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THE THYLACINE IN CAPTIVITY:
- BENJAMIN: THE LAST KNOWN CAPTIVE THYLACINE -
(page 5)
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Historical contradictions (continued):

    Little doubt exists amongst present-day researchers that Elias Churchill was responsible for snaring Benjamin.  Yet, even with general acceptance of this fact, there still remain unanswered questions in the story. 

    Why, for example, are there no contemporary newspaper reports of Churchill's 1933 capture in any of the Tasmanian or mainland Australian newspapers?  On an island where the press reported if someone had forgotten to buy a tram ticket, or if lambs had broken through a farm fence, why would this important story have evaded attention?

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    Why, after Benjamin died, did the newspapers report that it had been present at the zoo for around eight years?  On the 10th February 1937 (p. 12) the Mercury notes: 

    "At a meeting of the Board at Hobart yesterday, the secretary (Mr. E. P. Andrewartha) reported that a letter had been sent to the Attorney-General (Mr. E. J. Ogilvie) advising that there were no specimens of the Tasmanian native tiger in captivity in the State at present, the single animal which had been in the Beaumaris Zoo for some eight years having died recently.  Nowhere else, as far as was known, was there a specimen of the Thylacinus in captivity". 

    Note that the report states that the single animal that had been in captivity at Beaumaris Zoo for some eight years had recently died.  This is confirmed in a later Mercury article dated 20th February 1937 (p. 5):

    "The last one died in the Hobart Zoo some months ago, after having lived for eight years".

Elias Churchill
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Elias Churchill, circa 1965.

    These statements incorrectly imply that no other capture for the zoo had been made since the Waratah female in 1930.

    How can we make sense of these conflicting statements that seem to cast doubt on the Churchill capture?  In the absence of the Hobart City Council records which would have confirmed the Churchill purchase, what may have transpired is as follows: 

    As acknowledged by the Mercury newspaper, a female tiger was caught at Waratah for the Beaumaris Zoo in October of 1930, most likely by the Delphin Brothers.  Between October 1930 and prior to David Fleay's visit in December 1933, this female died and was discretely replaced by Arthur Reid with Churchill's newly-caught thylacine in the winter of 1933.  Churchill snared his thylacine in the Florentine Valley near Maydena, and it was transported to Hobart via train.  Knowing of the public disquiet about the zoo acquiring another wild-caught thylacine, and anxious to keep visitor numbers to the zoo buoyant because of the talk of closure, the transaction was an "under the counter" deal.  This would explain why there was no mention of the female's death recorded in the press, or for that matter, Churchill's capture.  This account is pure conjecture, but it does offer a possible explanation as to why Churchill's capture to all extent and purpose went unnoticed.

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Benjamin's rail journey (1933)
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Benjamin's rail journey (1933).  Satellite image: Google Earth.

    Finally, to clear one other error that occasionally surfaces in the source debate, an article in the Australian Women's Weekly dated 25th February 1970 wrongly cites Adye Jordon as the source of the last known captive thylacine: 

    "Mr. Adye (pronounced 'Adair') Jordan, now living at Dromana, Victoria, but previously of Tasmania.  He had captured the last Tasmanian tiger to be caught, about 1930.  He had experience of the animals both in captivity and in the wild".

    Adye Jordon was in fact the captor of the last thylacine to be displayed at the Melbourne Zoo, and not Beaumaris Zoo (QD).  He sold the animal to James Harrison, who then sold it to Melbourne Zoo in October of 1929.

    All parties in the source debate are in full agreement over the date of Benjamin's death.  The minutes of the Hobart City Council Reserves Committee have been preserved, and on the 16th September 1936 note: 

    "The Superintendent of Reserves reported that the Tasmanian tiger died on Monday evening last, 7th instant, and the body has been forwarded to the Museum.  Noted:  Efforts to be made by Superintendent to obtain another tiger up to the value of £30 each". 

    As noted in the minutes of the HCC Reserves Committee, Benjamin's body was sent to the Tasmanian Museum.  What happened to the body when it arrived at the museum is unknown.  As a great zoological rarity, was it photographed?  Where the organs preserved and sent to Sir Colin MacKenzie at the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra?  Was the skin preserved?  The answer to all of these questions remains unknown.

    Ironically, Benjamin was the only thylacine to have received full legal protection.

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References
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back to: Benjamin - The Last Known Captive Thylacine (page 4) return to the section's introduction forward to: Benjamin - The Last Known Captive Thylacine (page 6)


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