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.
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.
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).
Photo: Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener (2016), Australian Zoologist
(Vol. 38, No. 2, p. 205. Fig. 2).
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.
Photo by Frederick York
of a quagga mare at the London Zoo, 1870.
Sleightholme, Campbell & Kitchener
"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
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)
"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". Photo courtesy: © John Edwards
| They continue:
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
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 18188.8.131.52].
Projected image from
Frank Haes' lantern slide number 17: "The Tasmanian Wolf".
Photo courtesy: © Dr. Stephen Sleightholme (private collection).
& 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".