David Fleay's famous photograph of Benjamin, taken in December 1933
at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD).
image illustrates the thylacine's threat-yawn response, which is
also displayed by various other species of dasyuromorphian
marsupials. Photo courtesy: David Fleay
Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, began exhibiting thylacines at its
Sandy Bay site in 1908. The last known captive thylacine, now popularly
referred to by the name of "Benjamin", was on display at the zoo's
Queen's Domain site from 1933 until his death
The name "Benjamin"
originates from the recollections of a Mr. Frank Darby, who claimed in
a 1968 interview with the naturalist Graham Pizzey that he had once been
the animal's keeper. However, no documentation exists to support
Darby's claim (Paddle 2000). When interviewed,
Reid (daughter of Arthur Reid, the curator at Beaumaris) denied
that anyone named Frank Darby had ever worked at the zoo, and also stated
that the name Benjamin was never used as a "pet" name for the zoo's
last thylacine. This being the case, Darby's comments must be regarded
as being somewhat spurious.
As the name Benjamin
has since entered common usage when reference is made to the last known
captive thylacine, little would be gained in campaigning to alter this.
In some respects, it is appropriate in focusing people's perceptions of
the species and when discussing aspects of conservation. On a practical
front, it is far simpler to say "Benjamin" than to use the rather
loquacious phrase "the last known captive thylacine". It is
in this context that the name Benjamin will be used throughout this
has been considerable debate pertaining to both the source and sex of Benjamin.
With respect to the source, thoughts have generally been polarised into
two lines of opinion:
The Mullins family group:
There is the position (now discredited) that Benjamin was the surviving
member of a family group comprised of a mother
and her three pups, caught by Walter "Jack" Mullins at Tyenna in the Florentine
Valley in June 1923, and sold to the Beaumaris Zoo (QD) on the 5th February
1924 for the sum of £55.
The Mercury newspaper
of the 12th February 1924 (p. 6) records the arrival of the family of "tigers"
at the zoo:
"Tiger Family at
Zoo - A highly interesting addition, in the shape of a family of Tasmanian
tigers been made to the Beaumaris Zoo this week. This comprises a
female adult and three young ones, about seven months old, who come from
the rough and heavily timbered country in the Tyenna Valley. When
captured the young were found in their mother's pouch, being then only
a few weeks old, and have been successfully reared in captivity for some
six months, when they were handed over to the City Council entirely devoid
of ferocity, but playful and sufficiently tame to feed from their keeper's
hand, as well as handsomely marked with brown and black, the little ones
are sure to attract considerable attention by visitors to the zoo for the
next few weeks. Although given a supply of chopped up meat, they
are not altogether at a stage when they are independent of their maternal
Mullins regularly exhibited
his captive thylacines as a fairground penny attraction around country
shows within Tasmania and on a trip to Melbourne, before eventually selling
them to the zoo. The Mercury newspaper of the 11th December 1923
(p. 10) notes:
"Mr. Walter Mullins
had on view at the sports a female Tasmanian tiger and three young ones
six months old which he had captured in the bush near Tyenna in June last.
The young are very prettily marked. Mr. Mullins will exhibit these
animals at the New Norfolk regatta".
Source: The Examiner
18th January 1924 (p. 4).
An article entitled "Sports at Fitzgerald" from the World newspaper
of the 10th December 1923 (p. 7) states:
"Mr. Mullins was showing his Tasmanian Tiger with her three cubs, and they
were certainly worthy of inspection. The mother is quite a graceful
animal, while the kittens were as playful as spaniels".
A Mr. Ron Smith gives his account of seeing the Mullins family group in
a letter to a Mr. G. Weindorfer dated 5th January 1924 (Source: TAHO, Launceston
"The young ones were nearly as big as full grown rabbits; two of them were
sucking for all they were worth, and the other was asleep. The mother
was about as big as an ordinary collie, but slenderer. Large brown
eyes, and the face in front of the eyes narrower than a dog's. Fur
more like a possum's than a dog's. Altogether a very pretty animal".