(page 5)

    Dr. Stephen Sleightholme, Project Director to the ITSD states:

    "Taxonomy was the pioneering science of the nineteenth century, and to a great extent it galvanised the race to acquire as many new specimens as possible.  In the process of acquisition, valuable field data was frequently omitted, lost, or destroyed.  Consequently, detail within the accession records for many of the thylacine specimens is nonexistent or incomplete". This statement is true for many of the specimens acquired by the professional collectors.

    The fifth revision of the ITSD (2013) notes: 
    "Only 55 specimens, or 7.3% of the total, have any location specific provenance, with the bulk of catalogue entries simply noting the locality of collection as Tasmania".

    An examination as to why so few specimens carry detailed provenance is warranted.

    A thriving "commercial" trade in thylacine specimens flourished from the middle of the nineteenth century, and continued unabated until the late 1920s.  The nature and conduct of this enterprise undoubtedly contributed to the scarcity of source data within today's collections.  It was common practice in the nineteenth century for museums or dealers in natural history to circulate request lists for desirable specimens.  Such a list for thylacine specimens is noted in the 1840 edition of the "Annals of Natural History" (Vol. IV, p. 41): 

    "Of this species, the skeletons of male and female, detached skulls, an entire specimen in saline solution for dissection, the viscera, and more especially the impregnated uterus, and a young specimen for the changes in dentition are particularly desirable; such specimens not having been as yet transmitted to the museums of this country or the continent".

John Leadbeater
John Leadbeater, the Australian Museum's first taxidermist. John was Benjamin Leadbeater's son, and worked at the family taxidermy business in Brewer Street, London, before emigrating to Australia.
Source: Museum of Victoria.
Václav Fric's shop
Václav Fric's shop in Prague at Vladislavova ulice.
Source: Václav Fric's catalogue, circa 1914 (Reiling & Spunarová, 2005).
    Most of the major European sea ports had their assortment of specialist dealers in natural history and curios.  These dealers bought and traded specimens (shells, skins, eggs, fossils, minerals, birds) from the crews of returning vessels, and sold them to amateur naturalists, museums and universities.  Over time, a handful of these businesses became large concerns.  Names such as Salmin (Hamburg), Frank (Amsterdam & London), Jamrach (London), Umlauff (Hamburg), Fric (Prague), Reiche (Alfeld), and Leadbeater (London) appear throughout the International Thylacine Specimen Database as the source of supply of a significant number of thylacine specimens. 

    William Jamrach, the London based natural history dealer, went to the extent of placing a request for specimens in an article entitled "Pickled Devils", published in the Mercury newspaper on the 16th July 1874 (p. 2):

    "Mr Jemrach asks for twelve striped wolves (meaning our native tigers), for which he offers £4 each; twelve devils at 10s each; twenty-four porcupine (echidna) at 10s each; and twelve wombats at 12s each.  Mr. Jemrach continues: All these

animals I want dead, pickled in strong brine of salt, after the following manner.  When the animal is shot, open the stomach, but leave all of the intestines in, only allowing the water to drain off; fill the stomach with coarse pickling salt, and place in a good strong cask.  When the cask is filled with animals forward them to me either with Captain Copping of the Harriet McGregor, or Captain Harmsworth of the Ethel.  In fact you may send them with either, for both gentlemen know me for many years.  Taking these liberal offers into consideration perhaps it will not be out of place to suggest that now since our kangaroos are disappearing many shepherds would serve their masters interest by killing and pickling tigers and native devils instead of carrying on a wholesale slaughter of our most valuable game".

'At Jamrach's - The dealer in wild animals'
"At Jamrach's - The dealer in wild animals".
Source: Illustrated London News, 19th Feb 1887 (p. 217).

    Understandably, few of the specimens purchased from these dealers were accompanied by collection data, and were simply recorded within museum registers with the date of accession and named supplier. 

    Within Tasmania, significant numbers of thylacines were procured through local agents who purchased specimens (dead or alive) through classified advertisements in the local press.  Such advertisements appear commonly from 1850 onwards:

    "Wanted, Native Devils (alive), Tigers, Platypus (alive or dead).  For particulars apply to HINSBY & CALVERT, Chemists, 67, Elizabeth Street" - (Mercury, 21st May 1869 [p. 1]).

    "NATIVE TIGERS WANTED - specimens in good condition, the whole bodies required.  Good price offered.  Write "Naturalist", New Norfolk" - (Mercury, 15th June 1885 [p. 1]).
    "TASMANIAN ANIMALS WANTED - The undersigned desires to obtain any number of Native Tigers, Devils, and Platypus; also, a few of all other kinds of Tasmanian animals.  They may be sent as carcasses or as skins, or rough skeletons, prepared according to directions, which will be posted free to any applicant.  These specimens are for Museum purposes, and must be perfect and full grown.  For further particulars address, GEORGE HUBBAUD, China and Glass Emporium, corner of Brisbane and George Streets" - (Launceston Examiner, 29th July 1881 [p. 2]).
'Tasmanian Animals Wanted'
"Tasmanian Animals Wanted"
Launceston Examiner, 25th February 1881 (p. 4).

back to: The Collectors (page 4) return to the section's introduction forward to: The Collectors (page 6)

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.