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
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:
Burrangong Argus - 31st
"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
flocks. In captivity they feed indiscriminately on bread and
milk and flesh. The specimen which has just reached the zoo is the
of its kind ever brought to Europe. The 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".
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
carrion, etc., and were very destructive to the poultry yards of the early
settlers, besides committing terrible ravages on their
Cornwall Chronicle -
23rd October 1858 (p. 5).
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.
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
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
Poster for Bostock &
Wombwell's Menagerie (circa 1900).
| The Hobart Town Daily
Mercury of the 6th December 1858 (p. 3) records the acquisition of the
"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".
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".
Courtesy: Norwich Castle
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
"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,"
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.