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Mary Grant Roberts and the Woolnorth tiger foursome

By the 1890s farmers like Joseph Clifford and Robert Stevenson were effectively adding Tasmanian tiger farming to their portfolios of raising stock, growing crops and hunting. Since thylacines appeared on their property, they made a conscious effort to catch them alive in a footer snare or pit rather than dead in a necker snare. A tiger grew no valuable wool, but in 1890 a live wether might fetch 13 shillings, compared to £6 for an adult thylacine delivered to Sydney.[1] A dead adult thylacine, on the other hand, was worth only £1 under the government bounty scheme.

The problem with these special efforts to catch tigers alive was that hunters only had a certain amount of control over what animals ended up in their snares or pits. Twentieth-century hunters often complained about city regulators who thought it feasible to close the season on brush possum but open it for wallabies and pademelons. Inevitably, hunters caught some brush possum in their wallaby and pademelon snares during the course of the season, which could land them a hefty fine in court unless they destroyed the precious but unlawful skins.[2] John Pearce junior in the upper Derwent district claimed that he and his brothers caught seventeen tigers in ‘special neck snares’ set alongside their kangaroo snares.[3] How did the tigers recognise the ‘special neck snares’ provided for their specific use? All you could do was vary the height of the necker snare to catch the desired animal’s head as it walked. Too bad if something else stuck its head in the noose. Wombats, for example, were a hazard. Gustav Weindorfer of Cradle Valley set snares at the right height to catch Bennett’s wallabies by the neck, but also caught wombats in them.[4] Wombats were good for ‘badger’ stew and for hearth mats but the skins had no value. Robert Stevenson of Aplico, Blessington, caught wombats alive in his tiger pits—which they then set about destroying by burrowing their way out.[5]

George Wainwright senior, Matilda Wainwright and children at Mount Cameron West (Preminghana) c1900. Courtesy of Kath Medwin.

These problems aside, it seems odd that the pragmatic Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co), which later added fur hunting to its income stream, didn’t cotton on to the live tiger trade. They could have followed the example of George Wainwright senior, who sold a Woolnorth tiger to Fitzgerald’s Circus in 1896.[6] In 1900, for example, 22 thylacines were killed on Woolnorth, a potential income of more than £100 had the animals been taken alive. Even when, later, four living Woolnorth tigers were sold, the money stayed with the employees, with the VDL Co not even taking a commission. (It should be noted that four young tigers caught by Walter Pinkard on Woolnorth in 1901 were not accounted for in bounty payments.[7] It is possible that they were sold alive—but there are no records of a sale or even correspondence about the animals. Their fate is unknown.)

William Le Souef to Kruger, 22 October 1901: ‘The Tasmanian Wolves are all
right, so far’. Did he get them from Woolnorth? Postcard courtesy of Mike Simco.

The VDL Co’s failure to exploit the live trade for its perceived arch enemy can possibly be explained by the tunnel vision of its directors and departing Tasmanian agent and the inexperience of his successor. James Norton Smith resigned as local manager in 1902. His replacement, Scotsman Andrew Kidd (AK) McGaw, harnessed Norton Smith’s 33-year corporate knowledge by re-engaging him as farm manager. It would not have been easy for McGaw to learn the ropes in a new country, among business associates cultivated by his predecessor, and the re-engagement of Norton Smith as his second allowed him to transition into the manager position. As would be expected, McGaw stamped his authority on the agency by criticising some of Norton Smith’s policies and distancing himself from them.[8] Ahead of Ernest Warde’s engagement as ‘tigerman’, the VDL Co’s shepherd at Mount Cameron West, he scrapped Norton Smith’s recent bounty incentive scheme of £2 for a tiger killed by a man out hunting with dogs.

Woolnorth, showing main property features and the original boundary. Base map courtesy of DPIPWE.

After Warde’s departure in 1905, the tiger snares at Mount Cameron and Studland Bay were checked intermittently. Woolnorth overseer Thomas Lovell killed a tiger at Studland Bay in 1906, but the number of tigers and dogs reported on the property was now negligible.[9] This reflected the statewide situation, with only eighteen government thylacine bounties being paid in 1907, and only thirteen in 1908.[10]

However, the value of live tigers continued to climb as they became rarer. The first documented approach to the VDL Co for live tigers came in July 1902 from AS Le Souef of the Zoological Gardens in Melbourne, who offered £8 for a pair of adults and £5 for a pair of juveniles. He also wanted devils and tiger cats, in response to which George Wainwright junior supplied two tiger cats (spotted quolls, Dasyurus maculatus).[11] Given the tiger’s reputation as a sheep killer, native animal farming might have been a hard sell to the directors, and the company continued to use necker snares which were generally fatal to thylacines. What price would it take to change that behaviour? In July 1908 McGaw read a newspaper advertisement:

‘WANTED—Five Tasmanian tigers, handsome price for good specimens. Apply Beaumaris, Hobart.’[12]

He discovered that the proprietor of the private Beaumaris Zoo at Battery Point, Mary Grant Roberts, wanted a pair of living tigers immediately to freight to the London Zoo.[13] The Orient steamer Ortona was departing for London at the end of the month. She offered McGaw £10 for a living, uninjured pair of adults. Roberts hoped to secure the tiger caught recently by George Tripp at Watery Plains, but felt that she was competing for live captures with William McGowan of the City Park Zoo, Launceston, who advertised in the same month.[14] Eroni Brothers Circus was also in the market for living tigers.[15]

A young Mary Grant Roberts, from NS823/1/69 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).

Almost as Roberts made her offer, George Wainwright junior tracked a tiger at Mount Cameron West, but it evaded capture.[16] In the meantime Roberts was able to secure her first thylacine from the Dee River.[17]

Almost a year passed before the chance arose for the VDL Co do business, when in May 1909 Wainwright retrieved a three-quarters-grown male tiger uninjured from a necker snare.[18] Perhaps not appreciating the tiger’s youth, Roberts offered £5 plus the rail freight from either Burnie or Launceston. She wanted the animal delivered to her in Hobart within ten days in order to ship it to the London Zoo on the Persic. It would thereby replace one which had died of heat exhaustion in transit to the same destination a few months earlier.[19]

However, the overseer of a remote stock station could not meet that deadline. The delay came with a bonus—the capture of three more members of the first tiger’s family, his sisters and mother.[20] Bob Wainwright recalled his stepfather Thomas Lovell and brother George placing the animals in a cage. There was also a familiar story of tigers refusing to eat dead game: ‘They had to catch a live wallaby and throw it in, alive, and then they [the thylacines] killed it’.[21] With McGaw continuing to act as intermediary between buyer and supplier, a price of £15 was settled on for the family of four.[22]

Roberts and McGaw communicated as social equals, but their social inferiors—hunters, stockmen and an overseer—were not named in their correspondence. This made for frustrating reading when Roberts discussed hunters (‘the man’) with whom she was dealing over live tigers. She had been expecting to receive two young tigers from a Hamilton hunter for her own zoo, but these had now died, causing her to reconsider her plans for the Woolnorth family.[23]

The mother thylacine (centre) and her three young captured at Woolnorth in 1909. W Williamson photo from the Tasmanian Mail, 25 May 1916, p.18.

It wasn’t until the first week in July 1909 that the auxiliary ketch Gladys bore the crate of thylacines to Burnie, where they began the train journey to Hobart.[24] A week later they were said to be thriving in captivity.[25] Roberts was so pleased with the animals’ progress that after eight months she sent a postal order to Lovell and Wainwright as a mark of appreciation. She was impressed with the mother’s devotion to her young, believing that the death of the two Hamilton cubs was attributable to their mother’s absence.[26] However, money was becoming a concern. Buying all the tigers’ feed from a butcher was expensive, and when she received a potentially lucrative order for a tiger from a New York Zoo, she found the cost of insuring the animal over such a long journey prohibitive. On 1 March 1910 she ‘very reluctantly’ broke up the family group by dispatching the young male to the London Zoo. ‘I am keeping on the two [other juveniles]’, she wrote, ‘in the hope that they may breed, and the mother all along has been very happy with the three young ones’.[27]

Roberts was now offering £10 per adult thylacine—but there was none to sell at Woolnorth. Seventeen months later she paid Power £12 10s for his large tiger from Tyenna, and scored £30 shipping to London the last of the three young from the 1909 family group.[28] Her tiger breeding program was over, probably defeated by economics—but what might have been the rewards for perseverance? Perhaps she would have been the greatest tiger farmer of all.

[1] See, for example, ‘Commercial’, Mercury, 5 August 1890, p.2; Sarah Mitchell diary, 9 June 1890, RS32/20, Royal Society Collection (University of Tasmania Archives).

[2] See, for example, ‘Trappers fined’, Advocate, 22 October 1943, p.4.

[3] ‘Direct communication with the west coast initiated’, Mercury, 1 September 1932, p.12.

[4] G Weindorfer and G Francis, ‘Wild life in Tasmania’, Journal of the Victorian Naturalists Society, vol.36, March 1920, p.159.

[5] Lewis Stevenson, interviewed by Bob Brown, 1 December 1972 (QVMAG).

[6] ‘Circular Head notes’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 25 June 1896, p.2.

[7] Walter Pinkard to James Norton Smith, 19 July 1901, VDL22/1/27 (TAHO).

[8] In Outward Despatch no.46, 4 January 1904, p.366, McGaw criticised Norton Smith for not doing more to arrest the encroachment of sand at Studland Bay and Mount Cameron (VDL7/1/13).

[9] Woolnorth farm diary, 30 September 1906 (VDL277/1/34). This VDL Co bounty was not paid until the following year (December 1907, p.95, VDL129/1/4). C Wilson was paid for killing two dogs found worrying sheep in 1906 (December 1906, p.58, VDL129/1/4 (TAHO).

[10] See thylacine bounty payment records in LSD247/1/3 (TAHO).

[11] AS Le Souef to James Norton Smith, 11 July 1902; Walter Pinkard to James Norton Smith, 4 August 1902, VDL22/1/28 (TAHO).

[12] ‘Wanted’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 1 July 1908, p.3.

[13] For Roberts, see Robert Paddle, ‘The most photographed of thylacines: Mary Roberts’ Tyenna male—including a response to Freeman (2005) and a farewell to Laird (1968)’, Australian Zoologist, vol.34, no.4, January 2008, pp.459–70.

[14] In ‘Wanted to buy’, Mercury, 18 July 1908, p.2, McGowan asked for tigers ‘dead or alive’. He had also advertised for ‘tigers … good, sound specimens, high price; also 2 or 3 dead or damaged specimens’ in the previous year (‘Wanted’, Mercury, 21 June 1907, p.2). George Tripp’s tiger must have died before it could be sold alive, since he claimed a government bounty for it (no.35, 25 July 1908, LSD247/1/3 [TAHO]).

[15] See, for example, ‘Wanted’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 7 March 1908, p.6.

[16] Thomas Lovell to AK McGaw, 17 July 1908, VDL22/1/34 (TAHO).

[17] ‘The Tasmanian tiger’, Mercury, 7 October 1908, p.4.

[18] Thomas Lovell to AK McGaw, 24 May 1909, VDL22/135 (TAHO). This thylacine was originally thought to be a young female, but McGaw later stated that it was a young male.

[19] Mary G Roberts to AK McGaw, 31 May 1909, VDL22/1/35 (TAHO).

[20] Thomas Lovell to AK McGaw, 1 June 1909, VDL22/1/35 (TAHO).

[21] Bob Wainwright, 86 years old, interviewed in Launceston, 27 October 1980.

[22] AK McGaw to Mary G Roberts, 9 June 1909, VDL52/1/29; Mary G Roberts to AK McGaw, 10 June 1909, VDL22/1/35 (TAHO).

[23] Mary G Roberts to AK McGaw, 21 June 1909, VDL22/1/35 (TAHO).

[24] AK McGaw to Mary G Roberts, 7 July 1909, VDL52/1/29 (TAHO); ‘Stanley’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 6 July 1909, p.2.

[25] W Roberts to AK McGaw, 15 July 1909, VDL22/1/35 (TAHO).

[26] In May 1912 she received two young tigers from buyer EJ Sidebottom in Launceston, paying him £20 in the belief that they were adults. They died three days later (Mary Grant Roberts diary, 6, 7 and 10 May 1912, NS823/1/8 [TAHO]).

[27] Mary G Roberts to AK McGaw, 14 March 1910, VDL22/1/36 (TAHO).

[28] Mary Grant Roberts diary, 12 August, 26 September and 24 December 1911, NS823/1/8 (TAHO).

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Wrestler wrangled Tasmanian tigers: the fact or fiction of George Randall

In 1945 one-time wrestler George Randall (1884–1963) recalled catching fifteen thylacines in the space of a month within 25 miles (40 km) of Burnie. He didn’t smother them in a bear hug. Randall reminisced that, upon finding tiger scats, he would lay a scent for half a mile from that point to his snares. The cologne no tiger could resist was actually the smell of bacon rubbed onto the soles of his boots.[1]

Champion wrestler George Randall, from the Weekly Courier, 18 February 1909, p.18.
George Randall in the Mercury, 12 December 1945, p.3.

Fifteen tigers—a big boast indeed. I was suspicious of those numbers. Who was Randall, and if he was such an ace tiger killer why had he never claimed a government thylacine bounty? Government bounties of £1 for an adult tiger and 10 shillings for a juvenile were paid in the years 1888 to 1909, after all, plenty of time in which he could leave his mark. The production of a carcass at a police station was the basis for a bounty application.

Randall was born at Burnie to George Ely Randall (1857–1907) and Emily Randall, née Charles (1871–1938).[2] By 1891 his father George Randall senior was a ganger maintaining the Emu Bay Railway (EBR) at Ridgley, south of Burnie. There were some tigers about, and it didn’t take much effort to find some Randalls killing one. In May 1892 Tom Whitton, who was aware of tigers coming about the gangers’ camp at night, set some snares and caught a large male.  Two Randalls, George senior and his brother Charles, plus a fettler named Ted Powell, were at hand to help throttle the beast.

Wellington Times editor Harris added: ‘The tiger’s head was inspected by a large number of persons up to yesterday, many of whom remarked that they had never seen larger from a native animal; but yesterday the head had to be thrown away as it was manifesting signs of decay.’[3]

Thrown away?! So much for the £1 bounty. Perhaps the killers were too bloated on public admission fees to care about the bounty payment.

Another Randall killing came only two months later, when Powell and Charles Randall’s dogs flushed a tiger out of the bush at the 23-Mile on the EBR. Again the body was hauled into Burnie as a trophy.[4] Was a £1 government reward paid?

The government bounty records for the period May–July 1892 show the difficulty of reconciling newspaper reports with official records. There is no evidence of a bounty application having been made for the tiger killed on the EBR on 13 May 1892, but the one destroyed there in the week preceding 12 July 1892 is problematical. Was James Powell, who submitted a bounty application on 8 July, a relation of Ted Powell, the fettler involved in the two killings on the EBR? I could find no record of a James Powell working or residing in the Burnie area at that time, whereas two James Powells in pretty likely tiger-killing professions—manager of a highland grazing run, and bush farmer under the Great Western Tiers—were easily identified through digitised newspaper and genealogical records (see Table 1):

Table 1: Government thylacine bounty payments, May–July 1892, from Register of general accounts passed to the Treasury for payment, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

Name Identification Application date Number
G Atkinson Probably farmer George Elisha Atkinson of Rosevears, West Tamar 13 June 1892 2 adults[5]
A Berry Probably shepherd Alfred James Berry, Great Lake, Central Plateau 21 July 1892 1 adult[6]
John Cahill Farmer/prospector, Stonehurst, Buckland, east coast 8 July 1892 1 adult[7]
WF Calvert Wool-grower/orchardist William Frederick Crace Calvert, Gala, Cranbrook, east coast 21 July 1892 4 adults[8]
J Clifford Probably bush farmer/hunter Joseph Clifford of Ansons Marsh, north-east 12 May 1892 1 adult[9]
Harry Davis Mine manager, Ben Lomond, eastern interior 31 May 1892 2 adults & 1 juvenile[10]
CT Ford Mixed farmer Charles Tasman Ford, Stanley, north-west coast 21 July 1892 1 adult[11]
Thomas Freeman Shepherd at Benham, Avoca, northern Midlands 12 May 1892 1 adult[12]
E Hawkins Shepherd William Edward Hawkins, Cranbrook, east coast 9 July 1892 1 adult[13]
E Hawkins Shepherd William Edward Hawkins, Cranbrook, east coast 21 July 1892 1 adult[14]
Thomas Kaye Labourer at Deddington, northern Midlands 31 May 1892 1 adult[15]
John Marsh John Richard James Marsh of Dee Bridge, Derwent Valley 27 June 1892 1 adult & 1 juvenile[16]
W Moore junior Bush farmer William Moore junior, Sprent, north-western interior 13 June 1892 1 adult[17]
E Parker Probably grazier Erskine James Rainy Parker of Parknook south of Cressy, northern Midlands 27 June 1892 2 adults[18]
James Powell Probably manager, Nags Head Estate, Lake Sorell, Central Plateau, or bush farmer, Blackwood Creek, northern Midlands 8 July 1892 1 adult[19]
Charles Pyke Mail contractor, Spring Vale, Cranbrook, east coast 27 June 1892 1 adult[20]
A Stannard Probably shepherd Alfred Thomas David Stannard, native of Mint Moor, Dee, Derwent Valley but thought to have been in the northern Midlands at this time 21 July 1892 1 adult[21]
D Temple Shepherd David Temple senior, Rocky Marsh, Ouse, Derwent Valley 21 July 1892 1 adult[22]
R Thornbury Farmer Roger Ernest Thornbury, Bicheno, east coast 12 May 1892 1 adult[23]
H Towns Farmer Henry Towns, Auburn, near Oatlands, southern Midlands 20 June 1892 1 adult[24]

The two EBR slayings are not the only known tiger killings missing from the bounty payment record: two young men reportedly snared a live tiger near Waratah at the beginning of May 1892, but the detained animal accidentally hanged itself on its chain in a blacksmith’s shop; while on 22 July 1892 well-known prospector/sometime postman and seaman Axel Tengdahl shot a tiger that broke a springer snare on the Mount Housetop tinfield.[25] (Another July 1892 killing by ‘Bill the Sailor’ Casey at Boomers Bottom, Connorville, Great Western Tiers, was not rewarded until 5 August 1892, a lag of almost a month.[26]) The reasons for the Waratah and Housetop killings going unrewarded are not clear. While Tengdahl was in an inconvenient place to submit a tiger carcass to a police station, he was probably also snaring for cash as well as meat, so would have needed to leave the bush anyway in order to sell his skins to a registered buyer.

Anyway, back to Randall the tiger tamer. We know that young George Randall junior, eight years old in 1892, grew up with his elders hunting and chasing tigers. Then he went out on his own. He claimed that he trapped within a 40-km radius of Burnie for thirteen years, and that sometime during that period, in the space of a month, he killed fifteen tigers. It should be easy enough to figure out when this was. The ten-year-old would have been still living along the EBR with his family and presumably at school in 1894 when his mother was judged to be of unsound mind and committed to the New Norfolk Asylum.[27] In the years 1897–1901 (from the age of thirteen to seventeen) he was an apprentice blacksmith while living with his father at the 14-Mile (Oonah).[28] [29] He was still in the Burnie area in 1902 when he was cutting wood for James Smillie and driving a float for JW Smithies, but in 1903, as a nineteen-year-old, he was an insolvent fettler at Rouses Camp near Waratah.[30]

Emu Bay Railway south of Burnie, showing sites that George Randall may have hunted from. Base map courtesy of DPIPWE/

By 1907 Randall was a married man working at Dundas.[31] He did not return to the Burnie region after that, doing the rounds of Tasmania’s mining fields and rural districts for two decades with intermissions at Devonport, Hobart and Hokitika, the little mining port on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.[32] At Zeehan he was described as ‘the champion [wrestler] of Tasmania’, and he was noted not as a hunter but as a weightlifter and athlete.[33] More importantly, the blacksmith qualified as an engine driver and a winding engine driver, making him eminently employable in resource industries.[34] Randall finally settled at Hobart in 1929 at the age of 45.[35]

If we consider his Rouses Camp fettling a short aberration, the thirteen-year period in which Randall hunted around Burnie could have been approximately 1894 to 1906, that is, between the ages of ten and 22. The government bounty was available for the whole of this time, so why is there no record of George Randall’s prowess as a tiger tamer?

There are two possibilities. One is that Randall, a born showman, simply lied. The other possibility is that he killed or captured (he doesn’t say which) a lot of tigers but the evidence of same is hard to find.[36] There are few surviving records of the sale of live thylacines to zoos or animal dealers, or of bounty applications made through an intermediary like a hawker or shopkeeper. In some cases suspicion of acting as an intermediary even attaches to farmers—such as Charles Tasman (CT) Ford.

William Bennett (WB) Collins (standing at back) in a family photo. Courtesy of Judy Hick.

For a time I believed that Ford was a shopkeeper, because his large tally of bounty payments seemed to dovetail with that of Stanley shopkeeper William Bennett (WB) Collins. In the years 1891–99 Ford, a mixed farmer (sheep cattle, pigs, poultry, potatoes, corn, barley, oats) based at Forest near Stanley, claimed 25 bounties (23 adults and two juveniles),[37] placing him at number seven on the tiger killer top 40. He died in September 1899. Collins claimed bounties for 40 adults and four juveniles 1900–06,[38] possibly without ever seeing a live thylacine. Were they buying thylacine carcasses from the same source and collecting the bounties at the Stanley Police Station?

The biggest source of dead thylacines in the far north-west at this time was Woolnorth. Twenty-six adult tigers were taken at Woolnorth in the years 1891–99, and 43 adults in the years 1900–06, suggesting that Ford and Collins were go-betweens for Woolnorth carcasses.[39] Ford had grazing land at Marrawah and the South Downs, south of Woolnorth, and probably travelled via Woolnorth to get there. It would have been a simple thing for him on his way home to collect native animal skins and tiger carcasses/heads from the homestead at Woolnorth, presumably taking a commission for himself in his role as intermediary. After Ford shot himself in September 1899, Collins established an on-going relationship with Woolnorth, being paid for three bounties in February 1900 before his store even opened for business.

In later life Guildford’s Edward Brown assumed respectability as a breeder of race horses and hotelier. Stephen Spurling III photo from the Weekly Courer, 16 November 1922, p.28.

Randall may have been rewarded for fifteen thylacine carcasses through intermediaries such as shopkeepers, hawkers, skin buyers or some regular traveller to Burnie. Hunter/skin buyers such as Thomas Allen (15 adults and a juvenile, 1899–03)[40] and Edward Brown (7 adults, 1904–05)[41] operated in the Ridgley-Guildford area along the railway line, possibly accounting for some bounty payments for the likes of Randall, ‘Black Harry’ Williams, ‘Five-fingered Tom’ Jeffries and Bill Todd.

However, it does seem extraordinary that fifteen tiger captures or kills within the space of a month escaped public attention. We can assume that Randall never anticipated the scrutiny of his life that digitisation of records now allows us, let alone that someone who read his 1945 letter in the next century would try to dissect his life in order to verify his words. It is likely that Randall guessed that he had hunted in the Burnie region for thirteen years. Perhaps it was ten years, and perhaps his tigers took a lot longer to secure. Perhaps in a trunk in an attic somewhere is a mouldering trophy photo of the wrestler who wrangled tigers—dead or alive.

[1] GE Randall, ‘Native tigers’, Mercury, 12 December 1945, p.3.

[2] Born 1 July 1884, birth record no.1298/1884, registered at Emu Bay; died 14 July 1963, will no.44135, AD960/1/95, p.911 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=edward&qu=randall#, accessed 28 March 2020.

[3] ‘Capture of a native tiger’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 12 May 1892, p.2.

[4] ‘A big tiger’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 12 July 1892, p.2.

[5] Bounty no.147, 13 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[6] Bounty no.207, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[7] Bounty no.190, 8 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[8] Bounty no.203, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[9] Bounty no.118, 12 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[10] Bounty no.136, 31 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[11] Bounty no.204, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[12] Bounty no.119, 12 May 1892; LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[13] Bounty no.188, 9 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[14] Bounty no.210, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[15] Bounty no.135, 31 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[16] Bounty no.173, 27 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[17] Bounty no.148, 13 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[18] Bounty no.172, 27 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[19] Bounty no.189, 8 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[20] Bounty no.171, 27 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[21] Bounty no.206, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[22] Bounty no.208, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[23] Bounty no.117, 12 May 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[24] Bounty no.151, 20 June 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[25] ‘Waratah notes’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 10 May 1892, p.3; ‘Housetop notes’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 28 July 1892, p.2.

[26] ‘Longford notes’, Launceston Examiner, 14 July 1892, p.2; bounty no.236, 5 August 1892, LSD247/1/1 (TAHO).

[27] ‘Burnie: Police Court’, Daily Telegraph, 7 February 1894, p.1.

[28] ‘Wanted’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 11 July 1901, p.3.

[29] ‘For sale’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 31 January 1902, p.3.

[30] ‘Arson: case at Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 20 March 1902, p.3; ‘New insolvent’, Examiner, 29 April 1903, p.4.

[31] He married Ethel May Jones on 22 May 1907 at North Hobart (‘Silver wedding’, Mercury, 23 May 1932, p.1). Dundas: ‘To-night at the Gaiety’, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 7 September 1907, p.3.

[32] Zeehan: Editorial, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 31 August 1908, p.2; ‘Macquarie district’, Police Gazette Tasmania, vol.48, no.2595, 16 April 1909, p.81; Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Darwin, Subdivision of Zeehan, 1914, p.2. Devonport: Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Wilmot, Subdivision of Devonport, 1914, p.36. Waratah: ‘Waratah’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 17 October 1918, p.2; Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Darwin, Subdivision of Waratah, 1919, p.14. Hobart: Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Denison, Subdivision of Hobart East, 1922, p.30. Mathinna: ‘Personal’, Daily Telegraph, 30 September 1924, p.5. Cygnet: ‘Shooting at electric lines’, Mercury, 28 June 1926, p.4. Taranna: ‘Centralisation of school teaching’, Mercury, 12 May 1927, p.6. Hokitika: ‘Macquarie district’.

[33] Editorial, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 31 August 1908, p.2; ‘Macquarie district’.

[34] Certificate of competency as second class engine drive, 1916, AA80/1/1, p.424, image 63 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=edward&qu=randall; Certificate of competency as mining engine driver, 1926, LID24/1/4, pp.109 and 109b (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=edward&qu=randall#, accessed 28 March 2020.

[35] ‘Motor cycle registrations’, Police Gazette Tasmania, vol.68, no.3629, 8 February 1929, p.33.

[36] Randall mentioned using springers, the supple saplings used to ‘spring’ the snare, generally employed in footer snares, which caught the animal by the paw, not being designed to kill it. Many thylacines sent to zoos were captured in footer snares.

[37] Bounties no.365, 31 July 1891 (2 adults); no.204, 21 July 1892, LSD247/1/1; no.402, 9 January 1893; no.71, 27 April 1893 (2 adults); no.91, 5 May 1893; no.125, 19 June 1893; no.183, 24 July 1893, no.4, 23 January 1894 (2 adults); no.239, 22 September 1897 (3 adults, ‘August 2’); no.276, 4 November 1897 (2 adults, ’27 October’); no.379, 1 February 1898 (‘4 December’); no.191, 2 August 1898 (2 adults, ‘7 July’); no.158, 30 May 1899 (’26 May’); no.253, 30 August 1899 (3 adults, ’24 August’); no.254, 30 August 1899 (2 juveniles, ‘24 August’), LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

[38] Bounties no.43, 27 February 1900 (3 adults, ’22 February’); no.250, 16 August 1900 (5 adults, ’26 July’); no.316, 3 October 1900 (4 adults, ’27 September’); no.398, 15 November 1900 (4 adults and 4 juveniles, ’28 October’); no.79, 13 March 1901 (2 adults, ’28 February’); no.340, 31 July 1901 (7 adults, ’25 July’); no.393, 28 August 1901 (6 adults, ‘2/3 August’); no.448, 3 October 1901 (’26 September’); no.509, 5 November 1901 (’24 October 1901’); no.218, 7 May 1903 (2 adults, ’24 April’); no.724, 17 November 1903 (4 adults); no.581, 21 June 1906, LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

[39] Woolnorth farm journals, VDL277/1/1–33 (TAHO). The Woolnorth figure for 1900–06 excludes one adult and one juvenile killed by Ernest Warde and for which he claimed the government bounty payment himself (bounty no.190, 20 October 1904, LSD247/1/2 [TAHO]).

[40] Bounty no.374, 12 January 1899 (3 adults, ‘3 December’); no.401, 15 November 1900 (3 adults, ’15 June’); no.482, 21 January 1901 (3 adults, ’17 December’); no.22, 4 February 1901 (3 adults, ‘4 January’); no.985, 25 July 1902 (‘July’); no.1057, 27 August 1902 (’15 August’); no.1091, 17 September 1902 (‘4 September 1902’); no.462, 6 August 1903, (1 juvenile, ’24 July’), LSD247/1/ 2 (TAHO). See ‘Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 15 December 1900, p.2.

[41] Bounty no.233, 16 June 1904 (5 adults); no.125, 28 September 1905 (2 adults, ’31 August and 8 September’), LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

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‘Five-fingered Tom’ and ‘Black Harry’: hunters of the Hampshire and Surrey Hills

They weren’t old lags, shifty safe-crackers or Hibernian highwaymen. They were Tasmanian highland snarers who flitted across the public record, leaving just their nicknames to tantalise the curious. ‘Five-fingered Tom’ was a little light fingered. ‘Black Harry’ was dark-skinned aberration in a white society. These traits help us to flesh out the legends of two early fur hunters who might otherwise have stayed as insubstantial as the Holy Ghost.

‘Five-fingered Tom’ Jeffries, photographed at the Hobart Penitentiary in 1873 by Thomas J Nevin. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

‘Five-fingered Tom’ was Thomas Jeffries. He was born as the second of three children to ex-convicts Thomas Jeffries and Ann Jeffries, née Willis, at Patersons Plains near Launceston in 1841.[1] His father was an illiterate labourer. Thomas Jeffries junior was born with an extra digit on his right hand (that is, five fingers and a thumb), hence ‘Five-fingered Tom’. This made him easily identifiable—good news for the cops! Jeffries regarded Evandale as his native place, but he was living and working on farms in the Sassafras area when in 1873 a warrant was issued for his arrest. The wanted man was described as about 35 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, with sandy hair, beard and moustache and a stout build, being ‘a good bushman [who] has spent much of his time hunting’.[2] First offender Jeffries was sentenced to eight years’ gaol for horse stealing. He spent four months making shoes in the Launceston Gaol, from which he vowed that he would abscond at the first opportunity—earning him a transfer to the Hobart Penitentiary.[3] What luck! Since Hobart prisoners were routinely photographed by Thomas J Nevin, we have the image of Jeffries attached to this article. He must have shucked off his bad attitude, since he served only five of his eight years.[4]

Like Jerry Aylett of Parkham, ‘Five-Finger Tom the Hunter’ moved into the high country by the 1880s, a time when Tasmanian brush possum had gained an export market.[5] Possum-skin rugs had been a useful earner for bushmen for decades but now the thicker highland furs had a reputation in the British Isles. In 1883 the ‘Tasmanian Opossum Tail Rug’ could be found alongside the ‘Grey Wolf Rug’, the ‘Silver Bear Rug’, the ‘Leopard, on Bear’ and the ‘Raccoon Tail Rug’ in the catalogue of Liverpool enterprise Frisby, Dyke and Co.[6] Lewis’s in Sheffield, Nottinghamshire, offered ‘real Tasmanian opossum capes’.[7] An 1887 ‘Rich winter fur’ auction in Dundee, Scotland, placed ‘Australian and Tasmanian Opossum’ alongside sealskin, sable, skunk, brown and polar bear, llama, leopard, puma, tiger and raccoon furs.[8]

The Hampshire and Surrey Hills, Tasmania, map from the LIST database, courtesy of DPIPWE.

Waratah, a town born in the early 1870s at the Mount Bischoff tin mine, was a staging-post for both prospectors and hunters. We can follow Jeffries there in 1886 through the digitised pages of the Tasmania Police Gazette. He seems to have found it hard to stay out of trouble, allegedly committing an assault at Waratah before making for the hunting grounds of the Middlesex Plains.[9] Guildford Junction, a village created by the extension of the Emu Bay Railway to Zeehan in the late 1890s, was another hub for bushmen such as Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co) timber splitters, hunters and prospectors. Jeffries and his mate Bill Todd were both based there in the period 1903–05, joining fellow hunters ‘Black Harry’ Williams, Tom Allen, the ‘Squire of Guildford’ Edward Brown and, from 1904, Luke Etchell.[10] They had a wide orbit. Todd, for example, was prospecting with George Sloane on the February Plains in 1901 when the latter discovered the body of lost Rosebery hotelier Thomas (TJ) Connolly.[11] Shopkeeper Allen packed stores into the Mayday gold mine under the Black Bluff Range in 1902.[12]

In the years 1888–1909 most of these men supplemented their income by claiming the £1 bounty on the head of the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. Tom Allen appears to have received fifteen bounty payments—although, as a storekeeper and skins dealer, he may have submitted some applications on behalf of other hunters.[13]

Not so ‘Black Harry’ Williams, the so-called ‘colored king of the forest’, who probably claimed four tiger bounties.[14] He was a short, black-haired Afro-American bush farmer and hunter who arrived in Wynyard in 1887 aged about 24. After serving a month’s gaol for poaching neighbourhood ducks, Williams (‘A black man’!) started operating south of Wynyard (pre-1900), and later at Natone, Hampshire, Guildford and the Hatfield Plains (1900–08).[15] He caught two tigers at the Hampshire Hills in 1900, exhibiting a living one in Burnie. His intention was to sell it to Wirth’s Circus.[16] ‘Black Harry’ was reported to be submitting the other specimen, a very large dead one, for the thylacine bounty, although there is no record of this application.[17] Just enough details of his life survive with which to tell a story. In 1901 he was sued by Chinese storekeeper Jim Sing for failing to pay for a bag of carrots delivered to the Hampshire Hills; Williams counter-sued over Sing’s failure to pay for 100 wallaby skins delivered to Waratah by the hunter.[18] Three years later he was accused of breaking down a VDL Co stockyard at Romney Marsh near the Hatfield River in order to use the timber in a drying shed—making him an early adaptor of this technology (today Black Harry Road recalls his presence in this area). In 1905 Williams was described as the ‘champion trapper and bushman of the State’, the ideal man to lead a search for hunter Bert Hanson who went missing near Cradle Mountain.[19]

Wallaby hunter Henry Grave demonstrating his reliance on his horse as a pack animal, King Island, 1887. Photo by Archibald J Campbell, courtesy of Museums Victoria.

Jeffries may have been a contender for those honours. Knowledge of his hunting around Cradle Mountain with Todd—another man who flits across the public record—was passed down through generations of bushmen. Drawing on this oral record in 1936, Cradle Mountain Reserve Secretary Ronald Smith unwittingly fused the characters into Tom Todd, aka ‘Five-fingered Tom’. It was on the edge of the high plain they hunted, known as Todds Country, that Hanson died in a blizzard.[20] Correcting Smith’s article, another writer recalled that ‘Tom Jeffrey’ and his Arab pony Dolly were known for many years between Middlesex and Waratah, his mount being ‘the most faithful and gamest bit of horseflesh that ever packed a load over the Black Bluff’.[21] The winter haunts of the highland snarer were very cold, very wet and poorly charted, his comforts simple and meagre, his rewards contingent upon government regulation and global demand. Often he was unseen for months at a time. No newspaper trumpeted his story. Perhaps an extra digit and a different pigment were all that kept Jeffries and Williams from historical anonymity—but I hope there is a lot more to their stories that hasn’t yet been teased out.

[1] Thomas Jeffries senior, transported on the Georgiana, was granted permission to marry Ann Willis, transported on the New Grove, on 3 October 1838, p.88, CON52/1/1; Thomas Jeffries junior was born to Thomas and Ann Jeffries on 1 November 1841, birth record no.1848/1842, registered at Launceston, RGD32/1/3 (TAHO). He had elder and younger sisters: Mary Ann Jeffries, born 24 October 1839, birth record no.1021/1840, registered at Launceston, RGD32/1/3, address was given as Watery Plains; Maria Jeffries, born 11 June 1844, no.271/1844, registered at Launceston, RGD33/1/23 (TAHO).

[2] ‘Warrants issued, and now in this office’, Reports of Crime, 23 May 1873, vol.12, no.723, p.86.

[3] Prison record for Thomas Jeffries, image 25, p.11, CON94/1/2 (TAHO).

[4] ‘Prisoners discharged from Her Majesty’s gaols …’, Reports of Crime, 27 September 1878, vol.17, no.1001, p.157.

[5] See, for example, ‘Commercial’, Launceston Examiner, 24 November 1886, p.2; 19 April 1890, p.2. While William Turner failed to attract a reasonable price for Tasmanian brush possum from English buyers in 1871 (William Turner to the Colonial Treasurer, 27 September and 17 December 1872, TRE1/1/462 [TAHO]), in 1883 HE Button of Launceston began to ship furs to London: ‘Open fur season’, Mercury, 30 July 1926, p.3. For William ‘Jerry’ Aylett, see Nic Haygarth, ‘William Aylett: career bushman’, in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, pp.28–55.

[6] Frisby, Dyke and Co advert, Liverpool Mercury, 12 November 1883, p.3.

[7] ‘Lewis’s great sale of mantels and furs’, Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 5 February 1886, p.1.

[8] ‘Sales by auction’, Dundee Courier and Argus, 19 November 1887, p.1.

[9] ‘Waratah’, Tasmania Police Gazette, 19 November 1886, vol.25, no.1426, p.187.

[10] Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory, 1903, p.56; 1904, p.412; 1905, p.61.

[11] ‘”Lost and perished in the snow”: another Cradle Mountain tragedy’, Advocate, 27 March 1936, p.11.

[12] Thomas Allen to James Norton Smith, Van Diemen’s Land Company, 28 January 1902, VDL22/1/33 (TAHO).

[13] Bounty no.374, 12 January 1899 (3 adults, ‘3 December’); no.401, 15 November 1900 (3 adults, ’15 June’); no.482, 21 January 1901 (3 adults, ’17 December’); no.22, 4 February 1901 (3 adults, ‘4 January’); no.985, 25 July 1902 (‘July’); no.1057, 27 August 1902 (’15 August’); no.1091, 17 September 1902 (‘4 September 1902’); no.462, 6 August 1903, (1 juvenile, ’24 July’), LSD247/1/ 2 (TAHO). See ‘Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 15 December 1900, p.2.

[14] ‘Veritas’, ‘The lost youth Bert Hanson’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 11 August 1905, p.2. The bounties were all under the name ‘H Williams’: no.344, 17 November 1899 (’10 October’); no.1078, 11 September 1902 (’31 July 1902’); no.1280, 2 December 1902; no.76, 20 February 1903 (’14 February 1903’), LSD247/1/2 (TAHO).

[15] Williams’ activities at Wynyard in 1887 and 1889 were recorded in the diaries of George Easton, held by Libby Mercer (Hobart). For his conviction on a larceny charge, see ‘Wynyard’, Colonist, 12 October 1889, p.2; and ‘Prisoners discharged …’, Tasmania Police Gazette, 8 November 1889, vol.28, no.1581, p.180. Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory listed H Williams as a hunter living at Wynyard in 1900 (p.223), 1901 (p.239) and 1902 (p.255). Yet he caught two tigers at the Hampshire Hills (Hampshire) in 1900. In June 1903 he advertised for sale a 50-acre farm on Moores Plain Road south of Wynyard (‘For sale’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 1 June 1903, p.3), and in the period 1903–08 he had a mortgage on a 98-acre block at Natone near Hampshire, which would have been a handy base for his hunting activities (Assessment rolls, Hobart Gazette, 8 December 1903, p.2080; 5 December 1905, p.1847; Tasmanian Government Gazette, 12 November 1907, p.1951; and 30 June 1908, p.739). Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory placed him at Guildford Junction in 1905 (p.61) and 1906 (p.61). ‘Veritas’ placed him at the Hatfield Plains south-east of Waratah in 1905 (‘Veritas’, ‘The lost youth Bert Hanson’).

[16] ‘Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 21 November 1900, p.2.

[17] ‘Inland wires’, Examiner, 14 December 1900, p.7.

[18] ‘Burnie’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 18 October 1901, p.2.

[19] ‘Veritas’, ‘The lost youth Bert Hanson’.

[20] Ronald Smith, ‘Scene of hunter’s tragic death’, Mercury, 21 March 1936, p.9.

[21] ‘BEG’, ‘Cradle Mountain memories’, Advocate, 24 March 1936, p.6.