One of the most impressive specimens on display in the Great North Museum: Hancock is the Giant Japanese Spider Crab, which is over 120 years old.
In 1877, when our museum’s famous namesake John Hancock (1808-1890) was trying to raise the funds to create a new museum in Newcastle, his great friend Captain Henry Craven St John was on his way home from sailing the seas in the Far East on the HMS Sylvia.
St John (1837-1909) had been commissioned to survey the seas around the coast of Japan and China and while engaged in his duties he collected numerous zoological specimens to send back to John Hancock in England, one of which was a specimen of the rare Japanese Spider Crab.
Some years ago the large species of spider-crab Inachus Kaempferi, was common, and constantly to be seen in the markets and fish-shops. A native generally bought part of a limb, a yard long, or more, which was quite enough food for the whole family for a couple of days. I constantly visited the markets ……. but not a vestige of the creature could I ever hear of.
What a colour the animal was! No paint could produce the crimson that in great splatches spread over a bright yellow ground. This one measured eleven feet six inches tip to tip ….. I soon set to work and disjointed my crustacean, and, washing each joint out with carbolic acid diluted in water, afterwards had the satisfaction of sending the big fellow to my old friend Mr. John Hancock, who most kindly mounted it and presented it to the Museum at Newcastle-on-Tyne where it now is.
The color [sic] of the back and legs was a mixture of the brightest vermilion and clearest gamboge –These colors [sic] could not be put on too bright — There are two legs short — the natives having made him pay toll en route to me — They could very easily be modelled — It is the 2nd. leg one side & I think the third or fourth the other – Click here to read the full account
The Monster Crab was delivered at St. Mary’s Terrace a few days ago, and I have never had time to open the Package out until this morning . . . . . It appears all right but it will be a queer job (I think) to fit it all the joints in their proper places, but it must be done . . . . . I shall endeavour to undertake the job and I intend to set to work with it immediately — Click here to read the full account
The great Crab is now put together, and is now in a large case in Our Museum. It took me about 10 days to attach the joints & finish him & place him in the case. He is of course attracting great attention numerous visitors have paid their respects to his majesty already although he has only been available to view for two or three day — Click here to read the full account
I am delighted to think the Big Crab is “on his legs” again — did you model him two for those eaten by the Japanese — This creature came from Misaki at the entrance to Yedo Gulf Japan South Coast Lat. 35.6 N. Long.’ 139.40’ E. just in this locality they are common . . . . . Click here to read the full account
I did not model the Big Crab’s legs. It was thought better not to have any artificial work about the specimen. In a Natural History point of view it is best to avoid meddling I think it decidedly to keep as a rule the specimens as they come to hand. Click here to read the full account
… I am delighted to think the crab is well on his legs …. Click here to read the full account
In 1884, the spider crab was relocated, in its case, to the gallery of the Zoology Room in the newly built Hancock Museum where it stayed – minus its legs – reminding us of the story of the hungry Japanese porters.
The Museum was transformed in 2009 and the Giant Japanese Spider Crab was given a more prominent position in the new Living Planet Gallery. Miraculously it had also re-grown the two missing legs and a claw!!!
Can you tell which of the 8 legs are fake? (its the 2nd left leg and 3rd right leg)
It is interesting to consider what John Hancock would think of the two fake legs – an improvement? or as he pointed out in his letter to St John, unnecessary ‘meddling’?
Watch a short film on ‘The Monster Crab’ produced by Chris Bradburn of Beacon Film CIC, narrated by Amy Baird – Click here.