Clara was born in 1738 in India. At only a few weeks old, her mother was shot by hunters, who deemed it an enormous achievement to bag one of these immense creatures and would sell the horn for a fortune.
She was then adopted by the Director of the Dutch East India Company, Jan Albert Sichterman. Having been adopted so young and given attention from when she was a tiny calf, she became accustomed to being around humans. In fact, she was known for roaming around his home and property quite freely.
Then, in 1740, Sichterman handed Clara over to Douwe Mout van der Meer, who was the captain of the Knappenhof, as she was outgrowing her surroundings.
It is not known whether she was sold to van der Meer or was given to him as a gift. Van der Meer was from the Netherlands and took his newly acquired rhino pet with him on his subsequent trip home that same year.
Upon her arrival in Rotterdam on 22 July 1741, she disembarked the ship and went straight into a life of exhibition;delighting the public who witnessed one of these prehensile animals in person for the first time. When van der Meer saw how successful these exhibitions were, he soon left his job as captain of the ship to tour Europe with Clara.
He started to tour in 1746 and continued this life of travel for the next 17 years. A specialised container needed to be built to accommodate Clara comfortably during her travels. Her skin was nourished with fish oil, which kept it moist.
During her travels, Clara became a celebrity in her own right. She was often met by members of royalty and she attracted hundreds of spectators as she toured country after country across Europe.
Notably, Clara’s horn was lost by 1750. Many rhinoceroses kept in captivity rub their horn until it wears down to nothing. It remains unclear whether that was what happened to Clara or if her horn was purposely removed to protect Clara from potential poachers.
Over the years, she travelled extensively. Then, in 1758, she arrived in London, where she was on exhibition at the Horse and Groom in Lambeth. On 14 April of the same year, Clara died.
Clara earned so much acclaim that artists all over Europe created their vision of her in various forms. These were sold as posters, paintings and silver medallions. Even van der Meer featured in some of these pieces of art.