Everyone in the North-East of England knows that during the Napoleonic wars the good burghers of Hartlepool, having found a shipwrecked monkey washed up on the beach, thought it was a French spy, and (after a fair trial) hanged it (from a convenient yard-arm).

But I heard this called into question in a public house this evening (since the public house is in Darlington, a town by no means well-disposed to Hartlepool, this is a serious matter). The Wikipedia entry here is ambivalent on the subject (apart from the preposterous suggestion the deed was done in Darlington), and Hartlepool's own site here isn't conclusive one way or the other.

Is this true? Was a monkey really hanged in Hartlepool for being a French spy?

  • 2
    Perfidious Albion!
    – user5341
    Oct 26, 2011 at 1:34
  • It strikes me that if an animal is to be mistaken for a (grotesque foreign) human, it is more plausible that it be a chimpanzee or gorilla than a macaque - in which case, no, it wasn't a monkey, but an ape! :-)
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 26, 2011 at 7:47
  • @Oddthinking - I thought maybe you were going to suggest that Frenchmen look like monkeys...
    – Chad
    Oct 27, 2011 at 17:39
  • "A second proposed explanation (from snopes discussion thread) was that it was indeed a young frenchman sailor, and "monkey" part came from him serving in a "powder monkey" role." It would be a war crime to execute an enemy sailor from a wrecked ship when the logical assumption would be that his ship was merely doing legal war stuff like looking for ships to capture before being wrecked. And it owuld be inhumane to hang a child. Thus if this version of the story is true the town should be eternally disgraced.
    – user12063
    Mar 22, 2013 at 23:20

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: There exists no evidence that this actually happened, and there only exists thin circumstantial evidence that it did NOT happen (in the form of plausible alternate origin of the story).

From http://www.communigate.co.uk/ne/eatingoutinthenorth/page27.phtml

There is no evidence of any truth in the legend, or that it is very old. The first mention of the Monkey is in the mid 19th Century, when Ned Corvan, a famous Geordie comic singer and songwriter, first performed the 'Monkey Song'.

Corvan toured from North Yorkshire to the Scottish lowlands. About this time he may have come into contact with the song 'And the Boddamers hung the Monkey O', a song about the villagers of the seaside village of Boddam near Peterhead in Scotland, who hanged a monkey because it was the only survivor from a local shipwreck and the salvage rights could only be claimed if there were no survivors from a wreck. The similarity between the choruses of the two songs is very striking.

Here is the lyrics to the monkey song for :


In former times, when war and strife
The French invasion threaten'd life
An' all was armed to the knife
The Fisherman hung the monkey O ! 

And here's the lyrics to the Boddamer song:


Eence a ship sailed round the coast
And a' the men in her was lost
Burrin' a monkey up a post
So the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O

A second proposed explanation (from snopes discussion thread) was that it was indeed a young frenchman sailor, and "monkey" part came from him serving in a "powder monkey" role.


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