Posted on

The Francises of Middlesex Plains 3: George Francis and the Middlesex hunters

When 52-year-old Maria Francis died of heart disease at Middlesex Station in 1883, Jack Francis lost not only his partner and mother to his child but his scribe.[1] For years his more literate half had been penning his letters. Delivering her corpse to Chudleigh for inquest and burial was probably a task beyond any grieving husband, and the job fell to Constable Billy Roden, who endured the gruesome homeward journey with the body tied to a pack horse.[2]

Base map courtesy of DPIPWE.

By then Jack seems to have been considering retirement. He had bought two bush blocks totalling 80 acres west of Mole Creek, and through the early 1890s appears to have alternated between one of these properties and Middlesex, probably developing a farm in collaboration with son George Francis on the 49-acre block in limestone country at Circular Ponds.[3]

Jack Francis and second partner Mary Ann Francis (Sarah Wilcox), probably at their home at Circular Ponds (Mayberry) in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powley.

Here Jack took up with the twice-married Mary Ann (real name Sarah) Wilcox (1841–1915), who had eight adult children of her own.[4] Shockingly, as the passing photographer Frank Styant Browne discovered in 1899, Mary Ann’s riding style emulated that of her predecessor Maria Francis (see ‘Jack the Shepherd or Barometer Boy: Middlesex Plains stockman Jack Francis’). However, Mary Ann was decidedly cagey about her masculine riding gait, dismounting to deny Styant Browne the opportunity to commit it to posterity with one of his ‘vicious little hand cameras’.[5]

Perhaps Mary Ann didn’t fancy the high country lifestyle, because when Richard Field offered Jack the overseer’s job at Gads Hill in about 1901 he took the gig alone.[6] This encore performance from the highland stockman continued until he grew feeble within a few years of his death in 1912.[7]

Mary Ann seems to have been missing when the old man died. Son George Francis and Mary Ann’s married daughter Christina Holmes thanked the sympathisers—and Christina, not George or Mary Ann, received the Circular Ponds property in Jack’s will.[8] Perhaps Jack had already given George the proceeds of the other, 31-acre block at Mole Creek.[9]

Field stockmen Dick Brown (left) and George Francis (right) renovating the hut at the Lea River (Black Bluff) Gold Mine for WM Black in 1905. Ronald Smith photo courtesy of the late Charles Smith.

By the time Mary Ann Wilcox died in Launceston three years later, George Francis had long abandoned the farming life for the high country. He was at Middlesex in 1905 when he renovated a hut and took part in the search for missing hunter Bert Hanson at Cradle Mountain.[10] Working out of Middlesex station, he combined stock-riding for JT Field with hunting and prospecting.

Like fellow hunters Paddy Hartnett and Frank Brown, Francis lost a small fortune when the declaration of World War One in July 1914 closed access to the European fur market, rendering his winter’s work officially worthless. At the time he had 4 cwt of ‘kangaroo and wallaby’ (Bennett’s wallaby and pademelon) and 60 ‘opossum’ (brush possum?). By the prices obtaining just before the closure they would have been worth hundreds of pounds.[11] Sheffield Police confiscated the season’s hauls from hunters, who could not legally possess unsold skins out of season.

The full list of skins confiscated by Sheffield Police on 1 August 1914 gives a snapshot of the hunting industry in the Kentish back country. Some famous names are missing from the list. Experienced high country snarer William Aylett junior was now Waratah-based and may have been snaring elsewhere.[12] Bert Nichols was splitting palings at Middlesex by 1914 but may not have yet started snaring there.[13] Paddy Hartnett concentrated his efforts in the Upper Mersey, probably never snaring the Middlesex/Cradle region. His double failure at the start of the war—losing his income from nearly a ton of skins, and being rejected for military service—drove him to drink.[14]

‘Return of skins on hand on the 1st day of August [1914] and in my possession’, Sheffield Police Station.

Name Location Kangaroo/wallaby Wallaby Possum
George Francis Msex Station 448 lbs 60 skins
Frank Brown Msex Station 562 skins+ 560 lbs 108 skins
DW Thomas Lorinna 960 lbs 310 skins
William McCoy Claude Road 600 lbs 66 skins
Charles McCoy Claude Road 40 lbs
Geo [sic] Weindorfer Cradle Valley 31 skins 4 skins
Percy Lucas Wilmot 408 skins 56 skins
G Coles Storekeeper, Wilmot 5 skins
Jack Linnane Wilmot 15 skins
WM Black Black Bluff 50 skins 3 skins
James Perry Lower Wilmot 2 skins 13 skins

Most of those deprived of skins were bush farmers or farm labourers who hunted as a secondary (primary?) income, while George Coles was probably a middleman between hunter and skin buyer: 

Frank Brown (1862–1923). Son of ex-convict Field stockman John Brown, he was one of four brothers who followed in their father’s footsteps (the others were Humphrey Brown c1855–1925, John Thomas [Jacky] Brown, 1857–c1910 and Richard [Dick] Brown). He appears to have been resident stockman at Field brothers’ Gads Hill Station in 1892.[15] Frank and Louisa Brown were resident at JT Field’s Middlesex Station c1905–17. He died when based at Richard Field’s Gads Hill run in 1923, aged 59, while inspecting or setting snares on Bald Hill.[16] 

David William Thomas (c1886–1932) of Railton bought an 88-acre farm on the main road at Lorinna from Harry Forward in 1912.[17] His 1914 skins tally suggests that farming was not his main source of income—so the loss must have been devastating. Other Lorinna hunters like Harold Tuson were working in the Wallace River Gorge between the Du Cane Range and the Ossa range of the mountains. 

William Ernest (Cloggy) McCoy (1879–1968), brother of Charles Arthur McCoy below, was born to VDL-born William McCoy and Berkshire-born immigrant Mary Smith at Sheffield.[18] He was the grandson of ex-convict John McCoy and the uncle of the well-known snarer Tommy McCoy (1899–1952).[19] 

Charles Arthur (Tibbly) McCoy (1870–1962) was born to VDL-born William McCoy and Berkshire-born immigrant Mary Smith at Barrington.[20] He was the grandson of ex-convict John McCoy. Charles McCoy caught a tiger at Middlesex, depositing its skins at the Sheffield Police Office on 30 December 1901.[21] He was the uncle of the later well-known snarer Tommy McCoy. 

Gustav Weindorfer (1874–1932), tourism operator at Waldheim, Cradle Valley, during the years 1912 to 1932. By his own accounts during 1914 he shot 30 ‘kangaroos’, eight wombats, six ringtails and one brush possum, as well as taking one ‘kangaroo’ in a necker snare.[22] While the closure of the skins market would have handicapped this struggling businessman, these skins would have been useful domestically, and the wombat and wallaby meat would have gone in the stew. 

Percy Theodore Lucas (c1886–1965) was a Wilmot labourer in 1914, which probably means that he worked on a farm.[23] Nothing is known about his hunting activities. 

TJ Clerke’s Wilmot store, Percy Lodge photo from the Weekly Courier, 22 April 1905, p.19.

George Coles (1855–1931) was the Wilmot storekeeper whose sons, including George James Coles (1885–1977), started the chain of Coles stores in Collingwood, Victoria.[24] George Coles bought TJ Clerke’s Wilmot store in 1912, operating it until after World War One. In 1921 the store was totally destroyed by fire, although a general store has continued to operate on the same site up to the present.[25] The five skins in George Coles’ possession had probably been traded by a hunter for stores. Coles probably sold them to a visiting skin buyer when the opportunity arose.[26]

John Augustus (Jack) Linnane (1873–1949) was born at Ulverstone but arrived in the Wilmot district in 1893 at the age of nineteen, becoming a farmer there.[27] Like George Francis, Linnane joined the search party for missing hunter Bert Hanson at Cradle Mountain in 1905, suggesting that he knew the country well.[28] His abandoned hunting camp near the base of Mount Kate was still visible in 1908.[29] Enough remained to show that Linnane was one of the first to adopt the skin shed chimney for drying skins.[30]  He also engaged in rabbit trapping.[31]  In 1914 he was listed on the electoral roll as a Wilmot labourer, but exactly where he was hunting at that time is unknown.[32]

Kate Weindorfer, Ronald Smith and WM Black on top of Cradle Mountain, 4 January 1910. Gustav Weindorfer photo courtesy of the late Charles Smith.

Walter Malcolm (WM) Black (1864–1923) was a gold miner and hunter at the Lea River/Black Bluff Gold Mine in the years 1905–15. The son of Victorian grazier Archibald Black, WM Black was a ‘remittance man’, that is, he was paid to stay away from his family under the terms an out-of-court payment of £7124 from his father’s will.[33] He joined the First Remounts (Australian Imperial Force) in October 1915 by falsifying his age in order to qualify.[34] See my earlier blog ‘The rain on the plain falls mainly outside the gauge, or how a black sheep brought meteorology to Middlesex’.[35]

James Perry (1871–1948), brother of a well-known Middlesex area hunter, Tom Perry (1869–1928), who was active in the high country by about 1905. Whether James Perry’s few skins were taken around Wilmot or further afield is unknown.

No tigers at Middlesex/Cradle Mountain?

George Francis survived the financial setback of 1914. Gustav Weindorfer in his diaries alluded to collaboration with him on prospecting and mining activities, but they hunted in different areas. In 1919 Francis co-authored the three-part paper ‘Wild life in Tasmania’ with Weindorfer, which documented their extensive knowledge of native animals, principally gained by hunting them. At the time, the authors claimed, they were the only permanent inhabitants of the Middlesex-Cradle Mountain area, boasting nine years (Weindorfer) and 50 years’ (Francis) residency. They also made the interesting claim that the ‘stupid’ wombat survived as well as it did in this area because it had no natural predators, since the thylacine did not then and probably never had frequented ‘the open bush land of these higher elevations’.[36] While this suggests that George Francis had never encountered a thylacine around Middlesex, it’s hard to believe that his father Jack Francis didn’t, especially given the story that Jack’s early foray into the Vale of Belvoir as a shepherd for William Kimberley was tiger-riddled.[37] It’s also a pity the authors didn’t consult the likes of Middlesex tiger slayers Charlie McCoy (see above) and James Mapps—or rig up a séance with the late George Augustus Robinson and James ‘Philosopher’ Smith.

The dog of GA Robinson, the so-called ‘conciliator’ of the Tasmanian Aborigines, killed a mother thylacine on the Middlesex Plains in 1830.[38] Decades later, ‘Philosopher’ Smith the mineral prospector came to regard Tiger Plain, on the northern edge of the Lea River, as the most tiger-infested place he visited during his expeditions. It was popular among the carnivores, he thought, because the Middlesex stockman’s dogs by driving game in that direction provided a ready food source. ‘I thought it necessary’, he wrote about his experience with tigers,

‘to be on my guard against them by keeping a fire as much as I could and having at hand a weapon with which to defend myself in the event of being attacked by one or more of them … ‘[39]

Smith killed a female tiger on Tiger Plain and took its four pups from her pouch but found they could not digest prospector food (presumably damper, potatoes, bully beef, wallaby or wombat).[40] Philosopher’s son Ron Smith had no reason to doubt his father, as he found a thylacine skull on his property at Cradle Valley in 1913 which is now lodged in Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.[41] There were still tigers in the Middlesex region at the cusp of the twentieth century. Like ‘Tibbly’ McCoy, James Mapps claimed a government thylacine bounty at this time, probably while working as a tributor at the Glynn Gold Mine at the top of the Five Mile Rise near Middlesex.[42]

George Francis in his will described himself as a ‘shepherd of Middlesex Plains’, yet he met his maker in the Campbell Town Hospital. His parents were dead and he had no remaining relatives. The sole beneficiary of his will was Golconda farmer and road contractor William Thomas Knight (1862–1938), probably an old hunting mate.[43] Francis’s job at Middlesex was filled by the so-called ‘mystery man’ Dave Courtney (see my blog ‘Eskimos and polar bears: Dave Courtney comes in from the cold’), whose life, as it turns out, is an open book compared to that of his elusive predecessor.

[1] Died 11 October 1883, death record no.167/1883, registered at Deloraine, RGD35/1/52 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=maria&qu=francis#, accessed 15 February 2020; inquest dated 13 October 1883, SC195/1/63/8739 (TAHO), https://stors.tas.gov.au/SC195-1-63-8739, accessed 15 February 2020. A pre-inquest newspaper reporter incorrectly attributed her death to suicide by strychnine poisoning (editorial, Launceston Examiner, 23 October 1883, p.1).

[2] It is likely that Jack Francis and Gads Hill stockman Harry Stanley conveyed Maria Francis’s body to Gads Hill Station, where Roden took delivery of it. See ‘A veteran drover’, Examiner, 7 March 1912, p.4; and ‘Supposed case of poisoning at Chudleigh’, Launceston Examiner, 13 October 1883, p.2. Later Roden had the job of removing Stanley’s body for an inquest at Chudleigh (Dan Griffin, ‘Deloraine’, Tasmanian Mail, 13 August 1898, p.26).

[3][3] For the land grant, see Deeds of land grants, Lot 5654RD1/1/069–71In 1890, 1892 and 1894 John and George Francis were both listed as farmers at Mole Creek (Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory, 1890–91, p.200; 1892–93, p.288; 1894–95, p.260). Jack Francis was reported to have left Middlesex in March 1885, being replaced by Jacky Brown (James Rowe to James Norton Smith, 10 March 1885; and to RA Murray, 24 September 1885, VDL22/1/13 [TAHO]). However, he appears to have returned periodically.

[4] She was born to splitter John Wilcox and Rosetta Graves at Longford on 17 July 1841, birth record no.3183/1847 (sic), registered at Longford, RGD32/1/3 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/all/search/results?qu=sarah&qu=wilcox, accessed 14 March 2020; died 25 October 1915 at Launceston (‘Deaths’, Examiner, 8 November 1915, p.1). Mary Ann’s youngest child, Eva Grace Lowe, was born in 1879.

[5] Frank Styant Browne, Voyages in a caravan: the illustrated logs of Frank Styant Browne (ed. Paul AC Richards, Barbara Valentine and Peter Richardson), Launceston Library, Brobok and Friends of the Library, 2002, p.84.

[6] Wise’s Tasmanian Post Office directory for the period 1901–08 listed Jack Francis as an overseer at Gads Hill or Liena, while Mary, as she was described, was listed as a farmer at Liena, meaning Circular Ponds (1901, p.322; 1902, p.341; 1904, p.204; 1906, p.189; 1907, p.192; 1908, p.197).

[7] ‘A veteran drover’.

[8] ‘Return thanks’, Examiner, 2 March 1912, p.1; purchase grant, vol.36, folio 116, application no.3454 RP, 1 July 1912.

[9] Jack Francis bought purchase grant vol.18, folio 113, Lot 5654, on 25 November 1872. He divided it in half, selling the two lots on 6 May 1902 to Arthur Joseph How and Andrew Ambrose How for £30 each.

[10] ‘The mountain mystery: search for Bert Hanson’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 1 August 1905, p.3.

[11] 1 August 1914, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[12] See ‘William Aylett: career bushman’ in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, pp.42–43.

[13] See ‘Bert Nichols: hunter and overland track pioneer’, in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, p.114.

[14] See ‘Paddy Hartnett: bushman and highland guide’, in Simon Cubit and Nic Haygarth, Mountain men: stories from the Tasmanian high country, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2015, p.93.

[15] On 20 April 1892 (p.179) Frank Brown reported stolen a horse which was kept at Gads Hill, Deloraine Police felony reports, POL126/1/2 (TAHO).

[16] ‘Well-known stockrider’s death’, Advocate, 4 June 1923, p.2.

[17] ‘Lorinna’, North West Post, 28 August 1912, p.2; ‘Obituary: Mr DW Thomas, Railton’, Advocate, 21 April 1932, p.2.

[18] Born 21 March 1879, birth record no.2069, registered at Port Sorell, RGD33/1/57 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=william&qu=ernest&qu=mccoy. Accessed 10 April 2020.

[19] Born 26 June 1870, birth record no.1409/1870, registered at Port Sorell, RGD33/1/48 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=charles&qu=mccoy, accessed 15 September 2019; died 23 September 1962, buried in the Claude Road Methodist Cemetery (TAMIOT). For John McCoy as a convict tried at Perth, Scotland in 1792 and transported on the Pitt in 1811, see Australian convict musters, 1811, p.196, microfilm HO10, pieces 5, 19‒20, 32‒51 (National Archives of the UK, Kew, England).

[20] Born 26 June 1870, birth record no.1409/1870, registered at Port Sorell, RGD33/1/48 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=charles&qu=mccoy, accessed 15 September 2019; died 23 September 1962, buried in the Claude Road Methodist Cemetery (TAMIOT). For John McCoy as a convict tried at Perth, Scotland in 1792 and transported on the Pitt in 1811, see Australian convict musters, 1811, p.196, microfilm HO10, pieces 5, 19‒20, 32‒51 (National Archives of the UK, Kew, England).

[21] 30 December 1901, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[22] Gustav Weindorfer diaries, 1914, NS234/27/1/4 (TAHO).

[23] Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Wilmot, Subdivision of Kentish, 1914, p.27.

[24] ‘About people’, Age, 22 December 1931, p.8.

[25] ‘Fire at Sheffield [sic]’, Mercury, 8 November 1921, p.5.

[26] Coles held a tanner’s licence in 1914 (‘Tanners’ licences’, Tasmania Police Gazette, 1 May 1914, p.109), but the legal requirement was that skins had to be sold to a registered skin buyer. Despite this, plenty of people tanned and sold their own skins privately.

[27] ‘”Back to Wilmot” celebration’, Advocate, 12 April 1948, p.2.

[28] 10 July 1905, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[29] Ronald Smith, account of trip to Cradle Mountain with Bob and Ted Addams, January 1908, held by Peter Smith, Legana.

[30] Ronald Smith, account of trip to Cradle Mountain with Bob and Ted Addams, January 1908, held by Peter Smith, Legana.

[31] On 18 April 1910, Linnane reported the theft of 200 rabbit skins from his hut valued at £2, ‘Daily Record of Crime Occurrences Sheffield 1901–1916’, POL386/1/1 (TAHO).

[32] Commonwealth Electoral Roll, Division of Wilmot, Subdivision of Kentish, 1914, p.26.

[33] ‘Supreme Court’, Age, 27 February 1885, p.6.

[34] World War One service record, https://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/R1791278/, accessed 22 March 2020.

[35] Nic Haygarth website, http://nichaygarth.com/index.php/tag/walter-malcom-black/, accessed 22 March 2020.

[36] G Weindorfer and G Francis, ‘Wild life in Tasmania’, Victorian Naturalist, vol.36, March 1920, p.158.

[37] ‘The Tramp’ (Dan Griffin), ’In the Vale of Belvoir’, Mercury, 15 February 1897, p.2.

[38] George Augustus Robinson, Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals and papers of George Augustus Robinson, 1829-1834 (ed. Brian Plomley), Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1966; 22 August 1830, p.159.

[39] James Smith to James Fenton, 14 November 1890, no.450, NS234/ 2/1/15 (TAHO).

[40] ‘JS (Forth)’ (James Smith), ‘Tasmanian tigers’, Launceston Examiner, 22 November 1862, p.2.

[41] Ron Smith to Kathie Carruthers, 26 September 1911, NS234/22/1/1 (TAHO); email from Tammy Gordon, QVMAG, 2019.

[42] Bounty no.242, 30 August 1898, LSD247/1/ 2 (TAHO); ‘Court of Mines’, Launceston Examiner, 22 September 1897, p.3; 30 September 1897, p.3.

[43] Will no.14589, administered 7 March 1924, AD960/1/48, p.189 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=george&qu=francis, accessed 15 March 2020; ‘Funeral of Mr WF [sic] Knight’, Examiner, 15 April 1938, p.15.

Posted on 5 Comments

Dogging in the snow near Lake St Clair

A hunter’s log cabin in the Cuvier Valley (Fred Smithies photo, from the Weekly Courier, 3 July 1929, p.27). From 1927 the Cuvier Valley was part of a game sanctuary. This was not the first time that Smithies, a member of the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board, had photographed an illegal hunting hut in the Lake St Clair Reserve.

In 1906 a newspaper contributor calling himself ‘The Rover’ wrote an account of four months’ hunting in a mountain valley near Lake St Clair. The party of four was from Queenstown. They started for the lake through heavy rain in April, each member bearing a pack weighing 23 kg up the Linda Track, precursor of the Lyell Highway—while a mule carried the rest, a mere 141 kg! First stop was the ‘cockatoo hut’, which at the time was a well-known shelter at the Franklin River.[1] Next day, high on Mount Arrowsmith, the grave of John Largan, who had frozen to death there in 1900, served to warn them of the dangers of the highlands.[2] Arriving at Lake St Clair on the second evening after their long tramp, they spent two days exploring the surrounds before settling on a ‘beautiful valley’ 11 km from the lake. Over four days the party built a log hut with a bark roof as their base.

Then, instead of laying down their snare lines, they ‘waited with feverish impatience for the first fall of snow’. Unleash the hounds! ‘The Rover’ knew what many hunters knew: that in heavy snow wallabies were easy prey for dogs:

‘As we had been at the business before, no time was lost in getting to work, two of us going out and two remaining in camp every alternate day … The same remark applies to the dogs, for they soon knock up if the work is not divided between them. The best plan is to take four dogs at a time, for if the kangaroos [Bennett’s wallabies] are plentiful the dogs will kill faster than a man can skin them, it being a common occurrence to have four or five killed within as many minutes. The fastest kangaroo falls a victim to the slowest dog when pursued through three feet of snow’.

The two men back at camp were kept busy pegging out skins, fetching wood for the fire and cooking supper. No mention was made of a skin shed—but the existence of one is implied by the volume of skins obtained and the duration of the expedition. Mouldy or frozen skins were worthless. They needed to be cleaned and kept dry. The skin shed, a unique Tasmanian invention, was developed at about the beginning of the twentieth century. Its inception was one of the reasons for an escalation in the Tasmanian fur industry, enabling longer stints and greater, more valuable hauls in the highlands where possum furs in particular grew thicker.

After one month the mule was revisited at the Clarence River, and divested of its load—which presumably it had not borne in the interim. The snow was then two feet deep, and in June it got deeper, with metre-long icicles draping the eaves of the hut. Now the ‘rough-coated mongrel’ dog showed his superiority to the purebred, with wallabies being slaughtered in all directions.

One day the hunters found the tracks of a ‘hyena, or Tasmanian tiger’. The dogs took up the scent

‘and in a few minutes discovered the enemy. Their angry growls brought us on the scene, when it was plainly to be seen that the tiger intended to fight to the bitter end. With a cry of encouragement to the dogs we urged them on, and immediately they were engaged in mortal combat with their fierce opponent. The struggle was a long one, but at last the combined strength of the four dogs began to tell, and the battle was over. We found on examination that the tiger was one of the largest of its class, measuring 5 ft 6 in [1.69 m] from the end of his nose to the tip of his tail’.

‘The Rover’ claimed a haul of 91 dozen (1092) wallaby skins—and a weight loss of from 15 to 22 kg per man.[3] The mule, not the men, would have borne the skins back to Queenstown. Providing they were in good condition, they would have fetched something in the region of £80–£140 on the fur market, or an average of about £20–£35 per man.[4] While this would have been a very useful income supplement, better money was to be had in an open season on brush possum.

How credible is this anonymous tale? Let’s start with the hunting season. No year is given, but the events described, if they are real, must have taken place in the period 1901–05. Which season is it likely to be? Throughout the period 1901–05 the season for wallaby was four months, 1 April to 31 July, with closed season for possums in 1903 and 1904 and a one-month season (July) in 1901, 1902 and 1905.[5] So wallabies would have been the focus for many hunters during these seasons, and almost without exception in 1903 and 1904. As for the very heavy snow falls, there was plenty of snow at Cradle Mountain in July 1905 when hunter Bert Hanson disappeared in a blizzard. Hanson and his mate Tom Jones were also using dogs to hunt down wallabies.[6]

A map showing Cuvier Valley hunting huts visited during a police raid on the Lake St Clair Game Sanctuary in 1927. From AA580/1/1 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).

What was the ‘beautiful valley about 10 miles long by two in width, and bounded on each side by high ranges extending as far as the eye could reach, rising almost perpendicularly from the valley below’? Allowing for a little poetic licence, it could be the Cuvier Valley west of Mount Olympus, where hunters like Bert and Dick Nichols operated two decades later.[7]

What about the thylacine: was the carcass submitted for a government thylacine bounty? Plenty of applications were made for the bounty in the spring of the years 1901–05, but without knowing the origin of each application it is very difficult to track down ‘The Rover’ or his mates from Queenstown.[8] Given the value of the wallaby skins they obtained, carting a single thylacine carcass back to Queenstown in order to submit it for a £1 bounty may not have been a priority for them anyway.

In short, the story is plausible. I hope there are further missives from ‘The Rover’, giving more insight into the task of feeding the world’s craving for furs.

[1] See, for example, JW Beattie, ‘Out west with salmon fry’, Mercury, 18 February 1903, p.6; ‘Alluvial gold’, Mercury, 25 August 1935, p.8.

[2] See ‘Mount Arrowsmith tragedy’, Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, 3 September 1900, p.2.

[3] ‘The Rover’, ‘A Tasmanian winter camp’, Weekly Courier, 26 May 1906, p.37.

[4] In August 1901 ‘kangaroo’ skins free from shot were fetching £0-1-6 to £0-1-8 each (‘Commercial’, Mercury, 17 August 1901, p.2); in August 1905 ‘kangaroo’ fetched from £0-1-11 to £0-2-6 (‘Commercial’, Examiner, 12 August 1905, p.4). My calculations assume that all the skins obtained were Bennett’s wallabies, when it is likely that some were pademelons. ‘The Rover’ does not specify.

[5] Editorial, Daily Telegraph, 30 July 1901, p.2; ‘To correspondents’, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 31 July 1902, p.2; ‘Current topics’, Examiner, 31 March 1903, p.4; ‘Warning to possum poachers’, Examiner, 19 June 1903, p.6; ‘To correspondents’, Examiner, 13 April 1904, p.4; ‘Kangaroos and opossums’, Daily Telegraph, 3 May 1905, p.2.

[6] ‘The Tramp’ (Dan Griffin), ‘The mountain mystery’, Daily Telegraph, 5 August 1905, p.6.

[7] See Gerald Propsting to the Secretary for Public Works, 4 August 1927, file AA580/1/1(Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office [afterwards TAHO]); ‘Lake St Clair Reserve: allegations of poaching’, Mercury, 26 May 1927, p.10.

[8] Government thylacine bounty payments in the years 1888—1909 are recorded in LSD247/1/2 and LSD247/1/3 (TAHO).

Posted on

Theophilus Jones and the thylacine: or the case for the prosecution

1901 was a prolific year for thylacine appearances at Woolnorth. Here VDL Co stockman Walter Pinkard reports from the thick of the action 8 June 1901. From VDL22-1-32 (TAHO).
Tigers to the left, tigers to the right … VDL Co stockman Walter Pinkard reports from the thick of the Woolnorth tiger action 8 June 1901. From VDL22-1-32 (TAHO).

How do you stigmatise an animal? Try branding. The change from ‘hyena’ to ‘tiger’, as the common descriptor for the thylacine, was a major step in its reinvention as a sheep killer. Both ‘tiger’ and ‘hyena’ were used commonly to describe the thylacine during much of the nineteenth century, with ‘tiger’ only becoming the dominant term late in that century and into the twentieth century. For example, the records of the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co) show that the company’s local officers used ‘hyena’ almost universally to describe the thylacine during the company’s first period of farming its Woolnorth property, in the years 1827–51—whereas later they went exclusively with ‘tiger’.

The stripes on the thylacine’s back presumably prompted the original attributions of the names ‘tiger’ and ‘hyena’, by Robert Knopwood and CH Jeffreys respectively.[1] The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) were mentioned regularly in nineteenth-century newspaper items about life in the British Raj, which some foreign-born Tasmanians had also visited. Tigers, leopards, cheetahs, wolves and, less often, hyenas, preyed on stock and sometimes people in India. Government rewards were offered there for killing tigers. While the fearsome tiger was the favourite ‘sport’ of Indian big game hunters, the hyena, unlike its some-time Tasmanian namesake, was not the primary carnivore in the Bengali ecology. It was sometimes reported to be ‘cowardly’, ‘skulking’ and lacking in the fight desired by the game hunter.[2]

Likewise, the thylacine was also often described as ‘cowardly’ in its alleged sheep predations.[3] By the 1870s and 1880s, however, when the profitability of the wool industry was declining, those employed in the industry seem to have used the term ‘tiger’ almost universally to describe the thylacine. Perhaps shepherds preferred ‘tiger’ because it glamorised their profession, introducing an element of danger and likening them to the big game hunters of India. The way in which some thylacine killers made trophies of their kills and were photographed with these suggests identification with big game hunting.[4] By the same token, dubbing the thylacine a ‘tiger’ provided a potential scapegoat for sheep losses, enabling the shepherd to shift the blame for his own poor performance on to what may henceforth be perceived as a dangerous predator. Wool-growers wanting to eliminate the thylacine would also be keen to cast it as a dangerous predator. John Lyne, the east coast wool-grower who led the campaign for a government thylacine bounty, referred to the animal as a ‘tiger’ but also as a ‘dingo’, thereby equating the thylacine with the well-known mainland Australian sheep predator.[5] In 1887 ‘Tiger Lyne’s campaign   was mocked to the effect that

‘the jungles of India do not furnish anything like the terrors that our own east coast does in the matter of wild beasts of the most ferocious kind. According to ‘Tiger Lyne’, these dreadful animals [thylacines] may be seen in their hundreds stealthily sneaking along, seeking whom they may devour …’[6]

The VDL Co correspondence records show that the company’s local agent James Norton Smith also originally described the thylacine as a ‘hyena’. He appears to have adopted ‘tiger’ as a descriptor in 1872 after his Woolnorth overseer, Cole, used the term in a letter to him. James Wilson, Woolnorth overseer 1874–98, also used the term ‘tiger’ exclusively, and after 1876 Norton Smith followed suit. The term ‘hyena’ was not used in any correspondence written or compiled by VDL Co staff, in Woolnorth farm journal records or Woolnorth accounting records in the years 1877–99. While Norton Smith occasionally used the term ‘hyena’ in the years following Wilson’s retirement from Woolnorth, ‘tiger’ remained his preferred term and this continued to be used exclusively at Woolnorth.

Theophilus Jones: thylacine prosecutor

As Robert Paddle and others have suggested, pastoralists generally blamed the thylacine as well as the rabbit for their declining political power and wealth.[7] One of the greatest prosecutors of the thylacine at this time was Theophilus Jones. In 1877–78 and 1883–85 two young British journalists toured Tasmania writing serialised newspaper accounts of its districts. Since both were newcomers, with limited knowledge of the colony, they could be expected to repeat unquestioningly much of what they were told. The first of these writers, E Richall Richardson, travelled all the populated regions of Tasmania except the far north-west and Woolnorth. On the east coast, Richardson interviewed woolgrowers, including John Lyne, the MHA for Glamorgan who a decade later would petition to establish the thylacine bounty. Richardson’s only comment upon the thylacine as a sheep killer or any kind of nuisance in his 92-part series was not on the east coast or in the Midlands, but in reference to the twice-yearly visits of graziers to their Central Plateau stock runs:

‘If when the master comes up, and there is a deficit in the flock, the rule is ‘blame the tiger’. The native tiger is a kind of scape-goat amongst shepherds in Tasmania, as the dingo is with shepherds in Queensland; or as ‘the cat’ is with housemaids and careless servants all over the world. ‘It was the cat, ma’am, as broke the sugar-basin’; and ‘It was the tigers, sir, who ate the sheep’.[8]

Theophilus Jones, in his 99-part series written in the years 1883–85, told a different tale. By this time, only half a decade since Richardson wrote, the wool industry had declined markedly. The first ‘stock protection’ association, that is, a locally subscribed thylacine bounty scheme, was formed at Buckland on the east coast in August 1884 while Jones was touring the area.[9]

Jones’ circumstances were different to the earlier writer’s. Although travelling in poverty, Richardson was a single man with no commitments. Jones, on the other hand, was trying desperately to support a wife and large family. While travelling Tasmania as a newspaper correspondent, he doubled as an Australian Mutual Provident (AMP) assurance salesman. Much more than Richardson, Jones concentrated on populated areas where he might sell assurance and find well-to-do patrons. He not only visited Woolnorth but practically every large grazier in the colony, and he flattered men who were in a position to financially benefit him. Whether currying favour or being merely ignorant of the truth, it is not then surprising to find Jones spouting woolgrowers’ vituperative against the thylacine. Henry, John and William Lyne appear to have fed Jones a litany of almost six decades of warfare with Aborigines and the wildlife, as if these were age-old predators: ‘Blacks and tigers made the life of a young shepherd one of continued mental strain’.[10] For Jones the tiger was generally the biggest killer of sheep, followed by the devil and the ‘eaglehawk’. The thylacine had ‘massive’ jaws, ‘serrated’ teeth and a powerful body like that of a kangaroo dog.[11] It was ‘a great coward’, savaging lambs but refusing battle with man or dog.[12] Jones applauded the stock protection association, hoping that it would reduce eagles and tigers ‘to the last specimen’.[13] That is, drive them to extinction.

Jones had already visited Woolnorth. He found that, like his predecessors, tigerman Charlie Williams kept ‘trophies’ at Mount Cameron, his prize being a thylacine skin 2.3 metres long.[14]

Like Williams, the government was actually more interested in possums. It had cited increased hunting, in response to high skin prices, as a reason to introduce the Game Protection Amendment Act (1884), which protected all kinds of possum during the summer, allowing open season from April to July inclusive. During debate about the bill in the House of Assembly, James Dooley ‘likened the sympathy for the native animals to that which was excited in favour of the native race’, to which MHA for Sorell, James Gray, responded that ‘the only resemblance between the natives and the opossums were that they were both black. (Laughter.)’[15]

It was also Gray who in 1885 asserted the ‘necessity of something being done to stop the ravages of the native tiger in the pastoral districts of the colony …’.[16] John Lyne took up this stock protection measure: a £1 per head thylacine bounty operated from 1888 to 1909. About 2200 bounties were paid across Tasmania, helping to drive the animal towards extinction. Bounties were paid by the Colonial Treasurer upon thylacine carcasses being presented to local police magistrates or wardens. 

Woolnorth was a remote settlement with challenges faced by few wool-growing properties. Distance from towns, doctors and schools was probably one reason that it was so difficult to find and keep a reliable man to work at Mount Cameron West in particular. Time and time again James Wilson’s farm journals record the Mount Cameron West shepherd’s monthly visits to the main farm at Woolnorth to get supplies and return with them to his own hut: ‘Tigerman came down’ and ‘Tiger went home’. ‘Tigerman’, which carries the implication of being a dedicated thylacine killer, may have been coined to glamorise the position in order to attract staff. It and the general use of the term ‘tiger’ at Woolnorth may also indicate that the overseer, his stockman and farm hands wanted to shift the blame for sheep losses on the property. 

Table 3: Occurrences of various names for the thylacine in Tasmanian newspapers for the years 1816–1954 (in both text and advertising), taken from the Trove digital newspaper database 22 December 2016

NAME 1816–87 1888–1909 1910–54 TOTAL
Tasmanian tiger 141 (84–57) 96 (64–32) 434 (420–14) 671 (568–103)
Native tiger 326 (199–127) 197 (186–11) 88 (88–0) 611 (473–138)
Tasmanian native tiger 5 (5–0) 0 (0–0) 7 (7–0) 12 (12–0)
Thylacine/thylacinus 43 (43–0) 20 (20–0) 93 (91–2) 156 (154–2)
Hyena/native hyena/opossum hyena 165 (107–58) 46 (39–7) 84 (77–7) 295 (223–72)
Dog-faced opossum 1 (1–0) 0 (0–0) 0 (0–0) 1 (1–0)
Tasmanian wolf 9 (3–6) 11 (11–0) 97 (97–0) 117 (111–6)
Marsupial wolf 4 (4–0) 6 (6–0) 74 (74–0) 84 (84–0)
Tiger wolf 7 (7–0) 3 (3–0) 3 (3–0) 13 (13–0)
Native wolf/native wolf-dog 5 (5–0) 0 (0–0) 5 (5–0) 10 (10–0)
Zebra wolf 5 (5–0) 6 (6–0) 2 (2–0) 13 (13–0)
Tasmanian tiger wolf 1 (1–0) 0 (0–0) 0 (0–0) 1 (1–0)[17]

In her book Paper tiger: how pictures shaped the thylacine, Carol Freeman stated that ‘Tasmanian wolf’ and ‘marsupial wolf’ were the principal names given to the thylacine in the zoological world until well into the twentieth century, described how in the period from the 1870s to the 1890s ‘wolf-like’ visual images of the species predominated in natural history literature, and speculated that illustrations of this kind, repeated in mass-produced Australian newspapers in 1884, 1885 and 1899, ‘influenced perceptions close to the habitat of the thylacine and encouraged government extermination policies’.[18]

The National Library of Australia’s Trove digital newspaper database allows us to test the idea that the depiction of the thylacine as a ‘wolf’ or as ‘wolf-like’ had any traction in Tasmania. Unlike the inter-colonial illustrated newspapers to which Freeman referred—Australian Graphic (1884), Illustrated Australian News (1885) and Town and Country Journal (1899)—the Trove search represented by Table 3 is restricted to 88 Tasmanian newspaper titles, 23 of which published during at least part of the period of the Tasmanian government thylacine bounty 1888–1909. More than any other type of publication, the Tasmanian newspapers are likely to contain the language of ordinary Tasmanians, expressed either by journalists, newspaper correspondents or by themselves in letters to the editor—and they were more likely than any other form of publication to be read by and contributed to by graziers, legislators and hunter-stockmen involved in killing thylacines. Some of these newspapers carried occasional lithographed or engraved images, but the search does not include the two best-known Tasmanian illustrated newspapers, the Weekly Courier (1901–35) and the Tasmanian Mail/Illustrated Tasmanian Mail (1877–1935), which (in December 2016) were yet to be digitised for the Trove database. Trove coverage of Tasmanian newspapers begins with the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter in 1816 and goes no later than 1954 except in a few cases.

The Tasmanian 'zebra wolf', from the San Francisco Chronicle, 18 February 1896, p.6.
The Tasmanian ‘zebra wolf’, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 18 February 1896, p.6.

The Trove search suggests that in the period 1888–1909 the terms ‘native tiger’ (197 hits) and ‘Tasmanian tiger’ (96 hits) were much more widely used by the general public in Tasmania that any permutation of ‘wolf’ (26 hits altogether), and that ‘hyena’ (46 hits) was also more popular than ‘wolf’. While the 1884 issue of Australian Graphic which contained the illustration of the ‘Tasmanian zebra wolf’ is not included in the Trove search, it did pick up a description of that issue of the newspaper by the editor of the Mercury. Clearly he was not profoundly influenced by the engraving of the thylacine:

‘The illustrations are fairly good, excepting those which are apparently intended to be amusing; these amuse only by their extreme absurdity. There is a cut representing, what is termed, a Tasmanian zebra wolf. It is about as true to nature as the pictures exhibited outside a travelling menagerie’.[19]

The Tasmanian wolf as a sheep devourer in 1947, when the term had gained some popular usage: from Hotch Potch (the magazine of the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia), October 1947, vol.4, p.2 (TAHO).
The ‘Tasmanian wolf’ as a sheep devourer in 1947, when the term ‘wolf’ had gained some popular usage: from Hotch Potch (the magazine of the Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia), October 1947, vol.4, p.2 (TAHO).

The names ‘Tasmanian wolf’ (97 hits) and ‘marsupial wolf’ (74 hits) only gained traction in Tasmanian newspapers in the period (1910–54) when the thylacine was clearly disappearing or virtually extinct, that is, when the scientific and zoological community entered the popular press in its desperate search for a remnant thylacine population. This is also the period in which the Latin scientific name for the animal, thylacine, thylacinus (93 hits) occurred much more frequently in the Tasmanian press. However, even in this period, ‘tiger’ (529 hits) remained easily the predominant descriptor for the thylacine. The fact that the thylacine received more attention in the press during the years when it could not be found than when it could speaks for itself, although of course many more newspapers were published in the first half of the twentieth century than in the nineteenth.

 

[1] Eric Guiler and Philippe Godard, Tasmanian tiger: a lesson to be learnt, Abrolhos Publishing, Perth, 1998, p.15.

[2] ‘Pigsticking in India’, Launceston Examiner, 29 March 1897, p.3; ‘Shikalee’, ‘Wild sport in India’, Launceston Examiner, 24 July 1897, p.2.

[3] See, for example’, ‘Royal Society of Tasmania’, Courier, 16 June 1858, p.2; or ‘Town talk and table chat’, Cornwall Chronicle, 27 March 1867, p.4.

[4] See, for example, [Theophilus Jones], ‘Through Tasmania: no.35’, Mercury, 26 April 1884, supplement, p.1.

[5] See, for example, ‘Parliament’, Launceston Examiner, 1 October 1886, p.3.

[6] Tasmanian Mail, 3 September 1887; cited by Robert Paddle, The last Tasmanian tiger: the history and extinction of the thylacine, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2000, p.161.

[7] See Robert Paddle, The last Tasmanian tiger.

[8] E Richall Richardson, ‘Tour through Tasmania: no.89: cattle branding’, Tasmanian Tribune, 14 March 1878, p.3.

[9] ‘Buckland’, Mercury, 15 August 1884, p.3.

[10] Theophilus Jones, ‘Through Tasmania: no.61’, Mercury, 8 November 1884, supplement, p.1.

[11] Theophilus Jones, ‘Through Tasmania: no.49’, Mercury, 26 July 1884, p.2.

[12] Theophilus Jones, ‘Through Tasmania: no.35’, Mercury, 26 April 1884, supplement, p.1.

[13] Theophilus Jones, ‘Through Tasmania: no.56’, Mercury, 20 September 1884, p.2.

[14] Theophilus Jones, ‘Through Tasmania: no.35’, Mercury, 26 April 1884, supplement, p.1.

[15] ‘House of Assembly’, Mercury, 24 October 1884, p.3.

[16] ‘Meeting at Buckland’, Mercury, 14 August 1884, p.2; ‘The native tiger’, Mercury, 25 September 1885, p.2.

[17] This list was compiled on 22 December 2016. The numbers in brackets indicate how many of the hits occurred in text and how many in advertising. While occurrences of a name in advertising are a relevant gauge of its public usage, it is recognised that numbers of hits are exaggerated by repeated publication of the same advertisement. Another issue noted in this search of Trove was the need to weed out references to ‘native and tiger cats’, which refer to the two species of quoll rather than to the thylacine. There are also cases of repetition in the sense that some textual references involve two or more names for the thylacine, such as ‘the Tasmanian tiger or marsupial wolf’. In such cases both names have been included in the table.

[18] Carol Freeman, Paper tiger: how pictures shaped the thylacine, Forty South Publishing, Hobart, 2014, pp.117and 140.

[19] Editorial, Mercury, 28 March 1884, p.2.