In July 1925 a young elephant calf called Jumbo arrived in Melbourne from London aboard the liner Port Curtis. If he was a little ‘swelled in the head’  it was because the previous year he had been a star exhibit at the British Empire  Exhibition at Wembley. There may have been some poetic license in this poster, because he looks as big as a house.


The young fellow was heading for a new home at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. It seems he quite enjoyed the long, 39 day  voyage.   ‘Jumbo quickly became  a pet on board, Though young, he stands five feet six inches high. In the tropics he was given the run of the decks aft. He showed a particular liking for bread and when he saw one of the crew with a tempting morsel of crust, Jumbo would follow him about with ponderous agility.  (The Herald, July 7 1925.)

This appears to be the first photo of Jumbo in Australia. At only nine years old he still had a lot of growing to do.

Jumbo in Melbourne, enroute to Hobart.

Jumbo in Melbourne.


After more than a year of training, Jumbo was ready to take children on rides at the zoo.

Jumbo taking children for rides in December 1927


Life went along very nicely for Jumbo for several years. He won the hearts of visitors, especially the youngsters. The only drama came when he had to save himself  after a fire broke and destroyed  his house.

The tram rails Jumbo had bent in order  to get out became an object of great interest, as a measure of his strength.

Sadly, as the Great Depression took hold, the Beaumaris Zoo found itself in financial trouble. Drastic action had to be taken, and poor Jumbo was judged too expensive to keep. He now  stood eight feet three inches at the shoulder, and naturally had a big appetite.

So ‘My Lord the Elephant’ has gone from among us, and the zoo will be the poorer by his loss. On the other hand, the City Council will be richer. An elephant is a nice pet, but he is pretty expensive. Poor old Jumbo, I suppose that was his name, though not officially, tried to earn his keep by taking children for rides, but he ate too much, and so he has gone. The journalist suggested, tongue in cheek,  that  as an alternative Jumbo could have been used as a cement gun, taking up wet cement in his trunk  and blowing it wherever needed, or for tar spaying Hobart’s streets. ‘But it is too late for regrets, and Hobart will have to live under the reproach of being, probably, the only capital city in the civilized world which has not even one elephant.’   (Mercury. Nov. 8 1930)

Actually, it wasn’t so much Jumbo’s food bill that became too much, but the annual cost of paying his keeper. The city council sold him to Auckland Zoo for £125.

A young girl called Canice Corcoran, from Davey Street Hobart,  expressed her disapproval of the elephant’s banishment in a letter to the children’s page of The Australasian. ‘I suppose you know we are at present minus an elephant at the zoo. Poor ‘Jumbo’ was dispatched to New Zealand because he ate too much. You will think we Tasmanians are very rude to dismiss an animal on this excuse. I believe that huge ‘elephantine’ tears rolled down his trunk when he was on the verge of departure.

On the way to New Zealand Jumbo had a little holiday at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. ‘It is understood that Jumbo took a great interest in the Harbour Bridge, and considers that the elephant house at Taronga Zoo is one of the seven wonders of the world.  (Labor Daily Nov. 4 1930)   It was rather wonderful. That’s not him in the next  photo, but a fellow resident.



Jumbo off to Taronga Zoo.

Jumbo off to a ‘luxury hotel’ on Sydney Harbour.

After arriving in Auckland he settled in with a snack of hay.


Now elephants are very sensitive creatures, and Jumbo was not happy in his new home. For a start, they changed his name to the more exotic Rajah, which must have been confusing.   Soon  after arriving he pushed his new keeper from behind with his trunk. The keeper fell to the floor and struck his head on the iron flooring, requiring  five stitches. .’It was suggested that the animal resented the intrusion of the new man in his den, and missed the keeper who brought it from Tasmania.‘ (Mercury Nov. 20 1930)


Jumbo settling in at Auckland Zoo.


Rajah’s disposition worsened until his keeper was simply unable to control him. In 1936, rather than chain the animal up, he was destroyed.  Not something that would happen nowadays thankfully.

The decision was made to preserve the elephant’s carcass, and to display it in the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Jumbo, now known as Raja, in the Auckland Museum


Here is another photo of the taxidermist’s work;


There were a few more moves for Rajah over the years. Here he is re-entering the Museum after being removed for running repairs in the 1990s.

Jumbo, aka Rajah, remains  at the  Auckland Museum to this day and is much loved.


I think every Tasmanian visiting Auckland should pay their respects to dear old Jumbo. He may have lived to a ripe old age if he had remained in his island home.



  1. What a sad end for such a noble animal

  2. A very sad end for Jumbo but a great piece of history!

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