top of page

Bison on

Wharncliffe Chase

Wharncliffe Chase, an 1831 print from an
Bison from the JP Getty museum. Theophil

A photograph by Theophilus Smith, published in "Wharncliffe, Wortley, and The Valley of the Don," page 28, published in 1864.  No author's name appears anywhere in this book, but it appears to have been written by John Holland, much of the text being taken from Holland's 1837 book "A Tour of the Don."

Image free of copyright from the John Paul Getty Museum

Deer have always run on Wharncliffe Chase, but the Earl of Wharnliffe also kept a small herd of bison there.  It isn't known when they were first introduced, but they were already established by 1864.  

The Earl had been born in 1827 and he was the eldest son of the Hon. John Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie M.P., 2nd Baron Wharncliffeand his wife Lady Georgiana Elizabeth, daughter of Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby. He was born at Harrowby, and when the news arrived at Wortley, the servants were regaled with strong ale, and drank long life to another heir to the Barony of Wharncliffe.  His full name was Edward Montagu Stuart Granville Montagu-Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie, 3rd Baron Wharncliffe. He succeeded his father in the barony in 1855 and was created Earl of Wharncliffe in 1876.


After attending Eton school he joined the army.  For five years, from 1846, he was an officer in the Grenadier Guards.  He retired as a lieutenant and spent the next five years travelling widely all over the world, often off the beaten track, and spent a lot of time hunting big game.  He twice visited North America and Canada, and on the prairies he hunted bison [not buffalo, as they are often called].  On one of these American trips he narrowly escaped "barbarous treatment" at the hands of the Sioux Indians, who were prowling for prey with tomahawk and knife [see the bottom of this page for a full account]

He probably introduced the bison after one of his trips, though whether he actually hunted them at Wharncliffe isn't known.  A report from 1868 mentioned that the bison had been running wild on the Chase but had recently been put into an enclosure, perhaps because they were rather aggressive.  One of the bulls become so savage that it became necessary to destroy it.  


The herd is mentioned in the book Wharncliffe, Wortley, and The Valley of the Don, which was published in 1864.  The author wrote that a group of bisons were reposing in a glade on the Chase.  "The bull especially is a magnificent specimen of his race; his ample mane and shaggy knickerbockers give him almost a leonine aspect.  It is worth the while of a visitor to get a sight of this noble beast, provided due caution be observed, for not only have he and his cows free range in the “wilderness,” where strangers have no right to ramble, but he is the reverse of amiable or tractable, especially at some seasons."

In February 1868, Lord Wharncliffe wrote to Frank Buckland: “I have a herd of bisons running wild till lately in Wharncliffe Chase, and now in an inclosure there.  One of these, a bull, has become so savage that I shall probably have to shoot him ere long.  The head and skin I shall want to preserve, the first for ornament in the old Lodge, the second for use.  But it has occurred to me that you might possibly care for the skeleton, either in whole or in part, and if so, and the animal has to be killed, I shall be very happy to give you what you like.  I think that Captain Damer can tell you what a magnificent bull mine is. – WHARNCLIFFE.”


Frank Buckland later wrote in the periodical "Land and Water": - “The poor bull has now suffered for his ferocity, and has been turned into beefsteaks.  The meat is grand eating, with a slight game flavour, possibly a little hard, which perhaps was my fault in having it broiled, but many degrees better than “hippocreas”* or horseflesh.  I distributed the meat sent to me in small portions to various friends; they all agree as to its excellent quality.  We should all be much pleased that Lord Wharncliffe is cultivating bisons.  They will doubtless do well in this country.  One hardly hears of a gravel pit or a new brickfield being opened up on the London basin without discoveries being made of the bones of Bos something or another, Bos longifrons, Bos primoginus [sic],** &c.  England is doubtless a Bos carrying country, and any new variety of beef will be most acceptable to the public, while the animals themselves would be highly ornamental to parks, and be a change upon the ubiquitous and old-fashioned fallow deer.  Lord Wharncliffe has, I believe, presented the skeleton of his bison to Professor Rollestone, of Oxford.


* the word hippocreas was once used as another word for horse-flesh, in an attempt to make it sound more palatable and to increase its charm with the public.  It didn't work.

** Bos longifrons were the first domesticated cattle and Bos primigenius, the aurochs, was an extinct species of large wild cattle and the ancestor of domestic cattle.  I have seen the herd referred to as Bos taurus, but this refers to the domesticated cattle we know today


Frank Buckland (1826-1880) was well known for his love of British wildlife, but he went over and above in his appreciation by eating most of it.  He challenged himself to demonstrate not only the edibility of our native wildlife, but its actual palatability.  He also tried more exotic species.  Visitors to his father’s house (he was William Buckland, an eminent geologist) could be served very strange things for dinner.  Guests reported being fed hedgehogs, puppy, crocodile, toasted field mice, snails or ostrich.  A famous tale is told of William Buckland, in which, when visiting a cathedral where there were spots of saints’ blood on the floor, and which were said to never vanish, he tested them with his tongue and reported that it was not blood but bat urine.  He tried anything and everything, and at one time wrote that he didn’t know which tasted worse – a mole or the blue-bottle fly.

Deer on Wharncliffe Chase.jpg

A herd of deer on Wharncliffe Chase.

The Sheffield Independent, 9th October 1878, published the following account of what happened when one of his Lordship's bison escaped from the Chase and went walk-about, ending up, somehow, at Attercliffe



Early yesterday morning, Police-constable Boreham, who is connected with the Attercliffe section of the force, had a singular adventure.  He was slowly walking his beat in the silent watches of the night, when he saw approaching him, in the middle of the road, an unearthly object, which almost partook of the nature of an apparition.  Black as the night by which it was surrounded, the animal had somewhat the form of a bull, but its head was much larger than that of the tame animal.  On its back was an uncomfortable-looking hump, and from its head branched out monstrous horns, which looked almost like the gigantic ivory tusks of an elephant, eccentrically disposed.  Such a vision would have struck terror into the souls of many men, but Boreham does not appear to be a man of tender nerves.  Instead of being frightened, he was interested, and advanced to meet his strange visitor.  They soon met, and the closer acquaintance seemed to be equally satisfactory and bewildering.  Neither party was disposed to violence, both were amicably inclined, and yet neither knew what to make of the other.  The official mind of the constable suggested prompt action, and the steps he took proved him to be soundly logical.  Under whatever heading of natural history his prisoner came, it was evident he could not be allowed to “wander abroad without any visible means of subsistence;” and though the constable could not “run in” his peculiar acquaintance, at all events he could make him “move on.”  This he did, and moved him on as far as the pound, where he deposited him in safe custody.  A few hours afterwards one of the Earl of Wharncliffe’s keepers called at the Sheffield Police Office with the information that one of his lordship’s buffaloes had strayed from Wharncliffe Chase.  He was told the story of the Attercliffe apparition, and the mystery was solved.  The errant buffalo was released from his temporary confinement, and is now in all probability disporting himself on his romantic and picturesque chase.


NOTE: Buffalo is incorrect; they were bison.  Buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia. Bison are found in North America and Europe.  Both bison and buffalo are in the bovidae family, but the two are not closely related.  Bison have large humps at their shoulders and bigger heads than buffalo. They also have beards, as well as thick coats which they shed in the spring and early summer.


The herd seem to have gone not long after this event.  In 1881 the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that the Earl was a great lover of bison, and he'd had several in his park, but was obliged to shoot them as they grew old and savage. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph 31 August 1881).  Dransfield says the same in his book The History of the Parish of Penistone (1906).

There were also bison at Wentworth House around the same time that there were some on Wharncliffe Chase.  Timbs & Gunn wrote in 1872 that "Wentworth House stands in the midst of spacious gardens set in the centre of a park of very great extent.  Besides sheep, cattle, and deer, a peculiar breed of huge animals of the bison tribe are allowed to range the park."

From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England  & Wales (1872) by John Timbs and Alexander Gunn, P257

It seems that the experiment with keeping bison at Wharncliffe was relatively short lived, perhaps lasting less than twenty years.  As far as I know, the photograph by Theophilus Smith of the bison on the chase is the only one in existence.


The British Newspaper Archive

Dransfield, The History of the Parish of Penistone (1906)

Wharncliffe, Wortley, and The Valley of the Don. Photographically Illustrated by Theophilus Smith (author probably John Holland) (1864) in particular page 28.

Timbs, J. & Gunn, A., Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England & Wales (1872), p257

The J. P. Getty Museum, in particular the illustration of the bison HERE.

Wharncliffe Chase, an 1831 print from an

Above: a print of Wharncliffe Chase published in 1831 from an engraving.  After Peter de Wint



As part of Lord Wharncliffe's obituary, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 15 May 1899 printed an account of his perilous hunting expedition to the United States.  For three months he and a companion, Lord Coke, and three men referred to throughout the article as “half-breeds” [part native Indian] camped on the plain.  These three men, hired hands, acted as trackers, and, with their knowledge of the native Indians and their ways, they helped to protect the two men.  The bison are referred to as buffalo throughout the article.


The men shot their first buffalo at a spot eighty miles west of the Mississippi, and their operations from this point “form a record of spicy, healthy adventure.”  Apparently, Lord Wharncliffe used to tell a tale, in his quiet, humorous manner, of how a band of Sioux stampeded the camp.  He and his companions had to leave their tents and get away from the campfire as soon as possible, in order that their enemies would not shoot them.  They were forced to lie on the prairie away from their stores, and when they returned in the morning, they discovered that their horses had disappeared.  The three hired hands tracked them to a canyon about five or six miles from the camp. 


Captain Coke had a very narrow escape from the Indians.  He had gone with Mr. Stuart Wortley onto the plains to hunt buffalo.  Wortley killed and brought the meat home, but Captain Coke, although managing to shoot one too, had no time to take it into the camp before nightfall.  He marked the bearings of the spot where the animal lay, and the next morning went out to find it.  To his surprise, he discovered three Indians busily engaged in cutting up the buffalo.  He turned his horse towards the camp at once, but in a moment the Sioux were in hot pursuit.  The pace was "terrific," and Captain Coke threw away every article in his possession, except for his rifle, in order not to slow his horse down.  It was about five miles to the camp, “and the wild Sioux war-whoop was ringing in his ears, when he espied his friends.”  Wortley had by chance been looking out over the prairie through his telescope for game, and saw his companion galloping at top speed, with three Indians fast gaining upon him.  A hurried call upon the men in camp prevented further trouble, for the Sioux, observing that the men were better armed and more numerous than they, “vanished like so many painted apparitions,” allowing Captain Coke to arrive safely into the camp.  It was, Lord Wharncliffe used to say, “a near shave.” 


The men then fell in with a large party of Red River “half-breeds” who had set out to obtain a supply of buffalo meat for the winter.  They were accompanied by a Roman Catholic priest, upon whose lodge a large cross was painted as a distinguishing mark.  Wortley,  Coke and their three men joined this band, and in one day shot two hundred and forty buffaloes.  The meat was cut up and placed in carts, and a solemn thanksgiving was given for the success of the day’s hunt.  Slips of jerked meat, dried in the sun, and pemmican (a mixture of tallow, dried meat, and dried berries), served for their winter supply. 


In the course of a further incursion into Sioux country, Wortley and his four companions had another close shave.  Some Indians discovered their whereabouts and made a determined attempt to destroy the men who were hunting their game.  One night, while the five men were encamped between a bluff and a lake, they saw a broad belt of fire steadily advancing in their direction.  The Indians had fired the prairie and were following the flames.  Luckily for Wortley and his men, their location provided some safety.  The horses were brought into the camp and prevented from neighing, and the campfires were extinguished.  The Indians’ fire passed them, and the next morning the little party set off on their way back to the Mississippi settlements.  In the course of their journey, they passed the spot where the Sioux had camped previous to their pursuit of the flames.  It was a habit with the Indians to put up a stick upon which they would chalk the number of men belonging to their party.  In this instance there were between 25 and 30 chalk marks.  It was thought that a massacre would have been inevitable, had the party’s whereabouts been discovered.  For two or three days the travellers made their way wearily across the blackened prairie, their enemy being in front, for the Indians were under the impression that the fire had driven them on, and were following the flames.  The three hired hands, being thoroughly versed in Indian methods of warfare, and were able to take precautions to lead everyone to safety.


The rest of the journey was dogged by misfortune.  They got lost, the frost was very severe, they had scarcely anything to eat for two or three days, and all the horses except for one died of exhaustion.  All of them were very pleased to finally reach the Mississippi settlements.  Mr. Wortley subsequently visited St. Paul, St. Louis, New Orleans, Mobile, the Alabama river, Augusta, Charlestown, Wilmington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, returning home from the latter place after “a five months’ holiday crammed with adventures.”  Mr. Wortley was at this time a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards.

bottom of page