|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
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?
| Why, after
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
"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".
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 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.
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
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
The minutes of the Hobart City Council Reserves Committee have been preserved,
and on the 16th September 1936 note:
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.
was the only thylacine to have received full legal protection.