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Benjamin - Beaumaris Zoo (QD) - 1933
Dr. David Fleay's famous photograph of Benjamin, taken in December 1933 at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD).
This image illustrates the thylacine's threat-yawn response, which is also displayed by various other species of dasyuromorphian marsupialsPhoto courtesy: David Fleay Trustees.

    The Beaumaris 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 in 1936.

    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, Alison 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 website.

The debate:

    Historically, there 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 diet". 

    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".

Tasmanian Tigers Here
Source: The Examiner newspaper,
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 Ref: LMSS150/1/1):

    "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".

back to: Circuses and Menageries (page 3) return to the section's introduction forward to: Benjamin - The Last Known Captive Thylacine (page 2)

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