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A Baboon Becomes a Worker

Updated on March 30, 2019
Anita Hasch profile image

Anita's main passion in life is reading and writing. She has a interest in many different subjects.

Jack the Baboon

James Edwin Wide was a conductor who worked for the Railways. In 1875 while he was on duty, James landed under a train and lost his legs. After being released from the hospital, the Railways offered him a position as a signal officer in Uitenhage.

His biggest problem was to move from his house to the Railway station where he worked, and back again. He made a light cart that he could use to travel to work and back. The cart was made the same width as the railway tracks.

One day James went to the local market. They were selling the usual fruit and vegetables, tobacco and farming equipment. Then he saw the guy selling a baboon and decided to buy it.

Clever Animals

James was Patient

At home James taught the baboon patiently. He took him with him to work every day and first taught him to lift the cart onto the tracks and down again. He also taught him to push the cart.

Eventually he taught the baboon to pull the right signal so that the trains could pass onto the right track. He first gave every signal a name so the Jack the baboon would know which signal to pull. Jack was a big attraction at the station. He would pull the signal, then look to see if the right signal had gone up and stand solemnly while the train passed, then push the signal back again.

James would then reward him with a banana or some other treat. Another duty that James taught Jack was to take the keys to the engine driver. The engine driver came to collect coal from a depot at the station and would blow his whistle four times to let James know he wanted the keys to the depot. Jack quickly learned to take the keys and one day before James could hand him the keys he grabbed them and ran to the engine driver.

The Baboon Resting

Jack in the Paper

In April 1884 a notice was published in the Cape Argus about Jack and how he helped his disabled owner. At home Jack also collected water from the pump for James as well as wood for the stove. Some nervous passengers complained to the Railways about Jack stating that it was dangerous for a baboon to control the signals.

According to them he could cause an accident. Those in charge gave Jack a test which he passed with flying colors. The Railways also supplied Jack with regular rations which he enjoyed. After nine years of faithful service he became sick and died. His skull can be seen at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.

James Wide retired and moved to Whitechurch in Wallis where he died in 1912. This is a true story and even with the passing of so much time James and Jack are not forgotten. James for his patience in teaching a baboon so much and Jack who had the intelligence to accomplish the tasks that nobody thought would be possible.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Anita Hasch


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    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      4 months ago from Washington DC

      Another interesting contribution concerning historical facts not so well publicized. Thank you very much.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Hi, thank you for your comment. The intelligence of animals is underestimated.

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 

      2 years ago from East Coast

      I enjoyed reading your hub. It is fascinating hear about what can be accomplished with love, care, and treats. I am happy that James' employer understood Jack's intelligence and connection to James.

    • Anita Hasch profile imageAUTHOR

      Anita Hasch 

      2 years ago from Port Elizabeth

      Thank you for your comment. This true story shows again the intelligence of animals.

    • norlawrence profile image

      Norma Lawrence 

      2 years ago from California

      Very good article. I enjoyed it very much

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      What an fantastic true story! I read it in awe. I never knew or heard about it, but know the places you mentioned in your hub very well. Well done!

    • Anita Hasch profile imageAUTHOR

      Anita Hasch 

      2 years ago from Port Elizabeth

      Bless you for your kind comment. Love getting an Angel message when I come onto Hubpages. Some animals are definitely amazing.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      2 years ago from sunny Florida

      Interesting story...animals of all kinds can learn remarkable skills.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning. ps


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