| 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".
statement is true for many of the specimens acquired by the professional
The fifth revision of
the ITSD (2013) notes:
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
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".
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.
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".
Fric's shop in Prague at Vladislavova ulice.
Václav Fric's catalogue, circa 1914 (Reiling & Spunarová,
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
asks for twelve striped wolves (meaning our native tigers), for which he
offers £4 each; twelve devils at 10s each; twenty-four porcupine
at 10s each; and twelve wombats at 12s each. Mr.
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]).
Launceston Examiner, 25th
February 1881 (p. 4).