TIGER OF THE TASMANIAN KIND

For many months in 1908 the Tasmanian coastal towns  of Penguin and Ulverstone were in a state of   alarm over repeated sightings of the carnivorous  marsupial, the  Tasmanian tiger.  This was an unusual situation. Tigers had already been hunted to near extinction, with a bounty on their heads.  It was rare for them to appear in settled areas, especially in daylight.

Hunter with trophy, 1850’s

At the time, one of the last family groups was  being exhibited at the Beaumaris private zoo, in Hobart

Initially there had been rumours  that the animal was an African or Indian great cat, escaped from a travelling circus that had recently passed through. Even when it was clear it was a native tiger, or thylacine,  people insisted it had  not only been exposed  to humans, but  to music. The story went that it had entered a house at Penguin where a phonograph was playing.  It left after smashing china and showing its ‘tusks’ to the startled occupants as it strolled away.  Town wits suggested that the local  brass band could lure it  to the outskirts of town where waiting members of the rifle club would dispatch it. Unfortunately , shooting the tiger was the first impulse.

The  concept of taming the wilderness was still deeply ingrained in the Tasmanian psyche (in many regards conservation  is still a conflicted issue). Tigers  were invariably described in pejorative terms as ‘brutes’, ‘beasts’  or ‘monsters’.   In 1926 an article from the London Zoological Society was equally uncomplimentary; They are slinking and cowardly animals, but will defend themselves savagely. They seem to have a low intelligence.  And from  Tasmania’s  North West Post in 1915; It has been proved beyond question that these brutes will not shift off the paths when met by man, and they will always attack when cornered. One was shot the other day by Mr Fred Dempster on the southern side of the Arthur River, but it took three bullets to kill the animal. The first two simply glanced off the skull and failed to penetrate the thick covering of muscle that envelops the head. The brain, instead of being in the middle of the forehead as in other animals, is just over the nose.

It was further alleged that a tiger shot at nearby Spreyton measured over 7 foot. Most of this was simply folklore and urban myth.

Nevertheless, it’s a wonder the plan wasn’t to capture the Penguin tiger alive. That same  year  the Beaumaris Zoo  advertised a request from London Zoo for a healthy specimen. A   suitable candidate  duly arrived from the highlands and  was shipped off aboard the White Star Liner, Persic.

There were already a number of  specimens in international zoos, including the National Zoological Park in Washington D.C. The painting below  by the artist  Joseph Gleeson  is so beautiful, but also  heart breaking. It is the only known painting from  life of a thylacine  with her cubs. Note the extended pouch, with  a cub inside that was too sickly to join its siblings.

Back in Penguin the tiger was  blamed for killing  settlers’ livestock.  Chickens  and  ‘two fine, fat pigs’  disappeared from properties in Dial Road and Ironcliffe Road, just outside the Penguin township. Cyclists travelling  along South Road between Ulverstone and Penguin  regularly reported sightings.   Dogs howled  at night and horses shied in their stalls. My  great-grandparents lived on South Road at the time. I wonder now whether anyone in the family had an encounter with  it?

It was presumed the tiger had moved down to the coast in the hunt for food.  By the following year, sightings had stopped. In 1915 it was reported that the skeleton of the tiger had been found under a tree stump  on Mr Rockliffe’s farm at South Road (about three miles from Penguin).   Oddly enough, this farm was directly opposite the property I grew up on.

Advertisements continued to appear in newspapers for pelts.  In 1918 The Advocate published an offer of 2o shillings each.

It would be 1936 before the last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in  Beaumaris Zoo, reputedly from neglect and inappropriate care.

 

Preserved specimens of the thylacine are held at  the Australian Museum. In 2000 there was a concerted effort to extract viable DNA with the hope of cloning them.  Unfortunately, in 2005 they admitted defeat.

A collector friend of mine in the UK  has a large Tasmanian Tiger ‘s skull (not the one pictured.)

 

It’s the only one I have ever handled. What a dreadful crime we committed against these unique animals.  And how dearly we  wish  we  could go back and do things differently.  I should add that the tiger’s closest relative is the Tasmanian devil, currently  under threat due to  fatal facial tumours.    Fortunately, this  time we have a fighting  chance of saving a critically endangered  species.

Tasmanian Tiger at Dark MOFO

Tasmanian tiger at Dark MOFO

I was very moved when the Spanish maker of this hand crafted Thylacine said the materials used were, ‘Wool, love, care and sadness.’  These and other extinct and endangered animals are available  for purchase on the Internet

Tasmanian Tiger crafted from felt.

A beautiful representation of a Tassie Tiger.

 

DO YOU THINK THERE ARE STILL TASMANIAN TIGERS  HIDING DEEP IN THE TASMANIAN WILDERNESS?  MANY PEOPLE DO.

4 Comments
  1. I must find out what the locals think about the Tasmanian Tiger still being i existence. We are going there in 7 weeks. It’s our long awaited visit to Australia. It hasn’t been too long since we left. We came to live in USA in 2010. Our son has recently been over and he commented on what changes have taken place in our home state of Queensland. Among the places we want to travel to, Tasmania is the first state on our list. We have friends living there and it’ll be so nice to catch up with them. We may be lucky to see a Tasmanian Devil if they keep any in captivity in their zoos.

    • Pauline

      How lovely for you to be coming back Heather. You will certainly be able to see Tasmanian devils in captivity in Tasmania. Poor Queensland is having a tough time right now with Cyclone Debbie around McKay and Bowen.

  2. Where did you get this bit of information: “Town wits suggested that the local band could lure it to the outskirts of town where waiting members of the rifle club would dispatch it.”

    I’ve got the newspaper article and I didn’t see this in print.

    • Pauline

      Hi Ammianus. There were various articles, but the info you are looking for is in the Hobart paper The Daily Post, July 17th 1908 page7 under Penguin news.

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