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The 19th Century Photographic Record of the Thylacine

Photography was invented in the early 19th century, but by the turn of the next century it was still uncommon. It is thus no surprise that the 19th century photographic record of the thylacine is meagre at best. There are five known, surviving photos of thylacines or their remains: one living animal, one dead, two taxidermied, and one fur cap. While one further photo may still survive, and one hypothetical photo may have been taken.

Each photo is discussed, followed by a tentative list of publications that have subsequently reproduced the image. Doubtless this list wil grow larger in the future as my research progresses.

 

1. The 1858 Frederick Frith Photo [hypothetical]

The Hobart Town Daily Mercury for 20 May 1858 carried the following piece:

"A NATIVE TIGER -The body of one of these nearly obsolete animals was forwarded on Monday to the Royal Society by Mr. C. S. Henty, M .H . A., having been shot by a settler at the westward. The animal is like almost all others in Tasmania, marsupial, having the pouch or purso so well known in the kangaroo and opossum species. It has a very formidable appearance, the month like that of the "devil," being large, and furnished with long and very strong teeth, as white as ívory, and the jaws extending far into the skull. The tiger is marked very beautifully on the sides and tail with yellow stripes on a mouse-coloured ground, and is about two feet and a half in height, and rather more than three feet in length. The animal has been forwarded to Mrs. Touch, of Brisbane-street, for the purpose of being properly prepared for a place in the Museum, and, in the mean time, Mr. Frith, the photographic artist, is engaged on a portrait, which will be ready for exhibition to-day." (p. 3)

 

This story was reprinted several times over the next two weeks without updating the status of the photo (Anonymous, 1858b,c,d). Thus it may never have actually been taken. Although it seems quite likely that it was, as it would take a significant change of plans or a problem to arise for it not to have been. Contingencies for which we have no evidence.

 

Identity of photographer

Mr. Frith is Frederick Frith, painter and photographer (Tozer, 2018).

 

Whereabouts of the original

I contacted his grandson, Noel Tozer, on 30 April 2019 and was informed by him that I was the second person to contact him because of the newspaper article. The first was a lady from eastern Australia (possibly Sydney) who had contacted him 5 years previously about the possible existence of the photo. As a result of her enquiry, he searched several of Tasmania's archives for the hypothetical photo as part of the research for his book "Snips & Snaps" but was unsuccessful (Tozer, 2018:124). He then agreed to make a second attempt to track down the photo for me, but as I never heard back from him I assume nothing was found.

 

Reproductions: [None known. See (Tozer, 2018:124)]

 

2. The 1864 Frank Haes Photo

[The images can be viewed in (Sleightholme et al., 2016)]

 

This is the only known photo to survive that depicts a living thylacine from before the 20th century. It might thus be assumed to be a much happier affair than the rest of the photos of dead specimens. However, the circumstances of the photo make this false. The animal was chased around its small enclosure until it collapsed, exhausted in its water trough.

The photo itself was allegedly rediscovered by London Zoo historian John Edwards (Sleightholme et al., 2016).

 

Identity of photographer

The original stereo view identifies Frank Haes as the photographer (see Sleightholme et al., 2016).

 

Whereabouts of the original

The stereo view is in the private collection of John Edwards, while the lantern slide is in the private collection of Dr. Stephen Sleightholme (both Sleightholme et al., 2016)

 

Reproductions: Sleightholme et al., 2016

 

3. The 1866-67 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia Photo [missing]

The Australian catalogue for the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition (Anonymous, 1867), under "Products of New South Wales", has the following entry:

"Thylacinus cynocephalus.—Photograph of skeleton." (p. 57)

It is rather natural to suppose that this photograph may be the hypothetical Frederick Frith photo almost a decade after it was taken. After all it is simpler to posit one photo rather than two. However, the photo is listed under New South Wales and not Tasmania, with the former having already ceased to administer the latter

 

Identity of photographer

The catalogue listing is the only known mention of this photo, and omits any mention of the photographer.

 

Whereabouts of the original

The photo is not known to survive, but as a photo of a skeleton it's identity could easily be overlooked. Moreover, given the brief description in the catalogue it is not clear where the photo could be if it does survive. Thus it is difficult even contemplating how one might go about trying to find it after all these years. You might have a better chance actually finding a thylacine.

 

Reproductions: [None known. Survival of photo not guaranteed]

 

4. The 1869 William George Weaver Photo

Note the handwriting below the photograph: "native tiger of Tasmania shot by Weaver 1869".

 

Given the reclusiveness of thylacines, historically described as shy and retiring, it is surprising that the only known 19th century photo of an intact dead specimen was shot rather than trapped or snared. Indeed the last known photo (or rather set of five photos) of a dead specimen was also shot. By farmer Wilf Batty on his family's farm at Mawbanna in the state's north-west, probably on 13 May 1930.

The first reproduction of this image that I am aware of is (Beresford & Bailey, 1981). They give a description of what is depicted: Mr Weaver bags a tiger, 1869 (p. 4). As the handwriting below the photo shows, this is a mere description rather than the actual title on the photo. Yet it appears that some person or persons have misinterpreted this intent, as one now routinely finds the assertion that the photo is (en)titled "Mr(.) Weaver bags a tiger, 1869" (e.g. Owen, 2003,2004; Thylacine Museum, fourth revision [2013], fifth revision [2017]). Although some authors do correctly described the photo (e.g. Maynard & Gordon, 2014)

 

Identity of photographer

Curiously, Guiler & Godard (1998:238) lists the Weaver photo in the "Illustration Credits" but the photo does not actually appear in the claimed place in the book (viz. page 98). However, they attribute the photo to Voctor (sic) A. Prout. The Thylacine Museum, fifth revision (2017) is more tentative, noting that it "was possibly taken by Victor Albert Prout".

 

Whereabouts of the original

According to (Maynard & Gordon, 2014:22) the original photo was presented by Lady Dry to the Royal Society of Tasmania in 1906, and now resides at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).

 

Reproductions: Beresford & Bailey, 1981:4; Owen, 2003:161,2004; Maynard & Gordon, 2014:22; Mooney, 2016. [I'm well aware that this list is very incomplete]

 

5. The 1880 Thomas Bather Moore Photo

Pictured: explorer Thomas Bather Moore (age 29), with his two dogs Spero (left) and Spiro (right).

 

Tasmanian historian Nic Haygarth has reproduced the relevant extract from Moore's 1880 diary (Accession TMAG ZM5617):

"Climed [sic] up a hill along the track
With Spero & Spiro my two dogs.
But soon the dogs a scent had found
Rushed on in front the game to find With noses pointing to the ground
Left me some forty yards behind
When lo! I heard a savage sound
Among the ferns hard by
As some ebast upon the ground
Yelled out its last its dying cry ...
In haste upon some mossy logs
My heavy load was flung
And quickly to the barking dogs
...[from?] stones and logs I sprung
Upon the turf there lay quite dead
A beast with stripes upon his coat
Young Spero bit about its head
While Spiro grasped it by the throat
So [?] there a noble tigre [sic?] died
Just as the sun set golden rays [?]
Shed light upon the mountain [?] side
And victors of that savage fray"

 

Identity of photographer

Unknown to the present author.

 

Whereabouts of the original

Unknown to the present author, but as it seems to have first been reproduced in 1980 (viz. Binks, 1980) it presumably still survives.

 

Reproductions: Binks, 1980; Guiler & Godard, 1998:151.

 

6. The 1884-1894 Buckland and Spring Bay Mother and Pups Photo [tentative date]

 

This photo is one of two known (the other is directly below) that depicts the only known taxidermy of a mother and her pups/joeys (n=4). The specimens were donated by William Turvey, then treasurer of the Buckland and Spring Bay Tiger & Eagle Extermination Association (Paddle, 2000:142; Maynard & Gordon, 2014:112).

 

The dating of this photo is tentative, and based upon the seemingly fresher state of preservation of the mother, as contrasted with photo 7 below. In particular, she appears to exhibit a large crease at the upper most part of the rear left leg in the later photo (below) which is absent from this photo. Although caution must be eased as it is possible to discern a disturbance of the same basic shape to the same area of the animal in the above photo.

 

Identity of photographer

This photo is attributed to John Watt Beattie by (Maynard & Gordon, 2014:112).

 

Whereabouts of the original

QVM.1985.P.1650 [Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery accession number] (Maynard & Gordon, 2014:112).

 

7. The 1894-95 Buckland and Spring Bay Thylacine Family Photo

 

This photo is the second of two known (from the 19th century) that depicts the only known taxidermy of a mother and her pups/joeys (n=4). The specimens were donated by William Turvey, then treasurer of the Buckland and Spring Bay Tiger & Eagle Extermination Association (Paddle, 2000:142; Maynard & Gordon, 2014:112). Turvey had previously donated a large male (Cooper-Maitland, c.1968; but see Paddle, 2000:141), which may be that situated standing behind her. The female and her pups/joeys appear to have been destroyed around 1935 ([Cooper-Maitland, c.1968?;] Maynard & Gordon, 2014:112).

 

Identity of photographer

Photo attributed to John Watt Beattie (Trove).

 

Whereabouts of the original

[Unknown to the present author, probably a public archive in Tasmania]

 

Reproductions: [None known]

 

Conclusion: Are there other photos?

To jump forward to the 20th century, there are a number of photos of the thylacine that have still never been published, as well as some that remain under copyright. And several more have come to light in the last few decades. Thus it is perfectly possible that somebody out there knows of more photos from the 19th century than I do. Alternatively, there may be undated photos which further research may uncover are from the 19th century. Particularly as, rather than increasing as photography became more common, known and hypothetical 19th century thylacine photos cluster from the late 1850's to the end of the 1860's, with the remainder spread out rather evenly. Except for a notable absence during the 1870's, from which no photo, actual or hypothetical, is known.

 

References:

Anonymous. (1858a). A Native Tiger. The Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Thursday, 20 May, p. 3 |5|.

Anonymous. (1858b). A Native Tiger. Launceston Examiner, Tuesday, 25 May, p. 2 |7|.

Anonymous. (1858c). A Native Tiger. The Age (Melbourne), Wednesday, 26 May, p. 6.

Anonymous. (1858d). ['The body of one of these nearly obsolete animals...']. Empire (Sydney), Monday, 31 May, p. 2.

Anonymous. (1867). Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia, Melbourne, 1866-67: Official Record, containing Introduction, Catalogues, Reports and Awards of the Jurors, and Essays and Statistics on the Social and Economic Resources of the Australasian Colonies. Melbourne: Blundell & Co.

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

Binks, C. J. (1980). Explorers of Western Tasmania. Launceston: Mary Fisher Bookshop.

Cooper-Maitland, S. (c.1968). List of Specimens donated to Royal Society of Tasmania Museum 1849-1886. Unpublished paper, TMAG.

Maynard, David and Gordon, Tammy. (2014). Tasmanian Tiger: Precious Little Remains. Launceston: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. 127 pp.

Mooney, Nick. (2016). Thylacine; the Improbable Tiger. Capeia: 20160907.002.

Owen, David. (2003). Thylacine: The Tragic Tale of the Tasmanian Tiger. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin.

Owen, David. (2004). Tasmanian Tiger, the Tragic Tale of How the World Lost Its Most Mysterious Predator. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 240 pp.

Sleightholme, Stephen R., Campbell, Cameron R. and Kitchener, Andrew C. (2016). Frank Haes' thylacine. Australian Zoologist 38(2): 203-211.

Tozer, Noel. (2018). Snips & Snaps: The Frith Family: a Nineteenth Century Family of Portraitists, Miniaturists, Caricaturists and Photographic Artists. Self published: Edmund & Alexander.

 

Acknowledgements

I thank Gareth Linnard for pointing out the superior quality of the Weaver photo contained in Nick Mooney's Capeia article. I also thank Neil Gill for pointing out the 19th century date of the taxidermied family associated with the Buckland and Spring Bay Tiger & Eagle Extermination Association.