Meet Jack 'The Baboon' Who Successfully Worked For The Railway As Signalman For 9 Years And Never Once Made A Mistake

Posted by Sama in History On 20th August 2021
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Jack is remembered in history as a loving pet and remarkable personal assistance who worked for his human owner for nearly nine years at the railway station as a signalman and not once he made a mistake. Jack loved his owner Wide a lot and owing to Wide's disability, he learned the art of operating signal box and truly shined at his work.

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#1

A peg-legged railwayman, James Edwin Wide in the 1800s visited a busy South African market where he came across something astonishing. What he saw left Wide speechless.

He saw a chacma baboon driving an oxcart. Amazed by the skills of the baboon, Wide immediately bought him, named him Jack, and decided to make the animal his pet and his personal assistant.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN
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#2

Wide knew he could do well with some help as he had already lost his both legs in a work-related accident. Because of his disability, his half-mile journey to the train station became a nightmare for him.

The first task he did after getting Jack was to train the animal to push him to and from work in a small trolley and soon, clever Jack was also helping with household chores, sweeping floors, and taking out the trash.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN
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#3

But one work where Jack's effort became memorable is his contribution to the signal box. As the train approached nearer, the rail switches at the Uitenhage train station, they’d toot their whistle a specific number of times to alert the signalman which tracks to change.

By carefully watching his owner, Jack picked up the pattern and started tugging on the levers himself.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN
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#4

Jack learned the task well and soon Wide was able to take a little break as his personal assistant took charge of things at the railway station.

According to The Railway Signal, Wide “trained the baboon to such perfection that he was able to sit in his cabin stuffing birds, etc., while the animal, which was chained up outside, pulled all the levers and points.”

Both Jack and Wide shared a great bond and apart from this the duo also formed a remarkable team.

As the story says, one fine day a posh train passenger passing by and staring out the window saw that a human and a baboon were manning the gears.

Bewildered, the passenger complained to the railway authorities. But instead of firing Wide, railway authorities decided to take matters into their hands and decided to test Jack's abilities. Nevertheless, they too were left shocked. 

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN
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#5

“Jack knows the signal whistle as well as I do, also every one of the levers,” wrote railway superintendent George B. Howe, who visited the baboon sometime around 1890. “It was very touching to see his fondness for his master. As I drew near they were both sitting on the trolley. The baboon’s arms round his master’s neck, the other stroking Wide’s face.”

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN
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#6

After getting convinced with his remarkable working abilities, Jack was given by the railway administration an official employment number and was paid 20 cents a day and half a bottle of beer weekly.

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#7

Jack passed away in 1890 after suffering from tuberculosis. For the period of nine years, Jack worked for the railways as a signalman and never once made a single mistake, thus, proving that perfectionism and intelligence are not limited to humans only. 

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS // PUBLIC DOMAIN
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