Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"An ocular demonstration of the power of the human mind over brute creation" Wirth's Circus Mixed Animal Act May 1903

         Image Source: Courtesy of State Library of Queensland Flickr The Commons 

During May 1903, Wirth Brothers Circus introduced a completely new act into their growing range of performances in the ring under the big top. Two young lionesses were purchased from Melbourne Zoo in February 1903, then trained along with a small pony, a dog and a goat to perform as a combination act. The animals made their debut on the evening of May 25th, 1903

Attention is arrested by a thrilling sight in the iron-enclosed ring, in which the wild animals perform. Here it is : A fur boa made of a lively lion hung round a trainer's neck, whilst on a stool close by another lion sits quietly watching a small dog at his feet. It is enough to take away one's breath, and to bring his heart with a jump right into his mouth. These two lions, it seems, are just being trained for public exhibition. They, were obtained from the Melbourne Zoo about four months ago, and when they are ready their turn will not be the least effective nor the safest in the programme.  A pony and a goat are next let into the ring, and a striking tableau is arranged. To get the animals to assume their positions and to remain there needs a great deal of patience and perseverance, but the success of the trainer's efforts are, as will be admitted, really remarkable. The old Scriptural prophecy, "The lion and the lamb shall lie down together," is outdone in the next scene. The whole five animals are induced to recline on the ground, the pony and the lions lying alongside each other, the goat standing on the pony, and the dog 'lying between the pony and one of the lions. Then up again, a somewhat similar tableau is arranged, as is here illustrated. This completes the lesson for the lions, and the tigers have their turn. As they are performing every night, however, they are not troubled much.

 The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939), p. 22 Supplement: Unknown.
 Retrieved March 16, 2015, from

I traced the act over several years. By October 1903, one lioness had been removed from the performing group. Wirths also seemed to be using the Bengal tigress "Kitty" in the act in place of the lioness from time to time;  ".....Lovers of the sensational had no cause for complaint, Mons. Ragout went through some daring feats with the tiger ' Kitty ' who had for her companions a dog, pony and goat. His last act of lifting the tiger and carrying it on his shoulders around the cage being amongst the most daring." (Wirth Bros.' Circus. (1903, October 8). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal )

  What was justly termed something unique in animal training was then exhibited by M. Rogalle with a lion, a pony, a dog, and a goat. The four animals romped together, lay down side by side, sat up with their forefeet on each other (where size and weight allowed), and generally performed things that have to be seen to be believed.

ENTERTAINMENTS. (1904, July 4). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 - 1950), p. 8 Retrieved March 16, 2015, from
By 1905, the same act continued with a change in the trainer's name.

 Mons. Wilde then introduced a great lion, a small pony, an agile goat, and a dog, and this strange animal company jumped hurdles and performed endless clever tricks, and in their friendliness anticipated the time when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, Perhaps that could be brought about more speedily if Leo could be induced to become a vegetarian.

ENTERTAINMENTS. (1905, December 23). 
Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 - 1931), p. 30. 
Retrieved March 16, 2015, 

By 1907, the animals were being trained under "Captain Lindo" and the dog seems to have been dropped from the performance with just three of the four animals remaining.

Captain Lindo with his lion, pony, and goat introduced fresh features all illustrative of the mastery of the human mind over the brute creation.

ENTERTAINMENTS. (1907, May 28). 
The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), p. 4.
Retrieved March 16, 2015, 

 During December 1907, the act seems to be split up into two different performing groups including two tigers and with yet another name change for the trainer. Wirths though still had the original act alternated with the newer introduced performance routines.

Senor Marco was either in the den of tigers or of lions putting the savage animals through their tricks as calmly as though he were among so many sheep. He had a lion, a tiger, and a goat performing in the one cage, a couple of tigers, a pony, and a dog in another. He carried a lion weighing 3 cwt. on his shoulders and put his head into the mouth of another, feats that made many people shudder to look at.
AMUSEMENTS. (1907, December 23). 
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 10.
Retrieved March 16, 2015, 

In late 1908, a kangaroo joined the performing group. It was killed in September 1909, by the lion when the animals were being returned to their cages.

 In another act a lion, kangaroo, goat, dog, and pony were in the ring together with the trainer, and the king of the forest proved as docile and obedient as either of his companions.
AMUSEMENTS. (1908, December 28). 
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 9.
Retrieved March 16, 2015, 

Last night a sensation was caused at Wirth's circus, Kilmore. The lion, goat, dog, and kangaroo, after the Performance were in the  same cage, and were being drafted as usual into their own cages, when the lion attacked the kangaroo and killed it.

A CIRCUS SENSATION. (1909, September 29).
Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 - 1954), p. 6.
Retrieved March 16, 2015, 

By December 1909, the kangaroo had been replaced and a number of acts combined into a larger spectacular with the original performance routine and animals phased out.
Then came the most sensational part of the programme. M.Marco introduced his group of performing lions, bear, leopards, dogs. Bengal tigers, a kangaroo, and a goat. The performance was a marvellous one. The incongruity of a ferocious looking king of beasts, a physically spare marsupial, a goat, and a grizzly bear being in a large iron cage together appealed to students of animal history, but they all seemed to be on friendly terms, even though the growl of the lion sometimes alarmed the children with a sense of impending danger. The animals were obedient to every touch of M. Marco, and they went through a number of evolutions well. It was a thrilling performance,…
WIRTH'S CIRCUS. (1909, December 28).
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 5. 
Retrieved March 16, 2015,

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Illusionist's Lion and the great escape

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19110302-16-2

In February 1911, the great illusionist Gustave Fasola, whose real name was Fergus O'Conner Greenwood from England, stepped forward on the Vaudeville stage of the Melbourne Opera House to perform his "The Lady to Lion" Illusion. Waiting in the wings, was the 18 year old African Lion "Wallace" confined in a cage ready to be transferred into the box prepared for him in the course of the illusion. Wallace, however, managed to escape from the cage to bound across the stage in front of a startled audience, before calmly making his way out of the theatre onto the streets of Melbourne. Followed by Fasola's assistant James Pearson, the lion eventually wandered into the Temperance and General Mutual Life Society's building, where Pearson told the lion to "go in there" after touching the big cat's whiskers with a long wire fork.  Melbourne Zoo, the lion's owners were soon contacted and the animal was soon contained an hour later, then returned to the zoo.

A thousand people waited on Saturday afternoon. outside the Temperance and General Building, Little Collins Street, Melbourne, to witness the recapture of a full grown lion. The lion, made his escape from the Opera House, and having walked down Little Collins Street, had been cleverly entrapped in the building in time to avert a panic.
The lion, which assisted Fasola the illusionist, to mystify the Opera House audiences, was engaged from the Zoological Gardens. While waiting in the wing, to be mysteriously transferred to an empty cabinet the door swung open, and springing onto the stage the lion stealthily crept forward to the footlights. The people in the stalls, uncertain whether to be frightened, rose hurriedly from their seats.
Mr. Pearson one of Fasola's attendants, touched the beast's whiskers with a long wire fork. The animal turned his head towards the other wing, and trotted across the stage. After abandoning the boards the lion quietly passed out of the stage door entrance into Rainbow-alley and into Little Collins street. Then a lady saw him and fainted, and other people fled in various directions.. The lion, however, showed no inclination to attack any one.
Pearson was the only person who seemed to have any regard for the lion's welfare.  He followed it from the Opera House, and when the corner of Swanston street was almost reached he noticed the open door of the Temperance and General Mutual Life Society's building. Touching the lion.with his fork the attendant said "Go in there," and to his surprise the order was obeyed.  As soon as the beast had entered the building Pearson closed the door; remaining outside himself. About an hour elapsed before the cage arrived from the Zoo, and into it the lion quietly entered.
Western Star and Roma Advertiser Wednesday 15 February 1911

Fasola, at Melbourne Opera House, has revived an old show pro, the lion used by him in his latest illusion being old Wallace, formerly with Bostock and Wombwell; but lately enjoying a well-earned rest at Melbourne Zoo. As soon as he heard the music, and saw the lights and crowd, the old fellow was so delight ed at being back again in the business that he bowed low in response to the applause, and strutted about his cage full of pride at being on the salary list. But Wallace was not satisfied with the narrow confines of the theatre. He watched his chance, slipped out of the stage door into Little Collins-street. He saw the open door of the Temperance and General Building at the corner of Swanston-street. and stalked in, an attendant who had followed him pulled the gate to, and he was securely caged, except that he had the run of the building. Those in offices barred themselves in till he was caught, and by Mr. Aydon's orders cut out of the programme and sent back to the Zoo.
The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People Saturday 25 February 1911

..After abandoning the boards the lion quietly passed out of the stage door entrance into Rainbow-alley, and into Little Collins street. Then a lady saw him and fainted, and other people fled in various directions. The lion, however, saw no inclination to attack anyone. Cowed by its unfamiliar surroundings it ambled hesitatingly along. Pearson was the only person who seemed to have any regard for the lion's welfare. He bad followed it from the Opera House, and when the corner of Swanston-street was almost reached he noticed the door open of the Temeprance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society's building. Touching the lion with his fork, the attendant said 'Go in there,' and to his surprise the order was obeyed. As soon as the boast had entered the building Pearson closed the door, remaining outside himself. A telephone message was sent to the Curator of the Zoological Gardens to send a cage down. This involved further delay. People had already waited three-quarters of an hour for the big game hunt, and were impatient to see the capture or the kill. They became so restless that mounted troopers had to be called to preserve a space in front of the door of the building'. The lion was also growing tired and began scratching at the frass. It tore some woodwork away and demonstrated its feelings in a series of roars, which excited the people to an extraordinary degree. They thought that it was going up stairs. Great pieces of meat were brought, and the beast at the sight of them became quiet. The lion was eventually captured quietly.

Freeman's Journal (NSW) Thursday 23 February 1911

The lion in question was an African Lion named Wallace. He had been purchased by the Melbourne Zoo in 1907, from Bostock & Wombwell's Circus stock.

...The break up of a menagerie such as Bostock and Wombwells gives the Zoo its opportunities. For a particuarly fine black maned lion, which the Zoo badly wanted and two lionesses which it did not want..
 THE NEGLECTED "ZOO.". (1907, March 15).
 The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 4.

 Wallace had been used by the Bostock & Wombwell Circus and Zoo for performances in New Zealand and Australia. At the conclusion of their Australasian tour the circus auctioned off the entirety of their stock and plant which included all of the animals. Wallace was also known to be the father of Wellington's first lion King Dick. Bostocks had gifted the one year old male cub to the City of Wellington in June 1906. King Dick was the nucleas that formed the early beginnings of New Zealand's first municipal zoological collections.

Dudley Le Souef, the director of the Melbourne Zoo had raised his concerns about the behaviour of the crowd, rather than that of his prized former circus lion.

"Wallace" was very glad to get home again; he was frightened, and excited, by the screaming and yelling of the crowd in the street."
"Mr. D. Le Souef, C.M.Z.S.. Director of the Zoological Gardens, made the above statement today when a "Melbourne Herald" ' reporter mentioned to him the startling incident of Saturday afternoon.
There would have been litfle difficulty or danger but for the thoughtless behaviour of the public." Mr. Le Souef continued. "The crowd became very excited pressed towards the lions retreat, and made such a great noise that our men, who were sent to cage the lion, couid hardly hear themselves speak. Had the barrier been removed, and the lion walked out, there would have been a stampede, and perhaps some people would have suffered in the crush."
"Was there any danger from the lion? Well, 'Wallace' is quiet enough. He has spent nearly all his life in captivity; but you can never trust a wild animal; it is always uncertain what it will do. Wallace is 18 years of age, but his teeth are still servicable. The danger lay, as I said, in the fact that the people went off their heads, and the police had to deal with it firmly."
"There is one statement I should like to correct' Our men never chloroformed  'Wallace,' or used any drug at all. The animal knew the men," and they knew how to deal with, it, using gentle persuasion. In 20 minutes from the time they set out, Wallace was safely caged. Yes, he was glad to be home again.

(1911, February 15). Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA : 1910 - 1924), p. 6. 

Fasola, used Wallace for his "Lady to Lion" illusion, which according to his biography he had invented. Fasola continued for some time afterwards to use Wallace in his shows. By 1912, Wallace no longer appears in the advertising. I have no death date at the time of writing for Wallace, but I can only assume be lived to around 20-21 years of age, the average life expectancy for a lion in captivity.
The Indian Fakir, Fasola, who has just concluded successful tours to the three Southern cities, will arive in Brisbane with his full compliment of 10 speciality artistes by Thursday's mail train. The advance guard, consisting of the mechanical staff, heavy gear, the scenery, and "Wallace," the lion which made such a sensational escape recently in Melbourne, arrived on Monday by the steamer Cooma, so that everthng will be in order for Saturday evenîng's initial performance at His Majestv's Theatre. Every act of Fasola's is said to be novel and striking.

The Brisbane Courier (QLD) Wednesday 3 May 1911

To say that those present were mystified by the tricks of this Indian fakir on Thursday evening would be putting it extremely mildly, for they were simply astounded that such things could be done under their very eyes, and yet not know the why or the wherefore. Whilst all the tricks were simply marvellous, the one which most impressed us was the illusion whereby the lion was made to appear on tho spot where a few seconds previously stood a young lady.

Cowra Free Press (NSW) Saturday 21 October 1911

About the Illusionist Fasola
Far from being the “Indian Fakir and Illusionist” he became renowned as, Gustave Fasola was actually born: Fergus O’Conner Greenwood on 5 April 1875 in Clayton-Le-Moors, Lancashire.
As a teenager, he toured small halls and schools with a friend James Lee, under the billing of “Professor Greenwood, sleight-of-hand entertainer”. During this time the pair were often in trouble with the police, using their “skills” for other than entertainment purposes. In 1892 in Blackburn with Darwen, they were both sent to prison for a month for larceny.
By 1894 he had representation and received some recognition for his act as in October of that year he was being promoted in The Era as “Professor Greenwood, the boy illusionist, acknowledged to be the youngest prestidigitateur in the World.”
By 1897 he was listed as “Miss Lyles American Mysteries assisted by Gustave Fasola, illusionist and hypnotist, light & dark séances, the Phoenix and original locked and corded box illusions.” And in 1899 “Gustave Fasola, ventriloquist and conjurer, also Miss Lyle in her cabinet séance.”
One wonders if this is where he got his idea for his elaborate “bridal chamber” trick, which he performed at the Tivoli Theatre in Adelaide in 1911. “………. a cabinet composed of little else than a framework with a floor was enveloped by a curtain, which, however, gave full view all round the cabinet to the audience. Immediately the curtain was withdrawn, instead of the skeleton cabinet there appeared a furnished bedroom.”
Gustave Fasola toured Australia and New Zealand between 1911 and 1913 where his son Fergus Greenwood Jnr was born in Auckland on 2 March 1912. Fergus Snr died on 14 January 1929 in London.

Fasola's legacy lived on through out the decades. The most famous performances of the Lady to Lion trick perhaps lie with the duo Siegfried and Roy. The pair used white tigers as part of their trademark act. Roy was later attacked by a tiger named Monticore, and had sustained serious injuries. The final performance of Siegfried and Roy is shown in the video below. Animal acts were a huge part of the earlier Vaudeville scene from which Fasola had gained his fame from.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Wild Child Revisited - Rajah the Auckland Museum elephant

Rajah's mounted bulk at the entrance to the Wild Child Gallery at Auckland Museum

One of the most iconic of exhibits at the Auckland Museum is Rajah the elephant. There are the stories of how Rajah was a bad elephant that spat at visitors, and generally made himself a problem at Auckland Zoo. Back in 2010, my close friend Lisa Truttman who authors the well respected Timespanner heritage blog, had taken a rather haunting image of the iconic elephant. Perhaps it had haunted me enough, to wonder just exactly how Rajah had ended up being a taxidermied specimen in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. So I went looking, and didn't find the story of the bad elephant the stories would have us all believe. What I discovered instead was a tale of misunderstandings, colonial pride and the exploitation of the resources available to the (then) British Empire. Lisa in her own time had gone to Auckland Council Archives, and had taken the trouble to locate the records on Rajah, when he was at Auckland Zoological Gardens. He was destroyed in March of 1936, right in the heart of the depression years. I wrote a guest blog post entitled "The Wild Child" where I covered Rajah's years at the now defunct Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart Tasmania. He was the first, and only, elephant ever held at the Beaumaris Zoo.

Derek Wood in his writings on Rajah in the 1992 publication "A Tiger by the Tail - The History of Auckland Zoo 1922-1992" remarked on how Auckland Zoo had been sold a second hand elephant by the Hobart City Council. He had also made note, that Rajah's bad behaviour was the result of a visitor putting a lighted cigarette in his trunk when he was at Hobart Zoo, based on the notes he had made during his research at the Auckland Council Archives (formerly Auckland City Council Archives). And since 1943, from an old interview with Colonel Sawyer,  a former Curator of the Auckland Zoo, that has been the belief recorded in the history of the Auckland Zoological Gardens. It is also recorded in the history section of the Auckland Zoo website

"Rajah, the Zoo's first male elephant arrived at Auckland Zoo, from Hobart, Australia, in November 1930. Unbeknown to the Zoo at the time, Rajah was a difficult animal to manage. After many years of trying to cope with him, Rajah sadly become too dangerous and unmanageable, and was eventually shot in March 1936. Rajah is currently on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.   According to the book, 'Tiger by the Tail', prior to his coming to Auckland Zoo, the brutal action of a visitor at Hobart Zoo placing a lighted cigarette in Rajah's trunk is thought to have been key in triggering his difficult behaviour."

Retrieved 12 August 2013

I'm going to write this brief post with reference to the commentary on the Auckland Zoo website, based on records from both the contemporary newspaper reports of the period (1925-1930), and from the records Lisa had obtained from the Auckland Council Archives.

In the first part of the commentary, Auckland Zoo states:

"Rajah, the Zoo's first male elephant arrived at Auckland Zoo, from Hobart, Australia, in November 1930. Unbeknown to the Zoo at the time, Rajah was a difficult animal to manage." 
However, my previous research into the years spent at Hobart Zoo, shows a completely different elephant from the one portrayed by that statement. Rajah was giving children rides at Hobart Zoo almost right up to the time that he left Hobart in late 1930. His first rides were given to both children adults in October of 1927

Children will hear with pleasure that "Jumbo," the baby elephant at the Beaumaris Zoo, has at last consented to carry them in a howdah on his rolling back on excursions about the gardens. "Jumbo" at first proved a very incorrigible youngster, and it has taken almost a year to train him, but he is now as docile an elephant as is to be found anywhere, and seems greatly to enjoy his role as the zoo's locomotive. He carried his first party of juvenile passengers on Wednesday, and his popularity was instantaneous. He is "open to engagement" between 3 and 4 o'clock each afternoon, and adults are carried as well as children. 

In late 1928, a report again shows Rajah as giving rides at the zoo.

... Rides on the elephant were very popular with the children, and the good natured animal probably carried more youngsters on Saturday than ever he had done before... 

Rajah (then named Jumbo) giving children rides December 1927 (The Mercury 10 December 1927)

The decision to sell Rajah, wasn't because of his behaviour, but rather an economic one. Beaumaris Zoo was already running at a loss. It was also the beginning of the Great Depression years that caused a world wide economic recession. The Reserves Committee opted to write to the Auckland Council in September of 1930, offering the elephant for the Auckland Zoo.

“At our Beaumaris Zoo we have a male elephant (13 years of age) which has been a great source of attraction for children and others, and hitherto has proved a financial success, but the edge of the attraction has, through custom, worn off.”
“The animal is tame and accustomed to taking children for rides, and for many months after its arrival proved remunerative to us, but now the novelty has worn off, and our population being small, it is not much patronised.”
“In common with all other public bodies, we are endeavouring to cut down expenses, and it has been decided to offer the elephant on loan for a term, or failing such arrangements, that it be sold.”

Letter from Hobart City Council to Auckland City Council 15 September 1930
(Auckland Council Archives)

The letter from Hobart City Council is further supported by the reports in the Mercury in 1930
There is a possibility that the days of Jumbo, or whatever the name of the elephant is, at the Beaumaris Zoo, are numbered. Owing to the state of the finances of the Reserves Committee of tho Hobart, City, Council this year, economies have to be made regarding reserves generally, and particularly the Zoo. The elephant being the most laborious item of upkeep, the question of his sale has received, the consideration of the committee, and an offer, has been received from New Zealand.  The matter, will probably be decided at an early meeting.

 His nature was reported as being docile when he was being shipped to Sydney for a brief spell at Taronga Park Zoo, prior to his shipping to Auckland.

Jumbo, the Beaumaris Zoo elephant that left Hobart on Friday for the Auckland Zoo, to which he has been sold, was docile throughout the preparations for his departure, and this permitted of arrangements being made by the Curator of the Zoo (Mr. A. R. Reid) without hindrance. But, as Mr. Reid said, animals are controlled by the voice, and it is not everyone that has this influence.  The large bulk of an elephant in itself is terrorising, and there are some who did not get used to Jumbo. Even on the wharf the labourers called warnings to one another, as an inquiring trunk came wandering in and out of the bars of the crate, but Jumbo did no harm to anyone. Mr. Reid, who was naturally sorry to see the animal go, has hopes of getting another young elephant for Beaumaris Zoo some time in the future. He said he would miss the trumpeting at night at the Zoo. The animal's good growth in Tasmania, Mr. Reid attributed to the climate, but he was modest.

In the second part of the information on Rajah noted on the Auckland Zoo History page it states:

"According to the book, 'Tiger by the Tail', prior to his coming to Auckland Zoo, the brutal action of a visitor at Hobart Zoo placing a lighted cigarette in Rajah's trunk is thought to have been key in triggering his difficult behaviour."

This information was based upon a letter written by Northcote socialite  Miss L. J. Tremain to the head of the Parks & Reserves Committee E. J. Phelan dated 18 March 1936, sent 9 days after Rajah had been shot at Auckland Zoo on 9 March 1936. In the letter she wrote, Tremain made the following claims:

Three years ago while on a tour of N.S.W and Tasmania, I visited the Hobart Zoo. While there I got into a conversation with the head curator whose name I now forget. When he heard that I came from Auckland, he said “Oh you have got ‘Rajah’ there now, whom we once had here, but as he became dangerous, we had to get rid of him.” He told me a story of how a boy had put a lighted cigarette in Rajah’s trunk causing the animal such pain, that no child was safe near him that the curator asked of the headmaster of a school nearby, to send the children over each day and then he lined them up, each with a piece of bread, and with keepers held Rajah by means of ropes and pointed instruments, the children filed past and fed him. But being fearful of further outbreak, he was glad to get the permission of his Council to sell the beast to the Auckland Zoo. After he had disposed of Rajah he received some illustrated papers from London, in one of which he saw a picture “of rogue elephant” chasing the keepers at the London Zoo and identified it as “Rajah”.
Letter from L. J. Tremain to E.J. Phelan 
Chairman Parks & Reserves Committee
18 March 1936
Auckland Council Archives

The claim Tremain makes is completely without any substance. Contemporary reports as illustrated previously, negate any claims that Rajah's behaviour was due to such a ludicrous notion. Not one part of the story makes any logical sense as to 'why' Arthur Reid the curator of the Beaumaris Zoo, would even come up with such a method, to supposedly cure the elephant of his alleged unruly behaviour. The letter from the Hobart City Council in September clearly states :

In common with all other public bodies, we are endeavouring to cut down expenses, and it has been decided to offer the elephant on loan for a term, or failing such arrangements, that it be sold.”

Her claim that Rajah was at London Zoo is another point of contention. Rajah was never at London Zoo. He was the property of London based animal dealer George Bruce Chapman who owned Chapman's London Zoo Circus. Rajah had no name either prior to coming to Beaumaris Zoo, as he was still a calf at the time. Arthur Reid named him "Jumbo" after he had arrived at the Hobart facility. Chapman most likely had obtained the young elephant, from one of the many elephant drives through out Burma and India. The small elephant was exhibited as part of a group of 15 others in the Burma court at the Wembley Exhibition in 1924. Surplus to requirements, Reid and Chapman did a trade, the elephant was swapped for a Bennett's Wallaby and a Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine). Chapman got his curiosities to pass on to another zoo, and Hobart got its first and only ever elephant for the municipal zoo.

My point is this. The myth surrounding the cause of Rajah's alleged bad behaviour had absolutely nothing to do with any cigarette being stubbed on his trunk. The cause is more likely in the fact that Rajah was a male elephant. A male elephant removed far too early from his social group, and that needs to be taken into serious consideration, when coming to any conclusions about 'why' he was destroyed. From Sawyer's initial report after Curator Griffin's death in 1935, Sawyer had considered that Rajah was a liability, and was well aware of the consequences in not having the facilities to deal with an adult bull Asian elephant coming into possible early musth condition.  I covered this issue in the blog post I wrote in 2010 (see link in the first paragraphs). Auckland Zoo needs to remove the cigarette in the trunk reference completely, and the causes of Rajah's unfortunate destruction revisited from a better perspective based on the available research done of elephant behaviour, rather than a story written by a Northcote socialite.


Since the writing of this post, Auckland Zoo have amended the reference to Rajah on their website. They are to be commended for taking the information provided and acting professionally on this issue. Thank you Auckland Zoo.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Alice to the rescue

This photo was taken in New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand by the Auckland Weekly News 25 February 1924. A search of the papers of the time reveals no reports of this incident. However, not all incidents involving overturned train carriages in provincial towns were necessarily reported. Alice, of course was actually named 'Primcess Alice' and in this time period was predominant in the Wirth's Circus elephant herd. Whatever the story behind this image it's a lost reminder of a great Australian family circus long since gone, but not forgotten.

Friday, November 16, 2012

King Dick - The Lion that started New Zealand's first Municipal Zoo

In 1906, visiting UK circus Bostock & Wombell's Circus & Menagerie offered the gift of a young one year old African Lion Panthera leo to the City of Wellington.The Wellington City Council accepted the offer and arrangements were made to collect the cub from Government meteorologist Rev. D.C. Bates one of the man proponents for the beginnings of Wellington's first zoological park accompanied the young animal back by train from New Plymouth to Wellington, where he was housed in a small enclosure (described as a 'pillbox' in one publication) at Newtown Park, Newtown, Wellington. The lion spent 14 years at the Wellington Zoo before he lost control of his hind legs and was subsequently destroyed by the adminstration of poison on 18 December 1920 (Evening Post 23 December 1920). His remains were sent to the Newtown Museum for mounting. King Dick exists today at Te Papa.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The First Elephants in Australasia

Image from Trove of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel & Zoological Gardens
 Botany Bay, Sydney, NSW, Australia

I've been in recent discussions with the great team at The Dictionary of Sydney regarding the first elephants in Australia. Some time back I researched the missing Alice the Elephant of William Anderson's Wonderland City at Tamarama, Bondi, Sydney and found out what had actually happened to her. We discovered of course that she became the famous "Princess Alice" of Wirth's Circus. Princess Alice died in November of 1941. While I was in the Dictionary of Sydney's website (well worth checking out) I came across the above image depicting a scene with two elephants in it. That sparked my curiosity as where these two animals came from. This is a brief overview of what I've found so far to date.

After initial research I found the first importation of elephants into Australia appears to be in late 1851 when a male and female elephant from Dacca, India were shipped from Calcutta on board the ship Golden Saxon. She came into port at Hobart. The male elephant was sold at auction, and was exhibited around various hotels in Hobart before he was shipped to Melbourne, before ending up in Adelaide where he ended up pulling a plow. The elephant was named "Tommy" It appears he died around 1860, however I still have to confirm a definite death date on this animal.

The next elephant, a 22 month old female was shipped into Sydney and became the first elephant to set foot on the Australian continent. She was imported by William Beaumont a timber merchant in Sydney. Beaumont and Waller's Sir Joseph Banks Hotel was set in expansive grounds on the shores of Botany Bay and it was here where one Australasia's first zoos was established. The Australian Museum did have a menagerie (although their timeline states it was Sydney's first zoo) at Hyde Park,Sydney, that included a female Bengal Tiger (the first imported into Australia), an American Brown Bear, Gibbons and other exotics. According to an 1857 report for the years 1853/54 the collection was sold to Beaumont in 1854. The female elephant Beaumont had imported was advertised as being named "Jenny Lind" when Beaumont held a fete at the Zoological Gardens in December of 1851. She was on display at the Zoological gardens for some years. 

In June of 1855 it was reported that she had died, however, earlier in the year around January, a 4 year old male elephant was put up for auction in Sydney. Beaumont in one of his many advertisements (May 1855) stated he had a male elephant and female elephant. In June, Bell's Sporting Life reported that the female elephant "Sarah" had died and the body had been handed over to the Australian Museum for preparation for display. It turned out however that the elephant the Australian Museum put on display was male. The two animals in the image are Jenny Lind or Sarah as she was also called, and the 4 year old male elephant. I can't find any importations by Beaumont himself,  I can only ascertain that the four year male put up for auction was the male elephant Beaumont later stated he had in his collection. Jenny Lind however continued on beyond 1855. Her journey covers almost 17 years of different owners. It appears she finally ended up in Hobart 1867, and was on display around various hotels for a few months. She was again sold in early 1868, then in February 1868 was shipped on the Swordfish to Dunedin, New Zealand. She was on exhibition for a short time in the city, before being taking North towards Christchurch. She died at the Waitaki River around March 1868 after she was let loose by her owner. The elephant consumed the poisonous plant Tutu and was dead within two hours. What happened to her body - simply we don't know. I have to yet to definitely confirm that the elephant brought into Hobart was this elephant however,  all indications so far it appears that it is her.

The last elephant I've found was another female imported into Hobart in early 1855. She was also auctioned off and used for exhibitions. It's possible she ended up in a theatre at Geelong, Victoria but I have yet to research further into her movements.

Sources to date have come from Trove and Papers Past with one record on the Australian Museum website.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Stormy Old Casey" - The Sins of the Simians Part 2

"Casey, the chimpanzee, specially posing for the camera at Taronga Park Zoo in the keeper's hat."
Image: Sydney Morning Herald  28 July 1932

Taronga Park has been fortunate in securing two exceptionally interesting and valuable animals. One is a large male chimpanzee from West Africa…

 Sydney Morning Herald 4 June 1920

 In 1920, Taronga Park Zoological Gardens obtained a young male chimpanzee going by the name of Casey. The seller was Ellis Joseph, a New York based animal dealer who had kept Casey as a pet for two years, before eventually selling him to the Taronga Park Trust.

Ellis we have seen in a previous tale of another chimpanzee also named Casey. This particular primate was named for the first which Ellis had later sold to showman Thomas Fox. Casey the first ended his days in the USA at the Sells-Floto Circus as a side show attraction.

Tracing the lives of these two very individual male chimpanzees initially proved difficult. With reports of one in the USA, and then one in Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, it took some time to finally divide into their individual stories.

Ellis Joseph in an interview with the Sunday Morning Star USA (5 July 1925) explained how he had sold 'Casey the second' to Taronga Park Zoo in 1920, then had visited the ape a year later. The visit almost turned into a fatal encounter when Casey bit into Joesph's face and caused serious injuries.

"You ask me if animals, wild ones have any affection.  They have too much sometimes. That was the trouble with Casey the Second. I had Casey as a pet and sold him to the Sydney Zoological Gardens, in Australia..”

"A year later I visited the zoo. It was on a holiday, April 25, the anniversary of the landing of the Anzacs at Gallipoli. Well, the chimp spotted me two city blocks away. We went plumb crazy.”

“I went up to the cage through the crowds and walked in saying ‘Hello Casey.’ Just like a baby he put his arm around me and hugged me, a terrific hug, and I put my arm around him. He was chattering all the time.”

“Then he tried to kiss me. He was so excited he didn’t know what he was doing. One of his lower teeth went up through my neck; in and out that tooth went, while he was kissing me. I fell to the floor and he fell with me.”

“Did the the chimp know he had hurt me? Of course he did. He went to his corner and sulked. I had 43 stitches taken and as soon as I was able to leave the hospital, the first thing I did was to go and see Casey, just to show there was no hard feeling.

“He was so happy that it was almost pathetic.”

Casey was left at Taronga Park with a small Fox Terrier dog as company. Naturally, the zoo wanted to make as much publicity as possible, to draw attention to the close bond between primate and canine species.



Advertising  Sydney Morning Herald  5 June 1920

At the end of 1921, the unfortunate small dog named "Spot" passed away, from an infection caused by ticks and fleas. From that point on Casey pined for his companion, and remained in a solitary capacity.

Sydney, Dec 1
 Casey, the chimpanzee at the Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney, who came into the limelight some time ago because of the injuries which he inflicted, in the exuberance of his affection, upon Mr. Ellis Joseph, the man who had captured him in the wilds, when they met after a long separation, is again attracting attention because of his grief at the loss of his mate, a smooth-haired terrier, who used to share his cage and play with him. 

To drown his grief Casey has taken to drink, but he drinks nothing stronger than tea. The little dog and Casey had long been chums, just a short while ago the dog was bitten by ticks and died, and Casey is grieving over his loss. One of Casey's few consolations is drinking afternoon tea. About the fashionable, hour of 4 p.m. a keeper brings; a billy can of milky tea and a tin mug, fills the mug, and hands it through the bars to Casey, who empties the mug in one gulp. 

The process is repeated till Casey is satisfied. But ever in the midst of the revelry Casey cannot forget his little friend. He preserves a gloomy and morose aspect, and often has to be coaxed to take his refreshment.  Casey has a good memory. For instance, he recognised Mr. Ellis Joseph after an absence of many months.. Perhaps in time another dog will take the place of Spot, but just at present it is thought better to leave Casey alone.

 Though he looks rough enough, Casey is more lady-like in his ways than Molly, the orang-outang in the Melbourne gardens. Molly is a confirmed smoker, and never takes tea. Probably she would prefer cocktails if she could get them. Casey used to be fond of a walk with Mr. Joseph, and would march solemnly along with great propriety.—Christchurch Press correspondent.

 Hawera & Normanby Star 29 December 1921

 Japanese macaque on Wikimedia commons

 In 1923 Casey following the natural instincts that chimpanzees exhibit in the wild, killed a Japanese macaque that was in the enclosure next to him. More recent research by Dr Jane Goodall later revealed that chimpanzees do hunt and kill other species in the wild.

The chimpanzee at the "Sydney Zoo the other day tore down the bars between his cage and that of the Japanese ape, which he seized and murdered by trampling it and strangling it. He then smashed the body about until every bone in it was broken. Spectators said the rage of the chimpanzee was the worst exhibition of animal rage they had ever seen.
- The Mercury 10 September 1923

 During 1932, serious welfare concerns were raised about the poor conditions the animals in the collection were being kept in at Taronga Park. The chimpanzee and orangutan enclosures were described in the Mercury (4 July 1932) as being "small dark huts and not likely to sweeten the temper of unfortunate animals whose only outlook on life was through iron bars."

In 1934, Casey managed to escape from his captive state by slipping the chain that was around his neck. He was recaptured a short time later and secured by a keeper.


The chimpanzee, one of the most valuable inhabitants of Taronga Park Zoo, found a way out of his temporary enclosure yesterday, and took a walk around the park Alterations were being made to his home and he was temporarily chained nearby. He broke the chain, clambered over a fence and made the most of his liberty He was found by a keeper, and returned to his former custody

 Sydney Morning Herald 15 March 1934

In January of 1936, photographer Cherry Kearton visited Taronga Zoo and paid some attention to the solitary chimpanzee who had a reputation for temperament problems. Kearton mimicked the sounds chimpanzees made and had a response from the large male primate.

..Casey, the chimpanzee, appeared to recognise in Mr. Kearton some association with the jungle. He was sitting placidly near the roof of his cage when Mr. Kearton approached, the visitor then conversed with Casey in his own tongue. Casey immediately climbed down to get a better look at the stranger, and, after studying him for a few moments, stamped round his cage in evident excitement, slowly at first, but getting faster as he progressed, until, when encircling the cage for the last time, his smacks on the concrete floor with hard, padded feet could be heard half-way round the zoo. He followed Mr. Kearton with his eyes when he moved away, and crouched into the nearest corner, as if desiring to get out and be better acquainted with one who knew his language. Casey was excited for the rest of the day....

 Sydney Morning Herald 11 January 1936

 Barely a month later, after Kearton's visit Casey died at the young age of around 26-28 years old. He was at least a year old when he had arrived at Taronga Park Zoo. The Sydney Morning Herald (7 March 1936) lamented his loss:

Casey, beloved, stormy "old chimp," who has attracted and delighted countless thousands of children and grown- ups with his antics, is dead. The zoo will be different without him, and it will seem strange, when making a visit there, not to go immediately to Casey's cage to bid him good-day, for, ever since his arrival, besides being the most famous and popular of all the animals, he had voluntarily assumed the responsibilities of host at Taronga Park, and he expected, in return for his trouble, the privilege of seeing everyone who came to the place.

(From "The Post's" Representative.) SYDNEY, February 5..

Friend of Taronga Park Zoo visitors for nearly 20, years, Casey, the famous chimpanzee, was found dead in his cage, after he had been ailing for only a few days.

The cause of death was old age. Casey was at least 27 years of age, and was said to be the oldest chimpanzee in captivity in the world. Casey amused visitors to the Zoo, young and old alike, by his quaint antics, and was generally rewarded with gifts of peanuts, fruit, and biscuits. His "star" turn was the simulation of a huge rage when the group of spectators round his cage barracked" him. The unwary among them was always likely to be the target of bananas that Casey would pluck from the bunch away  in his cage and fling through the bars.

Another achievement of Casey was to kill sparrows that came to his cage to pick crumbs from the floor; he would first stun them with bananas unerringly thrown and then squeeze and pluck them. His wild jungle-dance, something like an exaggerated Charleston, to the accompaniment of spectators' humming, was another of his turns. Thousands of people went to the Zoo solely to see him, and Zoo officials estimated that he-was worth at least £500 a year to them.


Casey was brought from the United States in the first instance by Mr. E. S. Joseph, a noted animal trainer. Mr. Joseph revisited Sydney many years after he sold Casey to the Zoo, and going to see Casey was recognised affectionately by the latter when Mr. Joseph jibbered to him. This ability to recognise experts in animalogy was more recently demonstrated when Casey, spoken to in the language of the jungle by Mr. Cherry Kearton, famous big game photographer and naturalist, now visiting Sydney, became tremendously excited and answered with his curious , barking noises. Mr. Kearton and the chimpanzee carried on quite a conversation for several minutes, amazing the small group of officials and privileged visitors who witnessed the incident. The chimpanzee was of a different type from most members of this species, and for that reason was a social object of interest to naturalists. "He seemed to have a strain of the gorilla in him." said Mr. W. J. Brown, secretary of the Taronga Park Trust. '"We shall miss Casey, but we hope to 'be able to obtain a young pair male and female and train them.”

        Evening Post 12 February 1936


A cage at the Sydney zoo is empty, a cage that, for the past twenty years, has housed the most popular animal in the whole of Taronga Park. Casey, beloved, stormy "old chimp," who has attracted and delighted countless thousands of children and grown- ups with his antics, is dead.

The zoo will be different without him, and it will seem strange, when making a visit there, not to go immediately to Casey's cage to bid him good-day, for, ever since his arrival, besides being the most famous and popular of all the animals, he had voluntarily assumed the responsibilities of host at Taronga Park, and he expected, in return for his trouble, the privilege of seeing everyone who came to the place.

It was Casey's cage which invariably attracted most of the visitors, and it was Casey's antics which never failed to delight the scores of people who were always gathered around the cage watching him. It was Casey who never failed to show himself to his admirers, and to stamp about for their amusement, and it is for Casey that all who have watched his tricks will mourn.

But, for all his friends, Casey had known no real companion since the death of the little fox terrier whom he loved so much and who lived so long with him in his cage, and, while he was always surrounded by crowds of people, he seemed to be lonely and to long for companionship. Perhaps, it is better that his loneliness is over.

The Sydney Morning Herald 7 March 1936