(page 1)

    An often forgotten figure in the history of the thylacine in captivity is the Wynyard-based animal dealer James Harrison.  Detailed examination of his notebook, surviving correspondence, and contemporary Tasmanian newspaper reports reveal that he played a far more significant role in the trade of thylacines than was previously known.

    James Harrison, the eldest surviving son of Thomas and Ann Harrison, was born in Nowgong, East India (on route to Tasmania from England) in 1873.  His family settled in Boat Harbour on the North West Coast of Tasmania, where they lived for 34 years.  Harrison moved to the nearby town of Wynyard in 1907, and was resident there until his death in 1943.  He married Sarah Elizabeth Reeve (1862-1937), and they had five children.  A land and real estate agent by profession, he was also a respected naturalist, accomplished bushman, lay preacher, prospector, and became, as noted in the Advocate newspaper of the 29th January 1923 (p. 4), Tasmania's principal dealer in wild animals:

    "Mr. James Harrison, the well-known coastal naturalist, visited Smithton on Wednesday for the purpose of procuring Tasmanian Devils to supply orders.  Five, of those animals, caught at Woolnorth, were purchased, and with them he journeyed eastward on Thursday afternoon.  Mr. Harrison is becoming widely known and chief buyers in all parts depend on him for supplies of Tasmanian animals".

    The Examiner newspaper of the 22nd August 1918 (p. 3) elaborates further:

    "Harrison's knowledge and experience are extensive, so much so that the Directors of mainland zoos have placed large orders for Tasmanian animals in his hands".

    Harrison was community-spirited and actively participated in local affairs.  He was Secretary to the Poultry Society, and the Wynyard branches of the Fisheries and Farmers Associations.  He was also the town's Tourist Officer, Harbour Master, and Crown Bailiff.

    Harrison regularly gave lectures to interested groups on the flora and fauna of Tasmania.  One such occasion is recorded in the Advocate newspaper dated the 21st May 1919 (p. 3):

    "There, was a good attendance at last night's meeting of the Wesley Guild, Burnie, to hear a lecture on Tasmanian Fauna by Mr. James Harrison, of Wynyard.  Mr. Harrison is well-known as a dealer in Tasmanian animals, and being keenly interested in their characteristics he has accumulated a fund of knowledge on the subject.  The lecturer said it always gave him pleasure to impart knowledge on the fauna of Tasmania, and to find that so many young people took an interest in these creatures.  We have so many animals here, he added, that are not known anywhere else in the world.  The largest Tasmanian native animal which runs on four legs is the tiger or hyena, but it

is wrongly named, as it is really a marsupial wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus).  This animal has not claws like the cat and the tiger, and the female carries its young in a pouch.  When full grown it measures about 5 feet 6 inches from the nose to the tip of the tail, it has a very powerful jaw, and I have seen one, with three snaps of the jaw, devour the head of a full-grown wallaby".

    Later that same year, the Advocate of the 19th July 1919 (p. 2), reported on a talk given by Harrison to the local Methodist Guild:

    "A very instructive and enjoyable evening was spent at the guild on Tuesday evening, when the members were treated to the second instalment of the lecture on "The Fauna of Tasmania," by Mr. James Harrison.  In his breezy and entertaining manner, Mr. Harrison imparted many interesting facts concerning the habits and customs of the Tasmanian animals.  Particularly interesting was his discussion on the platypus, which is apparently the

James Harrison
James Harrison (1873-1943).
Methuselah amongst the animals of Tasmania, and is 12 months old before it is able to leave the nest and take to the water.  The so-called tiger or hyena is not a tiger at all, but a marsupial wolf, and Mr. Harrison told some interesting stories in connection with this king of the fauna.  He exhibited the jawbone of one of these animals, which he estimated had been dead 150 years.  It was found amongst the remains of a black fellows camping place in the Sisters Hills". 

    No doubt in his official capacity as Wynyard's Tourist Officer, the Advocate of the 19th July 1923 (p. 4) reported on a visit by the Broken Hill football team to Wynyard.  As part of their civic welcome, the team were invited by Harrison to visit his menagerie, where they were fortunate to see one of his captive "tigers":

    "Prior to leaving for Burnie, the visitors, at the invitation of the well known Wynyard naturalist (Mr. James Harrison) visited his place at East Wynyard, where they saw a very fine specimen of the Tasmanian tiger, also a white wallaby, which were viewed with much interest".

    Harrison was actively involved with the establishment of the Burnie Museum. As detailed in the Advocate of the 19th August 1927 (p. 4), his philanthropy extended to the supply of specimens, including the jaw bone of a thylacine:

    "Yesterday the secretary (Mr. K. Leeson) received the following exhibits from Mr. James Harrison, of Wynyard: Legs of Bittern, 2 iguana skins, brown snake skin (Queensland), sparrow hawk (mounted), owl (mounted), eagle (mounted), white hawk (mounted), 2 swans' eggs, Emu's egg (mounted), mounted tiger cat, mounted native cat, 3 sperm whale teeth, serpentine stone from which Osmiridium is obtained, Scheelite from King island, Queensland bean and gourd bean, jaw bone of Thylacine (Tas. tiger) - (200 years old), Queensland death adder, duck-bill platypus, bone of whale, shed skin of tiger snake, shinbone of Tasmanian native (500 years old), kangaroo rat and joey, Queensland locust, boomerang and cotton bugs and tiger cat skin".

    Harrison traded in a diverse array of Tasmanian fauna (both dead and live) from thylacines and Tasmanian devils, to tiger cats (quolls), bandicoots, kangaroos, wallabies, possums, platypus, and a wide variety of birds. 

    There were three primary points of supply for the export of live thylacines to zoos within mainland Australia and overseas:

    1. The Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, at both its Sandy Bay and Domain locations.

    2. The City Park Zoo in Launceston. 

    3. The wild animal dealership of James Harrison in Wynyard. 

    The majority of live thylacines were procured by, and exported through, these three channels.

    The exact number of thylacines that Harrison purchased and sold will probably never be known, as surviving records are incomplete, but a realistic estimate would be in the order of around 25 live animals and 20 dead specimens.  It is known that Harrison placed his first advertisement for thylacines (colloquially known as native "tigers" or "hyenas") in the local classified press in 1910, and was actively dealing in the species into the early 1930s:
James Harrison - Wynyard, Tasmania
James Harrison standing in front of one of his outdoor cages.  Courtesy: Archives Office of Tasmania.
    "Hyenas Wanted, 3 Pairs; good price given; must not be crippled. James Harrison, Agent, Wynyard".

    "WANTED - Tigers, £25 for animals full grown, but not old; must have good teeth; young ones lesser price, James Harrison, Wynyard".

    "WANTED - Marsupial wolves any number, age, condition right, £25.  James Harrison, Wynyard".

    Harrison maintained a number of holding cages for his stock on the grounds of his property at Wynyard.  Blackwell (1951) states: 

    "He kept tigers in heavy wooden cages with iron bars, and drop floors to facilitate moving them from one cage to another.  They were easy to handle and were never known to attempt to chew their way out as were the Devils he kept.  After a time the tigers used to get very tame.  He used a net to envelop them when transferring them from a large cage".

    Sargent (2013) recalled: "Harrison's pens were quite small, eight feet by eight feet, something like that and as I can remember, just fairly roughly constructed".

    Paddle (2000, p. 87) notes that "Harrison's cages emphasised natural environments", but this was not the case.  Harrison's holding cages, as Blackwell and Sargent state, were of simple construction, as they were only ever intended for short term occupancy prior to onward sale.

back to: Burrell's Thylacine Photographs (page 3) return to the section's introduction forward to: James Harrison - Tasmanian Animal Dealer (page 2)

Search the Thylacine Museum
Site Map
Website copyright © C. Campbell's NATURAL WORLDS.
Photographs and other illustrations (where indicated) are © C. Campbell's NATURAL WORLDS.
Other photos and images are © their respective owners.