(page 6)

Taxidermy Specimens (continued):

    The earliest account of a thylacine taxidermy in Tasmania is that which appeared under the heading "NON-DESCRIPT ANIMAL" in the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter of the 5th April 1817 (p. 2):

    "A few weeks ago a male animal of the tyger species was killed on the premises of Edward Lord Esq. at Orielton Park; it measured 6 feet 4 inches from the tip of the nose to the extremity of the tail.  It was long a terror to the numerous flocks in that neighbourhood and had at different times destroyed a number of sheep.  It required the joint exertions of two dogs, and the stock keeper,
before it was killed.  It is now stuffed and in a high state of preservation, and has been viewed by the curious from the adjacent districts".

    The ITSD (2013) notes that the oldest surviving taxidermy specimen is that of an adult male housed in the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle's

MNHP 2000-153
Taxidermy MNHP 2000-153.  Courtesy: Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle.
Photo: N. Ayliffe.  Source: International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).
collection in Paris (MNHP 2000-153).  The specimen is dated pre 1789, and is reputed to have been in the cabinet of King Louis XVI.  If this is indeed the case, the specimen may have been collected as an unidentified curiosity on one of the early French voyages to Van Diemen's Land. 

Unfortunately, no records exist to corroborate this early date, but the taxidermy was certainly in the museum's collection prior to 1830, as it appears as an illustration in the 1830 edition of "Centurie Zoologique" by R. P. Lesson and the 1836 edition of George Cuvier's book, "Le Règne Animal".

Thylacine de Harris. Thylacynus Harrisii. Temm. - Jean Louis Coutant
Illustration by Jean Louis Coutant, from R. P. Lesson's "Centurie Zoologique".
Private collection of Dr. Stephen Sleightholme.
detail of plate 49 from Le Règne Animal - Fournier
Illustration by Fournier, from G. Cuvier's "Le Règne Animal".  Private collection of Dr. Stephen Sleightholme.

    In an article entitled "The Australian Museum" printed in The Sydney Morning Herald of the 5th October 1868 (p. 5), three thylacine taxidermy specimens are noted in the museum's collection:

    "In the corner of the room is a fine stuffed specimen of the Thylacinus cynocephalus, or Tasmanian tiger, a large and ferocious looking wild beast, curiously partaking of many of the characteristics of the dog and the tiger, but having disproportionately long hind legs.  It is marked with black stripes on the back, like the tiger of Bengal, but is a long-backed and singularly ungraceful looking brute.  In the first of the three subdivisions of the great case at the north end of the room there is an admirably-arranged collection of the mammals of Tasmania, including the Thylacinus, the Dasyurus, the Sarcophilus, and the Phalangista.  There are also two large Tasmanian tigers, one of which the male appears to have just killed a kangaroo".

    Another early reference to a thylacine taxidermy is noted in the Mercury newspaper of the 7th November 1872 (p. 2), in an article entitled "A Native Tiger":

    "The native tiger, mentioned in yesterday's Mercury, as having been snared a few days ago near New Norfolk, is now in the hands of Mr. W. Hissey, of Elizabeth Street.  The skin will be stuffed and the bones preserved and mounted as an entire skeleton of the animal.  The tiger is one of the most formidable of the marsupial tribe we have seen, and the specimen we allude to looks as though he could have made great havoc amongst a flock of sheep".

    The Launceston Advertiser of the 23rd May 1844 (p. 2) records a thylacine kill and notes that the body is to be preserved as a taxidermy:

    "A Curiosity - a beautiful specimen of the native hyena was caught a few days since on the bank of the Tamar in a snare.  It has been lying for inspection at the watch-house for some days.  The skin is about to be preserved and stuffed".

    Work on the ITSD established that one of the two thylacine taxidermy specimens that Temminck noted as being in the Leiden Museum of Natural History in 1824, was not the male he described, but a female that was a later addition to the collection.

thylacine taxidermy mounts in the Leiden Museum of Natural History (Naturalis)
Dr. Stephen Sleightholme with the two taxidermy mounts in the Leiden Museum of Natural History (Naturalis).  Photo: N. Ayliffe, International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).

    In August 2005, Dr. Stephen Sleightholme and curator Dr. Chris Smeenk identified an anomaly with respect to the specific wording of Temminck's original paper: "Monographies de Mammalogie" (Vol. I, 1824-1827).  Temminck states that the two specimens (RMNH 39000 & RMNH 39001) within the Museum of the Bas countries are males.  Taxidermy RMNH 39000 and its accompanying skull are indeed that of a male, and the specimen originally described by Temminck.  Taxidermy RMNH 39001 on the other hand, is a female with a clearly preserved pouch.  Sleightholme & Smeenk thought it most unlikely that Temminck could have made an error in the sexing of these two specimens, and deduced that the female specimen could not have been in the Leiden collection prior to 1824.  They concluded that it must be a later acquisition, incorrectly labelled together with male skull RMNH 39001.  No records could be located to cast light on the fate of the original male taxidermy, but a skin was sold to the museum in 1828 by Benjamin Leadbeater of London, and this Sleightholme  & Smeenk thought is the probable source of the female taxidermy now housed in the museum's collection.

    The ITSD (2013) notes that of the 101 known taxidermy mounts, all but five portray the thylacine standing.  Three mounts are in a recumbent position, one is seated, and one uniquely depicts the thylacine in a wallaby like stance, standing on its hind legs.

Standing taxidermy [MAN 2632]. Courtesy: Museum Aquarium de Nancy.  Seated taxidermy [NMV C28746]. Courtesy: Museum Victoria.  Recumbent taxidermy [NHMW ST132]. Courtesy: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien.  Source: International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).  Place your pointer over the above thumbnails to view the full size images.
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