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THE THYLACINE IN CAPTIVITY:
- BENJAMIN: THE LAST KNOWN CAPTIVE THYLACINE -
(page 3)
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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    "In an unpublished letter to the Director of the Tasmanian Museum, Algie Chaplin (31/8/1954) suggested that 'twenty years ago one was captured in the fields by Churchill'.  In another unpublished letter the 80-year-old V. Stanfield recalled: 'The last Tiger to be caught in Tasmania was away up behind Fitzgerald Tyenna way by a Mr.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:

   "Of 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".

locations at which Elias Churchill trapped thylacines
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Locations 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.

   Benjamin 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'.

    Sharland continues:

    "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 its nose.

        (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.

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Historical contradictions:

    Before we can conclude the Mullins / Churchill debate, there are a number of historical irregularities that need to be addressed.  An article published in the Mercury newspaper on the 17th October 1930 (p. 8) states:

    "In place of the last one which died 18 months ago from kidney trouble, a Tasmanian wolf was purchased for the Beaumaris Zoo last week.  She was caught by a trapper in Waratah together with another which died from wounds, and as far as is known, is the first of its species to be taken in

Benjamin - Beaumaris Zoo (QD) - circa 1933
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Benjamin, Beaumaris Zoo (QD), circa 1933.
Tasmania for the past four years.  The skin of these animals is very tender, and it is seldom that the flesh heals without difficulty, this, no doubt, causing the death of the other wolf with whom this female specimen was trapped".

    This article not only documents the arrival of a new thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD), but also informs us that she replaces a thylacine that died of kidney disease 18 months prior to her arrival i.e., around April 1929.  Note that the Waratah thylacine

is a female and the date of her purchase by the zoo would have been around the 10th October 1930.  The article also states that no other thylacine had been captured in the last four years - i.e., between 1926 and 1930.  This news story is consistent with Clive Lord's comments in the Mercury newspaper of the 12th February 1930 (p. 8) in which he stated that there were no thylacines in Beaumaris Zoo (QD).  Note
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References
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back to: Benjamin - The Last Known Captive Thylacine (page 2) return to the section's introduction forward to: Benjamin - The Last Known Captive Thylacine (page 4)


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