In 1875 a Tasmanian devil left Hobart aboard the American ship Swatara, bound for San Francisco Bay.

I was fascinated, and very moved by the background story.

In the 19th century the USS Swatara was involved in transporting scientific parties to the South Pacific, to observe the transit of Venus. She arrived in Hobart on October 1874 and returned to America early the next year.

USS Swatara
The Swatara at sea.

On December 11 1874 a sailing boat, The Spray, overturned and sank in the Derwent River near Dunkley’s Point, A youth called George Dear tried to swim to shore, but eventually he became exhausted and drowned; just as his two companions were rescued. The death was particularly sad, as his family were in difficult circumstances. George’s father William was mentally ill, and had been in an asylum for over four years. His son had been helping to support the family as a fisherman, working for the owner of the sailboat.

Dunkley's Point.

His father is an inmate of the New Norfolk Asylum, and his mother is a hardworking and industrious woman, with a large family, and lives in Bathurst Street. (Newcastle Chronicle Dec. 26 1874)

A boat from the Swatara had tried to assist during the tragedy. Afterwards the captain and crew took up a collection to help support George’s mother, presenting her with the sum of £17 12s 6d. Mrs Dear was touched by their sympathy and generosity. She wrote to Mr A. G. Webster, the Vice-Consul of the United Sates, to express her thanks;

I can only express my deep sense of gratitude for this admirable benevolence, and for the sympathy that they express for the loss of my unfortunate son. The whole colony, I feel certain, entertain the same feeling as myself as to the kindly spirit in which this gift has been bestowed, and the prayers and good wishes of myself and family will ever be offered up for the welfare of Captain Chandler and the officers of the Swatara.‘ (The Mercury, Dec. 25, 1874.)

Meanwhile, it was decided to present the Swatara with a uniquely Tasmanian gift as a gesture of appreciation and goodwill.

Articl4e on the Tasmanian devil and the Swatara.

No female companion was found for the devil, but there was a wonderful description of him creating havoc before being delivered to the Swatara. A reporter from the Mercury spotted the feisty creature in Macquarie Street at No. 133. This was a building housing solicitors. part of a row known as Stone-Buildings, or colloquially (and aptly in this case) as ‘Dcvil’s Walk’;

His satanic majesty snorted and sniffled about a legal gentleman’s desk, and there seemed a wonderful affinity between the two, until the devil seized the lawyer’s hat, making ribbons of it, and then grappled at his trowser’s leg, missing, however, the calf, though the effect was a display of rather unusual legal agility. The devil, after this exercise of his natural proclivities – though there was a spice of unnaturalness in attempting the hurt of a professional brother in the genial atmosphere of the Devil’s Walkwas summarily removed.

The devil was then secured by a collar and lead and marched off to his new quarters aboard the ship. It was noted that he turned over a new leaf straight away, behaving very well for the seaman who had been chosen to care for him. Let’s hope the little fellow survived the voyage. Mind you, I fear he would have ended up in the San Francisco zoo. The image below is of a more recent resident of that zoo, perhaps a descendant of the Swatara Devil

A Tasmanian Devil travelled to America aboard The Swatara.


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