The earliest known photograph of a thylacine, and the only photograph of a living thylacine from the 19th century, was that taken by Frank Haes; one of the early pioneers of wildlife photography.  The photograph dates from 1864, and until recently was thought to have been lost or destroyed.
    Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener (2016), in a paper entitled "Frank Haes' Thylacine" recently published in the Australian Zoologist (Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 203-211), provide a detailed account of Haes' life, the provenance of the thylacine portrayed in the photograph, and the rediscovery of the photograph in both its lantern slide and stereo-view formats.  The Haes photograph is of historical importance, and is widely acknowledged as being the most valuable natural history photograph in existence.

    The subject of Haes' photograph was a young male thylacine that had been sent to the London Zoo by Ronald Campbell Gunn (1808-1881).  The thylacine was captured, along with its mother and three siblings, by the son of Thomas Hurst at Pipers River in the north-east of Tasmania in September 1862.  One of the pups died shortly after capture, but the remaining three pups and their mother were shipped to London on the 13th January 1863.  Unfortunately, two of the pups died in transit during the 14-week sea voyage, but the mother and her male pup survived, and were placed

Frank Haes (1833-1916)
Frank Haes (1833-1916).  Photo: Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener (2016), Australian Zoologist (Vol. 38, No. 2, p. 205. Fig. 2).
on display at the zoo on the 2nd May 1863.  The male died on the 17th April 1865, aged 2 years and 6 months.  His mother outlived him, and remained on display until her death on the 23rd January 1870.

    In the summer of 1864, Frank Haes was commissioned by the Zoological Society of London to take a series of 55 photographs of animals at the London Zoo, which included the first photographs of a living elephant, the now extinct quagga (Equus quagga quagga), and the thylacine.

quagga - London Zoo (1870)
Photo by Frederick York of a quagga mare at the London Zoo, 1870.

Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener (2016) note:

    "At the time of Haes visit to the zoo in the summer (July / August) of 1864, only Gunn's two thylacines remained on display.  With reference to photographing the thylacine (Tasmanian wolf), Haes states:

American hand-held stereoscope - circa 1900
American hand-held stereoscope on stand, circa 1900.  Howarth-Loomes Collection.  Photo courtesy: National Museum of Scotland.
'To obtain a good photograph of the Tasmanian wolf (or tiger), it was necessary to go into the enclosure: these animals are very savage, cowardly and treacherous; and a pretty dance they led us.  The keeper at last despaired of ever getting one of them as we required; and in driving the animals about, one did his best to catch hold of my legs; however, we at least tired out one and fixed him on a plate, though the position is not all that could be wished'. 

    Haes' comment: 'a pretty dance they led us', implies that both thylacines were in the enclosure during the photographic session, and the use of 'him' in 'tired out one and fixed him on a plate' indicates that the subject of the photograph was Gunn's male". 

    Haes' zoo photographs were sold commercially as stereo views designed to be viewed through a hand-held stereoscope, giving the illusion of a 3D image.  Home viewing of such images was a popular pastime in the Victorian era.  A small number of Haes photographs were also reproduced as lantern slides; these being used in public forums to promote the sales of the stereo views.

    With reference to the rarity of the Haes thylacine photograph, Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener (2016) quote a comment made by John Edwards (past vice president of the Zoological Society of London and an expert on the history of London Zoo) in 1996: 

    "While some are relatively common, no prints of others, such as the Tasmanian Wolf or Thylacine seem to have survived.  Haes' photographs also exist as magic lantern slides, but these are exceedingly rare and indeed only three are known".

Haes' stereo view number 17 - 'The Tasmanian Wolf'
Haes' stereo view number 17: "The Tasmanian Wolf".  Photo courtesy: © John Edwards (private collection).
    They continue: "In 2013, seventeen years after Edwards made this statement, he rediscovered and subsequently purchased a copy of the lost thylacine stereo view from a dealer in the Netherlands.  Two years after Edwards located the stereo view, one of Haes' original lantern slides of the same image came up for auction and was acquired by one of us (Sleightholme).  The slide is of the 'English Pattern' using a square 3.5" x 3.5" (8.9cm x 8.9cm) format.  It is only the fourth surviving lantern slide by Haes known to exist". 

    Following its death on the 17th April 1865, the body of Gunn's male was preserved in a barrel of spirit and donated by the Zoological Society of London to the British Museum (Natural History), where it remains in the collection to this day as a study skin and mounted skeleton [BMNH 1865.10.9.17].

Haes' lantern slide number 17 - 'The Tasmanian Wolf'
Projected image from Frank Haes' lantern slide number 17: "The Tasmanian Wolf".  Photo courtesy: © Dr. Stephen Sleightholme (private collection).

    Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener (2016) conclude:

    "The complete life history of Gunn's young male thylacine can be traced from its point of capture in Tasmania, through to its display at the London Zoo, and finally into the collection of the Natural History Museum.  While at London Zoo, it became the reluctant subject of Haes' photograph, and its image was preserved for posterity, as the only living thylacine photographed in the 19th century.  For Haes' stereo view and lantern slide to have survived the 152 years since they were taken is a remarkable legacy from one of the early pioneers of photography".

back to: The Historical Thylacine Films return to the section's introduction forward to: Burrell's Thylacine Photographs (page 1)

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