Tasmanian Thylacines, 1930-1936

The 1930's were the last years of known thylacine survival. A very small number of specimens (2 or 3) were held in captivity as the decade opened, including a single specimen abroad at London Zoo. The status of the wild population is much less clear. Wilf Batty shot the last recorded wild thylacine in May 1930. Thereafter maybe two were caught and used to supplement the tiny captive population, which was dying at a steady rate, possibly as a result of an unknown disease. The last known individual died in captivity on 7 September, 1936.

 

Table 1: Possible records of thylacines, 1930-1936.

Please note that the complexity of researching thylacines during the period 1930-1936 means that I have separated out individual events (signs, sightings, kills, captures, purchases, deaths), since there is significant dispute over some of them (both date wise and actual occurrence). Therefore, the number of recorded thylacines is significantly less than the total number of events listed here.

NB: Those dates in bold are the events that are currently accepted by REPAD (see Table 2 for part justification). With new research and new discoveries this may change, thus this list should be seen as tentative at best.

Date Details Location (area of the state) Primary source/s Secondary source/s1
1930

Ken Willoughby specimen bought by Wynyard animal dealer James Harrison for 50/- (i.e. 50 shillings).

The thylacine fought with the Willougby's dog before Ken pinned its head to the ground with a forked tree branch and stuffed it into a bag tail-first. Thereafter it survived only a day or two in a cage.

4 miles W of Arthur River mill (north-west) Interview with James Malley (Thylacine Expeditionary Research Team) on 4 October 1970. Transcript is in the QVMAG according to (Maynard & Gordon, 2014:90). Maynard, David and Gordon, Tammy. (2014). Tasmanian Tiger: Precious Little Remains. Launceston: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. 128 pp. [pp. 90]
January or February 1930 The death of the last thylacine held at Beaumaris (at the time). Clive Lord, writing on 12 February 1930 observed that there were no thylacines at the Beaumaris Zoo upon his visit there (Lord, 1930).   Lord, Clive. (1930). The Mercury, 12 February, p. 8.  
14 April 1930 First Mullins pup death (according to Guiler, 1985, 1986) Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart (Queen's Domain location)  

Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1985). Thylacine: The tragedy of the Tasmanian Tiger. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1986). The Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association 33(4): 121-171.

May (& April?) 1930

Presumably the Wilfred "Wilf" Batty specimen (see below). Several incidents involving a "hyena" scaring children, raiding poultry pens, stealing food from encamped men etc.

The events involving this thylacine may stretch back to April. This depends upon both the date on which Batty shot the animal (6 May vs 13 May), and whether these events began about "two or three weeks" before he shot the animal (quote from McIntyre interview, 1955; see entry below).

Mawbanna district (north-west) Anonymous. (1930). Hyena Killed at Mawbanna. The Advocate, Wednesday, May 14, p. 6.  
6 May 1930 The Wilf Batty specimen. The only sources for this date are 50+ years after the event (Brass, 1980; The Examiner 1/5/2005). They are contradicted by a contemporary source (Anonymous, 1930), and an interview (1955) decades before the earliest source (1980) for this date. Mawbanna district (north-west)

Brass, Ken. (1980). The $55,000 search to find a Tasmanian tiger. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 24 September, pp. 40-41.

The Examiner 1/5/2005

McIntyre, D. (1955). Tasmanian Tiger captured at Mawbanna during 1930. Police Report, filed 20 August 1955.

Sleightholme, Stephen R. and Campbell, Cameron R. (2016). A retrospective assessment of 20th century thylacine populations. Australian Zoologist 38(1): 102-129. [they contradict themselves by accepting 13 May in the main text, but then go with 6 May in the Appendix]

The Thylacine Museum website

13 May 1930

The Wilf Batty specimen. The family (Wilfred "Wilf" Batty, his father William P. Batty, his mother, his sister and his brother Tom) were getting ready to sit down for their mid-day meal on a Tuesday at the family farm.

His sister spotted the animal through a window in the house when it was at the poultry shed about a "chain" away.

Shot in its left shoulder by Wilfred "Wilf" Batty with a double-barrelled shotgun. It took either about 20 minutes (Brass, 1980) or about 30 minutes to die (according to Wilf, taken from the McIntyre interview by [Beresford & Bailey, 1981:25]).

Almost certainly the specimen responsible for the several incidents listed in the entry above as they were so rare by this time.

Mawbanna district (north-west)

Contemporary account:

Anonymous. (1930). Hyena Killed at Mawbanna. The Advocate, Wednesday, May 14, p. 6.

 

Interviews with Wilfred "Wilf" Batty:

1. D. McIntyre, inspector with the Animals and Birds Protection Board, conducted an interview with Wilf (and George Cooper) during 1955, sometime prior to 20 August. Beresford & Bailey (1981) quote McIntyre's unpublished account at length:

McIntyre, D. (1955). Tasmanian Tiger captured at Mawbanna during 1930. Police Report, filed 20 August 1955.

2. Interview conducted by Peter (surname?) in 1974.

3. Brass, Ken. (1980). The $55,000 search to find a Tasmanian tiger. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 24 September, pp. 40-41.

4. Interview conducted by a Television New Zealand journalist in the 1980's (probably late 1980's; Wilf died in 1989), with the footage reused in the 1996 documentary "The Tasmanian Tiger. The Definitive Documentary" by Craig Wellington (Martin Banks, pers. comm. 27 June, 2018).

 

The photographs:

There are four known photographs taken of the animal. One was recently (re)discovered and sold for $9775 (Anonymous, 2015).

The most likely origin of these is that the first two, showing the animal on a small rocky pile (one while the animal was still alive), were taken by a local. While the two 'trophy' photos were taken the next day by Pat O'Halloran using George Cooper's camera.

This is because a) that is Cooper's recollection in 1955 (McIntyre, 1955), b) logistically O'Halloran almost certainly couldn't have made the journey from Stanley to Mawbanna within the 20-30 minutes that the animal remained alive after being shot, c) Martin Banks points out the differing quality of the two pairs of photos, indicating two photographers, d) somebody more local than Stanley must have taken the 'alive' photo

Anonymous. (2015). "Last known photograph of thylacine sold at auction". The Advocate, 11 December.

Beresford, Quentin and Bailey, Gary. (1981). Search for the Tasmanian Tiger. Hobart, Tasmania: Blubber Head Press. 54 pp. [pp. 22-25]

Brown, Robert ("Bob"). (1973). Has the thylacine really vanished? Animals 15(9): 416-419.

Sleightholme, Stephen R. and Campbell, Cameron R. (2016). A retrospective assessment of 20th century thylacine populations. Australian Zoologist 38(1): 102-129. [they contradict themselves by accepting 13 May in the main text, but then go with 6 May in the Appendix]

13 May 1930

The Wilfred "Wilf" Batty specimen shot in the Mawbanna district. Purchased by Wynyard animal dealer James Harrison from Batty.


 

?

The personal recollection of Ray 'Turk' Porteous' wife "many years after the event" (cited by the TM website).

 

Examiner 1/5/2005

The Thylacine Museum website

14 May 1930

The two WIlf Batty trophy photos, taken holding his shotgun with his dog by his side.

Cooper's recollection is that he sent O'Halloran to the property the day after the animal was shot, having been alerted to the killing that morning after.

Mawbanna district (north-west) McIntyre, D. (1955). Tasmanian Tiger captured at Mawbanna during 1930. Police Report, filed 20 August 1955.  
May 1930

The Wilfred "Wilf" Batty specimen shot in the Mawbanna district. Purchased by Wynyard animal dealer James Harrison from Batty. Later sold by Harrison to the Tasmanian Museum according to Batty.

The exact date of the purchase by Harrison is unknown. The memory of 'Turk' Porteous' wife (see above) may be correct but there is too great a chance the date is incorrect to accept it. Hence I have gone with the more conservation date range of May 1930.

Discrepancy over price paid to Batty:

£4?

D. McIntyre, inspector with the Animals and Birds Protection Board, interviewed Batty in 1955 (McIntyre, 1955). The latter stated that Harrison paid him £4 for the carcass (Ibid.; Beresford & Bailey, 1981)

£5?

Wilf Batty stated that Harrison paid him £5 in an interview with (or recorded by) Ken Brass (Brass, 1980).

 

Brass, Ken. (1980). The $55,000 search to find a Tasmanian tiger. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 24 September, pp. 40-41.

Examiner 1/5/2005 [states that Harrison paid £5]

McIntyre, D. (1955). Tasmanian Tiger captured at Mawbanna during 1930. Police Report, filed 20 August 1955.

Beresford, Quentin and Bailey, Gary. (1981). Search for the Tasmanian Tiger. Hobart, Tasmania: Blubber Head Press. 54 pp.
18 July 1930

Death of the last specimen received by the zoo (male). One or more specimens might have survived longer at the zoo, see "1931/32" entry below.

Caught by Adye1 Jordan in 1929.

1 Pronounced 'Adair'

Melbourne Zoo (?)Royal Melbourne Zoo. (1931). Deaths of Animals and Birds at the Zoological Gardens, 1898 – 1931. Royal Melbourne Zoo archives, Public Records Office, Melbourne.(?)

Paddle, Robert. (2012). The thylacine's last straw: epidemic disease in a recent mammalian extinction. Australian Zoologist 36(1): 75-92.

Thylacine Museum website

Between 2-9 August 1930 Waratah specimen. Female (caught along with the specimen listed below?) by the Delphin Brothers between 2 and 9 August 1930. This specimen almost certainly sold to Beaumaris Zoo around 10 October of the same year (no later than 17th of that month, given that was the printing date recording the event). See second entry below. near Mount Bischoff?, Waratah (north-west) Anonymous. (1930). Rare Catch (Waratah.). The Advocate (Burnie, Tas.), Monday, 11 August, p. 6. Thylacine Museum website
2 August 1930 or later?

Second Waratah specimen, sex unknown. Died at some point after being caught (snared?):

"with another which died from wounds" (Mercury, 17 October, p. 8)

Not mentioned in the primary source for the above specimen (unless it is the specimen snared "some time ago" which could put the date as pre-1930; need to do more research). However, it is mentioned in the primary source for the purchase of the above specimen (i.e. Waratah specimen) by Beaumaris Zoo (quoted above).

The discrepancy in not being mentioned at time of original reporting of the capture of Waratah specimen (with which it seems to have been captured) may be due to its death at the time, thus its significantly lesser monetary value. However, the newspaper article report was only five lines, thus might have been due simply to economy of space.

near Mount Bischoff?, Waratah (north-west) Anonymous. (1930). World's Oldest Animal (Notes of the Day). The Mercury, Friday, 17 October, p. 8. Thylacine Museum website
c.10 October 1930 Female purchased by the zoo. Almost certainly the live individual caught by the Delphin Brothers at Waratah (listed second above). Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart (Queen's Domain location) Anonymous. (1930). World's Oldest Animal (Notes of the Day). The Mercury, Friday, 17 October, p. 8. Thylacine Museum website
1931

Sex unknown. Snared by Wynyard based animal dealer James Harrison and a friend, in the Tarkine area south of Burnie in 1931. Broke a leg while in the snare, which was later fixed by a doctor friend of Harrison's.

This is probably a faulty memory of the Chester and Hope specimen caught in 1928 (see here)

Tarkine area (south of Burnie) (north-west) An interview with Neil McCulloch (aged 90 at the time in 2010), grandson of James Harrison, conducted by his granddaughter (i.e. Harrison's great, great granddaughter) "elk" (pseudonym).  
1931

Sex unknown, James Harrison specimen (listed directly above). After the broken leg healed, Harrison "presented it" (would have been bought) to the Beaumaris Zoo (Queen's Domain location), also in 1931. Said to have been "Benjamin" who survived until September 7, 1936.

This is probably a faulty memory of the Chester and Hope specimen caught in 1928 (see here)

  An interview with Neil McCulloch (aged 90 at the time in 2010), grandson of James Harrison, conducted by his granddaughter (i.e. Harrison's great, great granddaughter) "elk" (pseudonym).  
August 1931 Lapoinya specimen, caught by J. M. Kaine. Sold to Wynyard animal dealer James Harrison, who sold it to Beaumaris Zoo (Queen's Domain location).   Interview with descendents by Dr. Stephen Sleightholme The Thylacine Museum website
9 August 1931

Death of adult female at London Zoo. Last known captive specimen outside of Australia. On display since 26 January 1926.

A true survivor, having been waiting at sea for roughly 6 months due to a dock strike. Journeyed with another female who died while anchored at sea waiting for the strike to be over.

Beaumaris Zoo swapped George Bruce Chapman an elephant for the pair of females. Surviving female was then purchased from Bruce Chapman by London Zoo for £150.

Theories on identity:

Almost certainly captured between 1923-25 (probably two of the pups of either the Walter "Jack" Mullins or Elias Churchill captures (both adult female with three pups)). Mullins capture date is June 1923, Churchill capture 1924 or 1925; hence probably capture date of 1923-25.

Arthur Murray's 1925 specimen caught at Tyenna, sold to Beaumaris Zoo on 21 July of the same year, has also been suggested as a possible source for the specimen).

Another possibility (raised by the Thylacine Museum website) is that Beaumaris Zoo bought two female specimens from Wynyard animal dealer James Harrison for £46.5/-, and these are the London animals (see Guiler, 1986:155).

London Zoo   Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1986). The Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association 33(4): 121-171.
1931/32 "the thylacine continues to be recorded in the stock lists accompanying the annual reports published in 1931 and 1932 [Royal Melbourne Zoo, 1931b, 1932], but these lists have proven to be a remarkably flawed data source, and inclusion therein is not, alone, indisputable proof that the species remained on display in Melbourne after July 1930" (Paddle, 2012:85) Melbourne Zoo

Royal Melbourne Zoo. (1931). The Royal Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria. Sixty-seventh Annual Report and Report of Annual Meeting of the Society for the Year 1930. Melbourne: G.A. Sherman.


Royal Melbourne Zoo. (1932). The Royal Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria. Sixty-eighth Annual Report and Report of Annual Meeting of the Society for the Year 1931. Melbourne: G.A. Sherman.

Paddle, Robert. (2012). The thylacine's last straw: epidemic disease in a recent mammalian extinction. Australian Zoologist 36(1): 75-92.
1932 An alleged record of a wild thylacine from the south-west of the island. The primary source is currently lacking. Brought to my attention by cryptozoologist Chris Rehberg (website). Tasmania (south-west) ? Internet post by Chris Rehberg
Pre-1933 Death of the Waratah specimen in the Beaumaris Zoo (Queen's Domain location)     Thylacine Museum website
Pre-1933 Death of the Lapoinya specimen in the Beaumaris Zoo (Queen's Domain location)     Thylacine Museum website
1933

Wynyard Beach carcass.

"Eric Sargent discovered a thylacine washed ashore in 1933, when he was five years old." (Maynard & Gordon, 2014:91)

His father suggested that it might have been one of James Harrison's tigers, however there are no records to suggest that Harrison dealt in thylacines beyond 1931 when he sold the Lapoinya specimen to Beaumaris Zoo in August 1931.

 

Wynyard (north-west)  

Maynard, David and Gordon, Tammy. (2014). Tasmanian Tiger: Precious Little Remains. Launceston: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. 128 pp. [pp. 91-92]

The "Precious Little Remains" exhibition booklet that coincided with the book.

1933 Florentine Valley specimen, trapped by Elias Churchill. Invariably said to be "Benjamin", although this is disputed by other sources. Upper Florentine Valley (south-west)    
1933 Erroneous date of the death of "Benjamin". Prior to Smith's (1981) fixation of true date (by reference to HCCRC minutes for 16 September, 1936 (see last entry below)), Benjamin's death was wrongly listed as 1933 (in a small number of cases 1934). Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart (Queen's Domain location)    
19 December 1933

David Fleay's visit to Beaumaris Zoo (Queen's Domain location), where he both filmed and photographed "Benjamin". He was famously bitten on the buttocks during this encounter, an injury he later proudly boasted of.

Fleay took six photographs that day, four of which have been published. A further two have yet to be published (Cameron Campbell, pers. comm. 17 July, 2018).

He also took film 5 (as numbered by the TM website), which was the film that was used by Dr. Stephen Sleightholme to prove that "Benjamin" was a male (Sleightholme, 2011; contra Paddle, 2000).

Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart (Queen's Domain location)

Paddle, Robert N. (2000). The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Oakleigh, Victoria: Cambridge University Press.

Sleightholme, Stephen R. (2011). Confirmation of the gender of the last captive Thylacine. Australian Zoologist 35(4): 953-956.

Cameron Campbell, Curator of the Thylacine Museum website, pers. comm. 17 July, 2018.
July 1935 (9th or earlier) Second Mullins pup death (according to Guiler, 1985, 1986). Died between 1 and 9 July 1935 (Guiler, 1986:156) Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart (Queen's Domain location) Hobart City Council Reserves Committee minutes, 9 July 1935

Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1985). Thylacine: The tragedy of the Tasmanian Tiger. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1986). The Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association 33(4): 121-171.

21 July 1935 The purchase of a female that originated from Tyenna.     Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1986). The Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association 33(4): 121-171.
December 1935 "A visitor to Lake St. Clair at the Christmas holidays has written stating that the footprints of a large dog-like animal were seen at different parts on the shores of the lake, suggesting that one or more marsupial wolves inhabited that region. Some of the marks were within 200 yards of the camp. The carcase of a small wallaby, badly mauled, and hidden among some saplings, was regarded as fairly strong evidence of the "tiger's" presence. Not one was seen, probably because the animals were hiding by day." Lake St. Clair (western central)   "Peregrine" [Sharland, Michael S. R.]. (1936). Tasmanian Marsupials. The Mercury, Saturday, 18 January, p. 5.
7 or 8 September 1936

A pitiful end to a beautiful species. The real date of death of "Benjamin". The popularly attributed cause of death was being locked out of his sleeping area in the harsh Tasmanian climate. However, there appears to be no good evidence of this.

The date of death (7 September) was discovered by (Smith, 1981), written in the minutes of the Hobart City Council Reserves Committee for 16 September. Beresford & Bailey (1981) also refer to these minutes, presumably sourcing them from the former, even though they do not have (Smith, 1981) in their bibliography.

However, although the HCCRC states "Monday evening last" there appears to be nothing to rule out the possibility that "Benjamin" actually died in the early hours of the 8th. This is just one more cruel irony in the thylacine's story.

 

The origins of "Benjamin" are clouded. Various theories:

1. According to Guiler (1985? 1986?) (& Godard, 1998?), it was the last surviving of the three Walter Mullins pups caught with their mother in 1923.

2. The most widely accepted account is that "Benjamin" was snared by Elias Churchill in the Upper Florentine Valley in 1933.

3. In an interview with Neil McCulloch (aged 90 at the time), he recalled that his grandfather, James Harrison (and a friend) had snared "Benjamin" in 1931.

4. Guiler notes "at least four persons" have claimed to have captured "Benjamin" (Guiler, 1986:157)

Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart (Queen's Domain location)

Benjamin's death:

Hobart City Council Reserves Committee minutes for 16 September, 1936

Various theories:

An interview with Neil McCulloch (aged 90 at the time in 2010), grandson of James Harrison, conducted by his granddaughter (i.e. Harrison's great, great granddaughter) "elk" (pseudonym).

Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1985). Thylacine: The tragedy of the Tasmanian Tiger. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Guiler, Eric Rowland. (1986). The Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association 33(4): 121-171.

Guiler, Eric Rowland and Godard, Philippe. (1998). Tasmanian Tiger: A Lesson to be Learnt. Perth, Western Australia: Abrolhos Publishing. 256 pp.

Smith, Steven J. (1981). The Tasmanian Tiger - 1980: A report on an investigation of the current status of the thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus, funded by the World Wildlife Fund. Hobart, Australia: National Parks and Wildlife Service, 133 pp.

 

 

Table 2: Confirmed thylacines, 1930-1936.

NB: Unlike the above table, this one refers strictly to individual thylacines. Listed chronologically by date of death, since a) birth dates are not known for any specimen and b) it makes it easier to understand the reduction of the known global population.

Date Details (sex) Location (area of the state) Reason/s for acceptance of the record
192X-13 May 1930 The Wilfred "Wilf" Batty specimen (male) Mawbanna district (north-west Tasmania) Contemporary newspaper articles and photographs.
192X-18 July 1930 Melbourne Zoo's last known specimen (male) Arthur River (north-west Tasmania) Archival records
192X-9 August 1931 London Zoo's last thylacine (female) ? Contemporary newspaper articles
192X-<1933 Waratah specimen caught by the Delphin brothers (female) Waratah (north-west Tasmania) Contemporary newspaper article
19XX-7 September 1936 "Benjamin", the world's last known thylacine (male) ? Archival records, contemporary newspaper articles, photographs, film footage

 

Discussion

It is universally agreed that these five specimens (most authors accept >5) do not constitute the global post-1929 thylacine population. The chances that every surviving thylacine was either killed or caught alive are astronomical. However, anecdotes, no matter how genuine or forthright, do not serve as sufficient evidence.

The sex ratio is as close to 50:50 as is physically possible given the unneven number of indivudals (3 males, 2 female). With the uncertainty surrounding the origins of Benjamin, including estimated age at the time of capture (and location), it seems that the last breeding of thylacines took place in the 1920's. 

The geographical distribution of the species post-1929 is hard to determine without knowing the location of two of the specimens. There are, however, no confirmed post-1929 records of the species from anywhere but the north-west. The significance of this is hard to quantify, since it may simply be a result of sampling bias, since there were far fewer people in southern Tasmania at the time. Or it might reflect the true absence of the species from large swathes of the island. We simply do not know.

 

Notes:

1 Secondary sources are non-primary sources that are either my own source (if I don't have access to the primary source) or are more accessible than the primary source (if, say, available online or in a popular book).

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to sincerely acknowledge a number of people who have helped with invaluable information that has made it possible for me to be as exhaustive as I have with the records presented above. In alphabetical order (by surname): Martin Banks, Camerom Campbell, Gareth Linnard, Mike Williams.