|The Churchill capture:
The alternative position in the source debate is that the Beaumaris Zoo
(QD) acquired Benjamin in 1933 from timber cutter and trapper Elias
Churchill; the animal having been snared, like the Mullins family group,
in the Florentine Valley.
The well-known journalist and naturalist Michael
Sharland credited Churchill as the captor of the last thylacine at
the zoo. Bob Paddle (2000), in his book "The Last Tasmanian Tiger",
concurs and cites two eyewitness accounts to support the Churchill capture:
"In an unpublished letter to the Director of the Tasmanian Museum, Algie
Chaplin (31/8/1954) suggested that 'twenty years ago one was captured in
the fields by Churchill'. In another unpublished letter the 80-year-old
V. Stanfield recalled: 'The last Tiger to be caught in Tasmania was away
up behind Fitzgerald Tyenna way by a Mr. Churchill (31/8/1981)'.
Michael Sharland, in an interview with Churchill published in the People
of the 3rd April 1957 (pp. 25-26), states:
the eight tigers Churchill has trapped - he has seen many more - only
two were taken alive. The others were either strangled or injured
badly enough to necessitate destroying them on the spot. Churchill
believes that the eight he caught blundered into his snares, as they normally
kept away from human camps and one of those taken alive was a doe with
three young in her pouch. Before ending up in the zoo this animal
with two pups - the third died - brought in a bit of cash by being exhibited
at country shows and carnivals in Tasmania between 1925 and 1926.
People flocked to see it, for even then the tiger was something of a novelty
outside its true environment. All the tigers taken by Churchill were
caught in the vicinity of the Gordon River or within sight of the great
valleys cut through the western ranges by the stream on its course to the
Macquarie Harbour. Four were taken in the Florentine Valley, separated
from the Gordon by a high range, and one each in the Rasselas Valley, on
Mt. Bowes, the Needles, and at the top end of the South Gordon track.
He believes there are still tigers in that area".
at which Elias Churchill trapped thylacines: Florentine Valley (4),
Rasselas Valley (1), Mount Bowes (1), The Needles (1), and Top end of South
Gordon track (1). Satellite image: Google Earth.
was caught about 3 miles from Churchill's
hut in the Florentine Valley. Below is Churchill's account of
the capture (Sharland, People of the 3rd April 1957 [pp. 25-26]):
(Churchill): 'He was caught by the foot, and I could see it was a nice
specimen, so decided to get him for the zoo. As the animal didn?t
show much fight, I set about taking it out the snare. First, I got
it close to the stringer - the green springy stick to which the snare is
attached - then, as its mouth was open, I dropped a loose snare between
its teeth. As it bit on this I swung the snare around its snout,
pulling tight and knotting it, making it impossible for the animal to open
its jaws. While it was thus strung up, I managed to tie its legs
together with another snarer, and in a few minutes had it nicely trussed
up, so it couldn't bite me. Strangely enough, it was docile most
of the time. It didn?t seem to have any spirit at all. I slung
it around my neck and carried it back to camp. It weighed the best
part of 40lb'.
"Before building a kind of pigsty from the trunks of trees about his camp,
Churchill put the tiger on a dog chain in his hut, untying the cords that
bound it. At once it sprang the length of the chain, struggling and
scattering everything within reach.
(Churchill): 'It was sulky. When tied up it didn't move.
I thought often something was wrong with it and went over to it and remarked
to myself, 'You so-and-so, you're dead'. But it wasn't; it just glared
at me sullenly. When released in the pigsty enclosure outside the
hut it made little effort to escape, merely encircling the enclosure, looking
for an aperture in the logs. For hours on end it kept pacing around
the fence, a habit also noted later when it was in the zoo'.
When Churchill had it confined it refused to eat and, believing it might
fret and die, Churchill had to work out some way of getting it to take
food. It ignored dead or living wallaby, but ultimately it was persuaded
to eat by having the smell of blood from a freshly killed wallaby put beneath
(Churchill): 'And when it did begin, it didn?t stop till everything,
including bones, was gone. I knew it was alright then'.
The tiger, after being trussed up again, was taken to Tyenna on the back
of a pack horse, and arrived in good condition at the Hobart Zoo".
Author and thylacine researcher Col Bailey conducted what was possibly
the last known interview with Churchill in 1969. When questioned
about his recollections of the last tiger he caught, Churchill confirmed
that the capture was made in the Florentine Valley:
"I reckon the last one I caught was out in the Florentine alongside the
Tiger Range in the early 1930s. I sent that one through on the train
to Hobart Zoo as well".
Unfortunately, the minutes of the Hobart City Council Reserves Committee
for the period 21st June 1932 - 22nd May 1934 that would have confirmed
the Churchill purchase have not been preserved. That said, there
is sufficient supporting evidence to substantiate Churchill's claim.
It should be noted that Churchill also snared a family group in 1925, and
over the passage of time, there appears to have been some cross-over of
details between this and the Mullins 1924 capture.
The Churchill family group of a mother and three pups, one of which Churchill
stated "died shortly after capture" (Bailey interview, 1969), were
also paraded around fairs and country shows. Their fate is unknown,
but the City Park Zoo in Launceston purchased a mother and two pups in
1925, and it is highly likely that these were the Churchill family group.