’s dinner – a large rat and a duck head – he decided no-one would be fooled by the result, and put the ‘specimen’ to one side. On returning to Plymouth, however, Lord Sandwich, coming on board to welcome Banks, spied the fraudulent collage and assumed it to be ‘one of the wondrous creatures you found, Jojo’. Banks, his fondness for Sandwich overwhelming, collaborated in the lie to the point of putting his hand in the unsewn end of the model and making it wave ‘hello’ to Sandwich. He would later come to regret this deception when, after dying in 1820, he quickly went to Hell.