I grew up on a farm on the north west coast of Tasmania. In the late  1950’s  a man came to see my father on some business or other.  While he was there he produced a sugar bag which he carefully opened to show us the most ferocious creature  imaginable. It was spitting and snarling and doing  its damnedest  to escape. I can’t remember  how he came to have it, or what he intended doing with it. All I know is that it remains the only time I’ve seen a Tasmanian Devil outside a zoo.


Tasmanian devils hate to be confined, and who can blame them? They  also appear to be In a constant state of irritation, rather like myself.  Could this be why I find them so endearing?

For many years, as with the ill-fated  Tasmanian tiger (thylacine),  devils have been sent to zoos and animals parks around Australia and overseas.   In  June 1906 a specimen of each was shipped off to London aboard Orient line’s mail ship, Omrah.  However, before the vessel  had even cleared Australian waters, the devil escaped from its cage. Crew and passengers joined forces to try and catch  it, but it had vanished, last spotted on the upper deck. It was three weeks before it was found, hiding under some equipment and still on the upper deck. However, it seems  the little fellow had been sneaking down to  the stores or the kitchens at night. When it was recaptured it was quite a bit fatter than when it left Tasmania.

Tasmanian devils are essentially nocturnal, No doubt  the  sight of the creature asleep in it’s cage had lulled the crew of the Omrah into complacency.  The photo below was taken at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.

Devils spend a lot of daylight hours asleep.


When WWI was declared in 1914 the Tasmanian 12th battalion was one of the first raised. The men sailed off in the troopship Geelong, and with them went their mascot, a Tassie devil.   It proved impossible to tame, and in Cairo the only person who could cope with it was D company’s cook,  ‘Bluey’  Thompson.

'Bluey'Thompson holding the Tasmanian Devil mascot
The elusive ‘Bluey’ Thompson holding D company’s devil mascot

He probably just fed it constantly. Sadly, nobody knew what happened to the devil when the 12th left for Gallipoli. The Cairo Zoo had expressed an interest in it, so let’s hope the 12th’s little mascot found a happy home.


I don’t remember the Lane sisters at all, but it seems  they were very well known back in the 1930’s. In 1939 , Warner Brothers asked the Tasmanian Government to send a Tassie devil to Los Angeles as a gift for Rosemary Lane, the oldest of the trio.  The  chosen female devil had two youngsters, which meant that Rosemary’s sisters Pricilla, and Lola   did not have to feel left out.   In turn, the young actresses  donated them to the city’s zoo.

The Lane sisters, at the formal presentation of the devils.

Of course, the inevitable happened. Within a week the two juvenile  critters had gnawed through their wire cage and escaped into Griffith Zoological Park. It’s a devil of a situation’, quipped Superintendent Gilbert Scott. ‘I guess we underestimated their capabilities.’   The devils were described by the Los Angeles press as, ‘black and white, teddy bear-like animals.’   Hmm, no wonder their feisty  character came as a surprise.

It took a long time for Tasmanians themselves to manage the little escape artists. In 1946, six devils were being held in Launceston’s City Park, before being shipped to Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Five  burrowed under the concrete floor of their cage and only two were recaptured.

In recent years the very existence of the devils has been threatened by the cruel  spread of  facial tumours.  The  demise of the thylacine  (caused  almost entirely by man) is so deeply regretted that there has been an enormous  effort to save the devils. Insurance communities have been established outside mainland Tasmanian  and there  are positive reports of a vaccine. Maybe all is not lost.

A handful of cuteness (Devil Ark)

Hope for the future (Devil Ark)


  1. Very interesting write up of the Tasmanian Devil. Are you the same Pauline Connolly who did the physiotherapy course in Melbourne in 1962?

    • Pauline

      Glad you enjoyed it Sandra. No, back in 1962 I was Pauline Allen and still at primary school.

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