It’s hard to believe that when the Duchess of Cornwall and York visited Tasmania in 1901, debate raged  over whether she should be presented with a rug of platypus fur or, alternatively, that of the black brush tail possum. 😨

The level  of excitement in Australia over the visit of the Duke and Duchess (the future  King George and Queen Mary) is hard to comprehend now. Look at the flags and bunting in Hobart’s Elizabeth Street. Even so the city was mocked for the meanness of its street decoration budget.

Melbourne’s Punch Magazine published a special feature on the tour.


Months before the visit, committees of ladies in  the north and the south of Tasmania were formed to decide on a gift suitable  for royalty. Presumably they were supposed to reach some sort of consensus on the matter.

However, on May 8 1901 a small announcement appeared in The Mercury. ‘Meeting of ladies, held at the Town-hall [Hobart] yesterday, decided by a majority of 18 to 10, to present Duchess of York with a rug of platypus skins.  Dear me, that was surely overstepping their authority! (well I would say that because I was born in the north.😎) Many people disapproved of such peremptory behaviour.

Platypus fur rug.

A platypus fur rug made in Tasmania many years ago.

The Hobart committee’s decision  was followed by a piece in The Tasmanian News two days later  creating even more angst. You may be forgiven for thinking it was the idea of 40 or 50 platypuses being slaughtered that upset people, but not a bit of it;

There has been more than usual talk about the rug it is intended to present Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall and York from the women of Tasmania. It is alleged that it is a second-hand rug, and that it is to  cost £40.

Oh the shame of giving the Duchess a used rug!


Letter of disgust regarding the proposed Platypus rug.


And yes, the decision did infuriate the ladies of the north, fuelling the eternal north/south rivalry. Here is the rapid response in Launceston’s Daily Telegraph;

The announcement made by our Hobart correspondent on Wednesday that a committee of ladies ….had decided that the present should take the form of a platypus rug caused considerable surprise to the Launceston committee, as the latter had been totally ignored in the matter.  Their surprise has given place to indignation at the statement, which has subsequently appeared, that the rug is a second-hand article.

The Launceston ladies had considered that a rug from the fur of the black possum would be the ideal gift.

There followed a stream of letters to the editor of The Mercury.  One correspondent, who signed herself ‘COUNTRY GIRL’ said it was ridiculous to give someone like the Duchess a rug of any kind. ‘I really don’t think  the Duchess will ever require a rug, for when she travels her surroundings are so snug that there is not the slightest necessity for it, and when she goes out walking or skating she would look rather an object of curiosity with a rug wrapped round her.’   (Mercury May 18)   COUNTRY GIRL suggested that  a black possum skin ulster (an overcoat with a cape) would be more  useful, and advertise Tasmania to wealthy English ladies. Her final comment was that black possums were far rarer than platypuses, and therefore a coat made from their fur would be more fitting for royalty.

Here is another letter to the editor of The Mercury complaining about the second-hand rug. I love the signature OLD CLO (Old Clothes).


Another letter referred to the fact that Australia was experiencing cases of smallpox and the plague, and that the rug would have to be properly fumigated. Mind you, one source claimed that it was not second hand at all. and  that the gentleman  who originally ordered it had never even collected it from the store.

However, the damage was done. By now those who had voted  in favour of the Platypus rug were beginning to backtrack, claiming a definite decision had not actually been made.

It seems  odd today, when the poor platypus is considered a threatened species in many areas, but in 1901 they were common throughout  the country. Some people thought it would be better to present the Duchess with a rug made from the fur of  animals only found in Tasmania. I did love a letter from someone who actually considered the platypus a pest. In part it read;

‘…one has only to go a short distance from the centres of population to find platypus almost as numerous as rabbits are in the Midlands, and I am of the opinion that the large numbers in the head waters of our river is the chief reason why the imported fish do not increase as they should. If the ladies decide to present the Duchess with a rug, let it  be made from the skins of a typical Tasmanian animal, There is not much choice, but we have both  the  tiger and the devil.  I admit that the furs are not quite so soft and attractive as the platypus, which is found in  various rivers throughout the Commonwealth, but they are both of them peculiar to this island, and there is no need to purchase second-hand. ‘  (Mercury, May 16 1901)

In the end the possum rug won the day. Apparently black brush-tail possums were only found in Tasmania, so that may have tipped the scales in its favour.  It was duly presented to Her Royal Highness with her initials embroidered on the lining. I hope she liked the bloomin’ thing after the trouble it caused.

One fellow definitely had a sense of humour about the tour and all the eating and drinking indulged in by dignitaries. Here are his lines of doggerel  published in the Launceston Examiner on June 22.

I don’t actually understand the reference to G. C —— and M—–ay. Perhaps someone else will know.


Mary. the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, was married in 1922. By now parents were  King and Queen. Oh good grief, another royal gift to be selected.

Another wedding, another choice between platypus and possum.


Can you believe it, the choice in Tasmania was once again between a black possum or platypus fur rug. Isn’t that odd?  Nobody appeared to comment on the fact though, and  thankfully there was no controversy when  possums were chosen to  give up their lives.  They had been captured around the Great Lake two years earlier. The Mayoress of Hobart had selected the lining, described as ‘old gold and flowered brocade satin.‘ Here is Mary’s letter of thanks.

NOTE – I was intrigued to find that it  was United States’  ‘royalty’  who first received a  Tasmanian possum fur rug.  Prominent members of the ex-pat American community in Melbourne had one made up for Ulysses S. Grant, newly elected  President.

It was lined with crimson cloth and embroidered around the borders with the words, ‘ Presented to General Grant, the President of the United States, by the American merchants of Melbourne, July 4 1869‘.

I haven’t been able to find a photo of a black possum fur rug, but here is an antique  Tasmanian possum rug which was auctioned by Gowans in Hobart about ten years ago.










  1. I wonder if the original (second hand) Platypus Rug was indeed the property of the Mortons, and Mrs Alexander Morton would be able to claim being the source of the gift among her social circle.

    • Pauline

      Well, who knows Warren? I should have mentioned that Mrs Morton was the secretary of the Hobart ‘gift’ Committee and her husband Alexander Morton was the curator of the Tasmanian museum.

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