My parents used to tell me that, back in the 1970s when they were growing up, everyone had a pet tortoise. Coming to Oxford, I didn’t realise how common they would be among colleges, even to the extent that, every year, Corpus Christi hosts a Tortoise Fair. Tortoises from across the University descend on Corpus to take part in the yearly tortoise race, with Lincoln College’s Tortilla winning the 2022 race. It is clear, therefore, that college tortoises, like other pets, are a huge part of college and university life.
In no college has this been made clearer to me than in Regent’s Park, with the late tortoise Emmanuelle. Though Emmanuelle sadly passed away in early October this year, she was an inspiration behind this column and a true presence in the college’s everyday life. She was purchased from the Covered Market in 1976, and though at the time the college was told that she was around seventy years old, estimates now suggest that when she passed she was around ninety to one hundred years old. Nonetheless, this made her Oxford’s oldest tortoise prior to her passing, and her yearly birthday party was a key event in the college’s calendar. The college were also initially told she was male, meaning she lived the first 50 years of her life as ‘Emmanuel’, before they realised she was a female and renamed her Emmanuelle.
Regents’ Tortoise Keeper, Kate, described Emmanuelle, or ‘Manny’ as she was known throughout the college, as ‘friendly, speedy, and old.’ Whilst Manny certainly lived a long life, she was also able to prove the other two. Though I didn’t personally see her on my many visits to Regents until Trinity 2022, leading me initially to question her friendly nature, many at the college recall fond memories of feeding her her favourite foods, including bananas, strawberries, and lettuce. Her favourite place to hide in Regents’ front quad was outside my friend’s first year room, so she enjoyed being around students and involved in everyday life.
Emmanuelle also certainly lived up to being speedy in her earlier years. She won many victories for Regents in the annual Corpus Tortoise Fair during the 1970s to 1990s, seeing her eat her way through a circle of lettuce faster than her competitors. Her successes in these races are reflected in the college archive as the ‘Emmanuelle Cup’. Whilst she did not win the 2022 race, it saw her grand return to Oxford after temporarily leaving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emmanuelle became a true fixture of the college during her time there, being elected an honourary member of the JCR and even honoured in the college’s new stained glass windows. She was a welcome break from the stress of academic life, with students coming together to meet her and making friends through looking after her. With her birthday party in 2014 raising £700 for charity, she also helped the college give back to the community. It is clear that her loss has been felt in the college’s community given how much she brought to it.
Regents has recently announced that, in February, they will be welcoming Emmanuelle’s successor, Truffle, to the college. Truffle is 13 years old, and so will undoubtedly be at the college for a long time as Emmanuelle was. Whilst the loss of Emmanuelle has been sorely felt, the college is excited to welcome a new pet for members of the college to make memories with. Even non-furry college pets can, therefore, bring a huge sense of community to a college, and I am excited to meet Regents’ new tortoise in Hilary term!
Image credit: Kate Andison