Jack (baboon)

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James Wide (left) with Jack
BreedChacma baboon
South Africa
Cause of deathTuberculosis
Resting placeAlbany Museum
OccupationAssistant to a disabled railway signalman
Notable roleRailway signaller
Years active9
OwnerJames Wide

Jack (died 1890) was the name of a Chacma baboon who was an assistant to a disabled railway signalman, James Wide, in South Africa.[1]


Jack was the pet and assistant of double leg amputee signalman James Wide, who worked for the Cape Town–Port Elizabeth Railway service. James "Jumper" Wide had been known for jumping between railcars until an accident where he fell and lost both of his legs at the knee.[2] To assist in performing his duties, Wide purchased Jack in 1881, and trained him to push his wheelchair and to operate the railways signals under supervision.

An official investigation was initiated after someone reported that a baboon was observed changing railway signals at Uitenhage near Port Elizabeth.[3]

After initial skepticism, the railway decided to officially employ Jack once his job competency was verified. He was paid twenty cents a day, and half a bottle of beer each week. It is widely reported that in his nine years of employment with the railway company, Jack never made a single mistake.[4][5]

Jack died of tuberculosis in 1890.[3] His skull is in the collection of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.

According to a letter published in Nature, Jack

acted as a railway-man at Uitenhage in the Cape... The story was documented originally by the Rev. George Howe, in 1890, and then by F. W. Fitzsimons, director of the Port Elizabeth Museum. Fitzsimons' account... is published in the Cape Mercury of 29 May 1923. It relies on an interview with Wide, the written statements of 25 witnesses, filed in the museum collection, and on Howe's evidence.[6]

Popular culture[edit]

Jack was referenced on the second series of XFM Radio’s The Ricky Gervais Show by producer, Karl Pilkington as part of his regular feature, "Monkey News".[7] His recounting of the story was broadly accurate, but co-hosts Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant quickly disregarded the account.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Conway Morris 2003, p. 242.
  2. ^ Williams, Michael (2 August 2012). "Stranger Than Fiction: Jack the Signalman". Knoxville Daily Sun. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
  3. ^ a b Cheney & Seyfarth 2008, p. 31.
  4. ^ Wallechinsky 1975, p. 697.
  5. ^ "Signalman Jack: The Baboon Who Worked for the Railroad—and Never Made a Mistake". www.mentalfloss.com. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  6. ^ Nisbet (1990), p. 704.
  7. ^ "03 May 2003 - Pilkipedia". pilkipedia.co.uk. Retrieved 6 September 2023.


External links[edit]