Beaumaris Zoo (Hobart) Zoo Part 1 - The Legacy of Beaumaris

The old Hobart Zoo has always been the place where the last known captive Thylacine Benjamin died. Other than that, the history of the zoo has almost vanished from memory. There was far more to what was correctly named Beaumaris Zoo, than just the bad place where Tasmanian Tigers died.

Over the course of 15 years a zoo developed, animals and birds of varying species were brought in from across the world. In 1937, however, the reality of the depression era had set in and Hobart City Council closed the facility down for good.

This post is about how the zoo began . Like Auckland Zoo in New Zealand, Hobart Zoo began with a private collection. This collection had been the work of Mary Grant Roberts a pioneer in the breeding of Tasmanian Devils.

Mrs Mary Grant Roberts of Beaumaris

Beaumaris Zoo was originally located at the property of Mary Grant Roberts at Sandy Bay in Hobart. Mrs Roberts  was a pioneer of the successful breeding of Tasmanian Devils Sarcophilus harrisii.

She presented a paper in June 21 1915  to the Zoological Society of London on the subject. Titled "The Keeping and Breeding of Tasmanian Devils" Mrs Roberts read her paper before the society on 20 October 1915.

This paper was published in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1915 on page 575.

 We have received a reprint from tho proceedings of the Zoological Society of London of the paper by Mrs. Roberts, C.M.Z.S.. M.R.A.O.U., of Hobart, on "The keeping and breeding of Tasmanian Devils." 
It is a most entertaining record of Mrs. Roberts experiences with the Tasmanian devil in her private zoo. This animal hitherto has had a very bad character, but as Mrs. Roberts depicts him popular opinion upon the subject will have to be revised, for she shows him to be lively, intelligent and capable of affection for his keepers. 
The paper is the first record ever made of the domestic ways of the Tasmanian Devil, and it was at Beaumaris Zoo in 1913 that these, animals first bred in captivity. It may be added that Mrs. Roberts paper has attracted widespread attention, and she is deservedly regarded as the lending authority upon this State's native animals.

After her death in November of 1921 the entire collection of some 200 birds, marsupials, mammals and reptiles, was offered by the Roberts family to the state government. The government however turned down the offer. Hobart City Council agreed to take the collection provided the state government could provide an annual subsidy. A subsidy of  £250 per annum was approved on 10 February 1922, by the government and appropriated for the new zoo.

A message was received from the Administrator of the Government authorising the appropriation of £250 from the consolidated revenue as a subsidy to the Hobart City Council towards the upkeep of the Beaumaris Zoo.

In January of 1922 Hobart City Council had accepted the Roberts family offer, and chose the sight of the Queen's Domain in which to house the Zoological Collection.

The Hobart City Council on Monday accepted from the family of the late Mrs. Mary Roberts the gift of the zoological collection, belonging to that lady. It includes Tasmanian devils and tigers, specimens of other fauna belonging to Tasmania, and a number of foreign animals. The Tasmanian Government has offered a subsidy, and the City Council would provide buildings and caretakers. 
The collection, is known the world over, Mrs. Roberts, who was a member of several zoological societies, having supplied many animals to London, the Australian mainland, and other zoos. In her collection, there occurred the only case on record of the Tasmanian devil breeding in captivity. The City Council has chosen an excellent site for the zoo on the Domain.

Several suggestions for a suitable site in Hobart had been put forward by members of the public according to the Mercury (29 March 1922) to the Hobart City Council  including the recreation ground at West Hobart, the Parliament Reserve, St Davids old burial ground, and Franklin Square. The writer in the Mercury considered these as rather outlandish options. The most suitable, the editorial noted was the proposal to site the future zoological gardens in the Domain.

...The proposal that commends itself most forcefully to those who believe in the future of Hobart, is to concentrate those bigger pleasure resorts on the Domain, which was granted specifically for that very purpose..

In early March advertisements were put out for the position of curator for the new yet to be constructed Zoo at the Queens Domain.

APPLICATIONS for the position of Curator of the Bcaumaris Zoo, giving qualifications
and previous experience, and accompanied by recent testimonials, will be received
until 12 Noon on MONDAY, the 13th March, 1922.
Preference given to returned settlers and soldiers
Full particulars obtainable at my Public Office
A. W. Cecil Johnstone
Acting Town Clerk
Town Hall, Hobart
28th February 1922
                                                                                                                                            Advertisement The Mercury 8 March 1922

The Hobart City Council Reserves Committee held a meeting on the evening of 27 March 1922 to consider the two applicants namely Arthur R. Reid and H. Stuart Dove. The successful applicant was Arthur Reid who was appointed to the position as curator of Beaumaris Zoo. Committee Member Alderman Breen moved that the site of the zoo should be changed from the quarry to Lambert Park. The motion was carried.

The Mercury (28 April 1922) suggested in an editorial that Arthur Reid with his appointment as curator should be sent to Taronga Park Zoological Gardens in Sydney to see the well respected director of the facility Albert. S. Le Souef who had recently been on a trip to London to discuss zoological matters. 

The editorial also suggested that Reid could discuss with Le Souef about the layout design for the future Beaumaris Zoo. Taronga Park Zoo was well known  in Australasia for advancement in enclosure design and lay out. Le Souef's expertise had also been sought by the proponents of the fledging Auckland Zoological Gardens in 1923.

Arthur Reid the new curator had been born in Edinburgh, Scotland and had emigrated to Tasmania at aged 21 years. According to his obituary (Mercury 14 December 1935) Reid had been an avid naturalist since boyhood. When he had come to Tasmania the Mercury stated Reid had taken a special interest in the rearing of pheasants and english birds. Reid died at aged 70 years on 13 December 1935.

By May 1922 the Mercury (30 May 1922) reported that a curator had been appointed, plans drawn up for the layout of the new zoological gardens and tenders for the fencing of the site had closed. It was also reported that the old quarry site had been selected and an area of some 'five and three quarter acres of land' had been set aside.

Reid had left Hobart for the mainland for 18 days to visit zoos in Sydney, Melbourne and Ballarat inspecting collections and 'gaining experience in the methods of management'. Part of his trip, so it was reported, was an intention to arrange for the exchange of animals and birds. He was also on his return going to advise and report on the enclosure designs for the future zoo. Once the fencing around the zoo site was complete construction of the animal and bird enclosures was to commence with an office for the curator.

The Reserves committee had been charged with the task of constructing the new enclosures with as much space as possible for the animals and birds. One example the Mercury gave in the report was for the eagle cage describing it as:

"..The eagle cage for instance; will be 18 feet high and 30 feet long, to give the big birds all possible freedom.."

The enclosures were to be made of wood, iron and iron netting. Gifts of  red and fallow deer had been promised for the new zoo. The Roberts collection at the Beaumaris property in Sandy Bay, however had suffered some losses. The Tasmanian Devils Mrs Roberts had so carefully tended had all died. A Thylacine was reported as recovering from ill health due to Mr Reid's care. A new pair of Tasmanian devils had been offered to replace those lost in the collection. The wallabies, kangaroos, possums and other animals and birds were reported to be in the best of condition. It was estimated the zoo would open in two months time.

During June the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail had written an article on the poor condition of the Robert's collection being housed at the old Beaumaris property. The Reserves Committee reported this to the Hobart City Council and Curator Reid reported that the Tasmanian Devils had been disposed of before the Hobart City Council had taken the collection over. He had also advised that there had been an aged wallaby which had died, and the 'wolf' (referring to the Thylacine) had not had a mate for over two years. No wombats were present in the collection, and a squirrel had not had a mate for 18 months. He had also destroyed what was termed as a 'native cat'. 54 animals were noted as being in the collection on 19 April 1922 by Reid in his report.

The Reserves Committee reported that in the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail  of June 22, reference was made, under the heading of "Nature Notes," to the Beaumaris Zoo.
The article stated a number of the animals looked poorly and a good many of the cages were now empty. The Curator in reporting on the matter stated that all the devils were disposed of before the collection was offered to the Council, the wolf had not had a mate for over two years and the squirrel for eighteen months 
There were no wombats in the zoo when he took over and an old wallaby which died and a native cat which he destroyed were the only animals lost.
There were 48 animals in the zoo on the 19th April, and there were 54 now, all of  which looked well.
Dealing with the second part of the notes- "Solitary Captives" the Curator stated much depended on the individuality of the animal or bird whether it suffered or not from the loss of its mate. Alderman Williams proposed the adoption of this report and said that a couple of badgers had been donated by a gentleman in the country Alderman Rogers, in seconding, said ' that there were over 100 birds in addition
          The report was adopted 

During early August Alderman Williams (Mercury 9 August 1922) had advised the National Parks Board, he was keen to obtain a collection of 'green and rosella parrots' for the new zoo.  He had also reported that the new zoo had already obtained six possums and a pair of badgers. The request was duly granted.

Australian Wedge Tail Eagle

In late August 1922, R. Bruce a representative of the Nestle Milk Company, managed to capture a large Wedge Tail Eagle (Aquila audax fleayi) at Pyengana for the collection. The raptor had been injured by a rabbit trap when it was sent to Reid to be cared for, adding to the growing zoological collection.

Mr R Bruce, representative of Nestle's Milk Co, while at Pyengana, noticed a large Wedge-tailed eagle, which seemed to fly with difficulty, and on closer observation noticed it had a rabbit trap attached to one of its feet. He gave chase, but not until he had gone a mile or two did the eagle's strength give out and it was obliged to land on the ground 
When he approached it it showed fight with beak and claws, but he managed to secure it, and procuring a large case, forwarded it by rail to the Curator of the Hobart Zoo, where it arrived safely, and is now quite at home in the aviary at Beaumaris with the other two of its kind.
It is to be hoped that all other people will follow Mr Bruce's example and forward to the Zoo and animals or birds that come into their possession.

By September further additions were made to the increasing zoological collection gifts of a pair of Tasmanian Devils, as well black possum and grey possums were made by members of the public (Mercury 19 September 1922).

In October the Reserves Committee (The Mercury 18 October 1922) had reported that tenders had been received for the construction of the curator's office and other buildings including a tea kiosk.

Good progress on the construction had been made by the early part of the month. The fencing around the new site was completed, with workmen putting the finishing touches to the ponds where the water fowl would be placed.  Aviaries and enclosures for the yet to be transferred birds were well on their way to completion, although there was delay due to a wait for the wire netting from Sydney.

A pair of lions had been gifted to the new zoo by the Taronga Park Trust. Further additions had been made with gifts of possums, a porcupine anteater, eagles, wallabies and Tasmanian devils. The Mercury (5 October 1922) also reported:

"In a few weeks it is expected that the work of the Beaumaris collection from Battery Point to the Domain will begin"

Loss though, had also occurred with the death of a Thylacine from pneumonia at the old Beaumaris property. The marsupial after death was skinned and the skeleton mounted.

Included in the animals in the Beaumaris Zoo presented by Miss Roberts to the City Council was a fine specimen of the marsupial wolf, or Tasmanian tiger, which was the pride of the collection. 
This tiger had been in splendid health and condition, but unfortunately, contracted a chill during the recent spell of cold weather, and despite every effort of the Curator (Mr Reid), who called in the assistance of a medical practitioner, it died last evening of pneumonia. As those tigers are now almost extinct, it is highly doubtful whether the loss can be made good. 
The Council would be glad if any person securing a specimen would place it under offer to them Arrangement« have boon made to preserve the skin of the tiger, and to set up its skeleton

Progress on the construction of the new zoo continued into November. A report in the Mercury (14 November 1922) detailed the progress of the work on the site. In particular it noted the construction of the new lion enclosure

"....A special feature of the zoo will in the lions and the sandstone is now bing cut away from the hillside to form terraces in front of which will be a moat.  The lions will then be able to be viewed from both above and below without any obstruction. The enclosure will be 40ft wide with den attached..."
The same report detailed the list of numerous birds and animals the enclosures and aviaries were being constructed for these included deer, kangaroo, ostriches, wallabies, emu, rabbits, eagles, finches, doves and water fowl.

On November 29 the Legislative Council approved a clause in the Hobart Corporation Bill to authorise the Hobart City Council to:-

'...establish and maintain zoological gardens to be known as the Beaumaris Zoo in such portion of the Queen's Domain as it may determine, and also to expend on the zoo such annual sum as the Council may think proper. '

By the end of January 1923 the new zoo was ready to be opened. The animals were transferred from the old Beaumaris property to the new zoological facility on 1 February 1923. An aged kangaroo however, died shortly after arriving at the Queens Domain site. The lions due from Taronga Park Zoo had not yet arrived in time for the impending official opening on February 2nd.

 The work of transporting the birds and animals from the late Mrs Roberts private zoological garden at Battery Point to the site in the Domain that has been set aside by the City Council for their future residence was begun early yesterday morning and with the exception of a few varieties of birds was completed late yesterday afternoon.
About a dozen men under the supervision of the curator Mr A. R. Reid were engaged in the arduous task and it speaks well for their carefulness, that during tho transportation not one animal was lost.
However fortune did not altogether favour them. While feeding the animals in the evening Mr Reid discovered the old man kangaroo dead in his paddock. The animal was a particularly fine specimen and one that the curator was justifiably proud of.
He was very docile and during the journey behaved in his usual good manner. When taken from the cage he hopped about the paddock and appeared to be in the best of condition. He was not injured at all and Mr Reid surmises that the constant stream of motor cars that were going past the Zoo frightened the animal and in his fright he must have fallen and broken his neck..

The official opening ceremony took place on a Friday afternoon on February 2, 1923 officiated by Alderman Williams who performed the opening ceremony in the absence of the mayor Alderman McKenzie. 

Ida Roberts, the daughter of Mary Grant Roberts, also attended the opening.had gifted the original collection belonging her mother to the City of Hobart. 
The recently established Beaumaris Zoo was officially opened by Alderman W M. Williams this afternoon. The zoo was originally a private collection of animals and birds belonging to Mrs. I. L. Roberts, upon whose death her daughter. Miss Ida Roberts, generously gave the collection to the City Council. 
The new zoo is situated in the Domain, near Government House, and two lions and about 100 Australian parrots have been added to the collection. Alderman Williams, who performed the opening ceremony, in the absence of the Mayor (Alderman McKenzie), in the course of his. remarks, said. that the work, when completed, would have cost about £3000. 
The zoo now contained 100 animals and 220 birds. Cheers for Miss Roberts concluded the ceremony.

With the opening of the new zoo to the public further animals were yet to arrive, new enclosures were still being constructed. Hobart now had its new zoo, and the Beaumaris collection now had a new home.


  1. A very interesting read Liz. Thanks. I will link to it in Zoo News Digest.

  2. Hi Peter

    VEry much appreciated thank you!

  3. I know this is a bit late, but it's nice to see the zoo discussed and referenced so well.

    1. Never too late Gareth sure it closed in 1937 but Beaumaris Zoo still deserves a history no matter how small or large. I really must write more posts. I've published two so far and will write more. Thanks so much for your kind comment


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