Bear Figurine

Project details

  • Object number – 7826-JR
  • Material – Lead
  • Place of Origin – England
  • Date – 16th century to 1610
  • Context – Pit 3
  • Location – Vault
  • Category – Entertainment

At first glance, this cast lead figurine appears to be a standing rabbit with erect, elongated ears. Upon closer examination, however, it is clearly an upright bear with a collar around its neck. The casting sprue of the unfinished figurine is at the top of his head. Deposited in a soldier’s pit that was sealed in June 1610, the figurine may have come with the early colonists as a toy, a trade item, or with other lead scrap to melt for the manufacture of lead shot.

Bear baiting was a popular blood sport during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and one that she enjoyed immensely. The event took place in an arena in which the bear was chained to a post by the neck or a leg, and tormented by a dog. In another version, the bear was blinded and whipped. In 1575, Robert Laneham wrote:

“… it was a sport very pleasant to see, to see the bear, with his pink eyes, tearing after his enemies approach; the nimbleness and wayt of the dog to take his advantage and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid his assaults: if he were bitten in one place how he would pinch in another to get free; that if he were taken once, then by what shift with biting, with clawing, with roaring, with tossing and tumbling he would work and wind himself from them; and when he was loose to shake his ears twice or thrice with the blood and the slaver hanging about his physiognomy.”

Bear baiting died out in popularity in 18th century England, and it was outlawed by Parliament in 1835. In the United States, it is still legal in South Carolina.