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THE THYLACINE IN CAPTIVITY:
- ZOOS, CIRCUSES AND MENAGERIES -
CIRCUSES AND MENAGERIES (page 1)
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Thylacines in Circuses:
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    There are several historical accounts of thylacines being exhibited in circuses, with at least three circuses known to have had thylacines in their travelling menageries. The thylacines did not form part of a circus act as such, but were displayed as a caged attraction.  In an advertisement for the St. Leon's Circus published in the Burrangong Argus on Saturday 31st May 1884, it notes four Tasmanian tigers as the "first and only ones ever known to be seen alive in captivity".  This claim, however, is technically incorrect, as the London Zoo had displayed thylacines from 1850 onwards.

    In the Gippsland Times of the 26th March 1884 (p. 3) it notes only two thylacines in St. Leon's travelling menagerie, so the circus must have acquired an additional two thylacines between the end of March and the end of May 1884.

    In addition to St. Leon's Circus, two other circuses are known to have exhibited thylacines in their menageries - Wombwell's, and the Fitzgerald Brothers (Sleightholme and Ayliffe 2013).  In 2015, researchers at the Thylacine Museum (Sleightholme & Campbell) added an additional circus to this list.  In an article entitled "Arrival of Rare Animals at the Scottish Zoo" published in the Tasmanian News of the 31st July 1906 (p.3), the arrival of a thylacine at Bostock's zoo in Glasgow is mentioned:

St. Leon's Grand Mammoth Circus
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Burrangong Argus - 31st May 1884.
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    "Mr Bostock, proprietor of the Scottish Zoo, who is ever on the qui vive for everything that is rare and interesting in the animal world, has just secured several noteworthy additions to his large zoological collection.  Amongst the latest arrivals are a Greenland seal, several rare species of monkeys from Africa and India, a dog headed thylacinus or zebra wolf from Tasmania and a rare specimen of the now almost extinct dasyurus ursinus or Tasmanian devil.  The latter is indigenous to Van Diemen's Land where this specimen was captured by Mr Bostock's agents, and it formed part of a large consignment delivered to his order at Southampton.  The animal is called by the colonists the 'native devil', on account of its destructive propensities.  Formerly it was the great pest of the
sheep farmer destroying large numbers of their sheep and lambs.  Sometimes as many as 25 or 30 have been killed in a single night by one of these ferocious creatures.  In shape it resembles the badger, but the head is thicker, the muzzle short and stout, the eyes small, and the mouth wide.  These animals are untameably savage, biting severely, and are extremely voracious.   They feed on various mullusca, carrion, etc., and were very destructive to the poultry yards of the early settlers, besides committing terrible ravages on their .
Native Hyaena
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Cornwall Chronicle - 23rd October 1858 (p. 5).
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sheep flocks.  In captivity they feed indiscriminately on bread and milk and flesh.  The specimen which has just reached the zoo is the first of its kind ever brought to EuropeThe dog-head thylacinus, or Tasmanian wolf, is also very rare.  In stature it nearly equals the wolf; the head much resembles the common dog, but the mouth is wider.  The general colour is brown, but the hinder part is marked with yellowish bars after the manner of the zebra.  It is also nocturnal in its habits, and preys upon both kangaroos, ant eaters, and other animals, and very frequently attacks the sheep folds.  Even the dog himself sometimes falls victim to their rapacity.  The Tasmanian wolf now secured by Mr Bostock and another at the London Zoo are the only examples of this creature ever brought to this country. These new arrivals together with the lioness, Duchess, and her family, and the other large and miscellaneous stock always on view, should make the New City Road establishment very attractive to our country cousins during the holidays, and even our city friends might find that a visit to the zoo would be both a source of pleasure and of profit".

    Some discretion is required when reading the above account as there are numerous errors throughout.  That said, the article is historically significant, in that until its discovery in 2015 by Sleightholme & Campbell, a living thylacine was not known to have been exhibited in Scotland.

poster for Bostock & Wombwell's circus/menagerie
hand bill for Bostock & Wombwell's circus/menagerie
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Poster and hand bill for Bostock & Wombwell's circus/menagerie.

    Bostock's Scottish Zoo (1897-1909) was an indoor zoo / circus located in the New City Road area of Glasgow.  Its proprietor, Edward Henry Bostock (1858-1940), a great nephew of George Wombwell, is known to have donated or sold a number of exotic animals that died at his zoo to museums.  The Norwich Castle Museum in the UK has an interesting taxidermy display of some of the animals that formed Bostock & Wombwell's menagerie.  It is believed that the thylacine obtained by Professor John Cleland for dissection was probably that on display at Bostock's zoo.  Cleland was Regius Professor of Anatomy in Glasgow from 1877-1910, and his collection of specimens is currently housed in the university's anatomy museum.

E. H. Bostock
Prof. John Cleland
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E. H. Bostock.
Prof. John Cleland.

    To follow is a short account describing the purchase and ultimate demise of the thylacine purchased for Wombwell's.

    The Courier newspaper of the 6th August 1858 (p. 3), records the arrival of Wombwell's Circus in Hobart:

    "WOMBWELL'S VICTORIAN MENAGERIE WILL ARRIVE for EXHIBITION in Hobart Town 21st instant"..

poster for Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie
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Poster for Bostock & Wombwell's Menagerie (circa 1900).
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    The Hobart Town Daily Mercury of the 6th December 1858 (p. 3) records the acquisition of the circus's thylacine: 

    "A very fine specimen of the Native Hyena is being exhibited at Gilbert's Buildings, Brisbane Street. It has been obtained for Wombwell's Menagerie". 

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    The circus left for Adelaide with its new attraction at the end of December 1858. The South Australian Register of the 28th December 1858 (p. 2) notes: 

    "The Wild Beasts - Mr. Billing has returned with his collection of wild beasts, the whole being in perfectly good order, though some of them are a little grazed by their jolting journey over our rough northern roads. He has added to the collection a marsupial wolf from Van Diemen's Land, one of the most rare and curious of our southern animals. We believe the menagerie is only to remain in Adelaide for a few days".

    The South Australian Advertiser of the 29th December 1858 (p. 1) also notes: 

    "RETURN OF WOMBWELL'S MENAGERIE - This Exhibition will be open to the public, in King William-street, for this week only. The collection has been augmented by one of the greatest zoological curiosities - the Marsupial Wolf - the only one ever exhibited, which has just arrived per Admella".

James Harrison
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Wombwell's menagerie display.
Courtesy: Norwich Castle Museum (UK).

    From Adelaide the circus moved to Melbourne and it was in Melbourne, after only eight weeks on the road, that the thylacine died.  The extract concludes with stating that the thylacine's remains were gifted to Museum Victoria.

    The Mercury of the 6th July 1896 (p. 3) reports on the capture of a thylacine destined for the Fitzgerald Brothers circus in an article entitled "The Tiger and the Cat"

    "When Messrs Fitzgerald Bros. circus and menagerie visited Stanley a couple of months back, Mr. Dan Fitzgerald commissioned an experienced forest hand to obtain for him a young native tiger.  The bushman succeeded in capturing one a few days ago, and it was forwarded to the circus at Sydney.  The Stanley correspondent of a coastal paper writes: The "tiger," about which I wrote a day or two back, was duly shipped to Fitzgerald's circus in Sydney; but before we pass him over just let me mention one little occurrence.  The tiger wanted feeding, and an attendant was accordingly despatched to obtain some meat.  Being unable (this was in the forest) to stalk any of the "cockies," young suckers, stray chicks or ducks, the tiger feeder, with a little stratagem, got into his bag a fine specimen of a "Tom" cat.  He was a regular fire-eater and active midnight marauder; one who had fought a hundred battles, and sung his amorous sonnets "oft in the stilly night" out on the tiles.  Triumphantly "Tom" was taken home, and there was a gathering round the tiger's cage to see puss devoured.  The cat was turned into the cage, and the fun commenced.  "Tom" made a splendid fight.  He made the atmosphere reverberate with his caterwauls, and ultimately he was with difficulty prevented from killing the tiger".

    The thylacine caught for the Fitzgerald Brothers circus was captured by tigerman George Wainwright at the VDL's property at Woolnorth and subsequently shipped to Sydney.

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References
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