Posted on

Josiah Rabling and the Carn Brea tin mine, Heemskirk

Five-head battery at the Carn Brea tin mine, the only battery remaining in situ on the Heemskirk field. Nic Haygarth photo.

A lode tin mining boom in western Tasmania followed Inspector of Mines Gustav Thureau’s poorly considered 1881 claim that ‘the Mount Heemskirk and Mount Agnew tin deposits appear to be … of grave importance to the Colony at large’ and that ‘their permanence has already been proved …’[1] As Thureau discovered, when he arrived there unwisely in winter, the difficulties of working the remote field were enormous. It was an exposed coastal area characterised by cold winters, driving rain, dense vegetation and steep terrain. There were no roads, and no useful supply routes. The closest thing to a port was Trial Harbour, a shallow inlet open to the winds which crashed the Southern Ocean onto the coast.

Tasmanians subscribed to the idea that Cornish miners were the model of practical, economical tin mining. Trained-on-the-job Cornish miners were in great demand at Heemskirk, and they encouraged their excited employers with ludicrous allusions to their homeland. In August 1881, for example, one of the Heemskirk mine managers, Robert Hope Carlisle, was said to be trying to trace the continuation of the famous Dolcoath tin lode from Cornwall across the oceans to Heemskirk.[2] However, their assertions that Tasmanian tin lodes would ‘live down’ like Cornish ones proved disastrous on a field where the deposits were actually small and inconsistent. Ironically, the fortunes of one novice Cornish miner, Josiah Thomas (JT) Rabling, in Tasmania suggest that Heemskirk was indeed the ‘Cornwall of the antipodes’, that is, it proved as hard to make a living on the Tasmanian tin fields as it was in the depressed Cornwall he had escaped.

Josiah Thomas Rabling

Rabling was the Cornishman chosen to work the Carn Brea Tin Mine at Heemskirk. He was born into a well-known Camborne, Cornwall mining family in about 1843, the fourth of eight children.[3] As the nephew of William Rabling senior, who had made his name and fortune in the Mexican silver mines, and also the nephew of Charles Thomas, manager of the famous Dolcoath Mine at Camborne, he was born with a mining pedigree.[4] Josiah’s father, Henry Rabling, mined in Mexico, but does not appear to have succeeded there, leaving effects to the value of less than £450 when he died in 1875.[5] The fact that Josiah Rabling was in the workforce at the age of seventeen suggests that his mining education was on the job, rather than in the class room—and there was no Camborne School of Mines until 1888. Rabling grew up at a time when England lagged behind countries like Germany and the United States of America in not having a mining academy system.[6] In 1861 young Rabling was a smith, in 1871 he was a mining clerk at Camborne, near the Great Flat Lode of tin mines and the Dolcoath Mine, which produced copper and tin for centuries.[7]

However, the crash of the copper price in the second half of the nineteenth century, the effect of the cost book system and Cornwall’s lack of a coal resource on its industrial economy, and additional failures in agriculture and fishing placed great stress on Cornish mine workers and labouring families. By 1873 the tin price was also falling, and 132 Cornish tin mines closed over the next three years.[8]

It is likely that the death of Rabling’s father in 1875 and the downturn in the local mining industry necessitated a search for work elsewhere. Competition to Cornwall from the Australian tin mines had begun with almost simultaneous discoveries on the New England tableland in northern New South Wales and at Mount Bischoff in Tasmania. Rabling arrived in Tasmania on the Argyle in 1876, perhaps being sent by British capitalists interested in Tasmanian mines.[9] During 1877 and 1878 he secured commissions to report on various mines, but by the following year was down on his luck. In August 1879, after making a little money by paling splitting, he forged a signature on a cheque which he presented in the town of Waratah (Mount Bischoff) to pay a small cartage fee incurred by a friend. He pleaded guilty to a crime committed in ‘such a childish manner’, according to a reporter for the Mercury (Hobart) newspaper, ‘with so little gain attached to it that it really looked as if he wanted to get into prison’.[10] Despite this being a first offence, Rabling was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment.[11] The effects of this experience are unknown, but one subsequent effort to make a living in Tasmania also landed him in trouble. In July 1881, along with three other men, he was tried in the Supreme Court, Hobart, on a charge of unlawfully conspiring to defraud Peter McIntyre to the tune of £400 by salting the Band of Hope Mine. Rabling and one other were found not guilty.[12]

Despite these events, such was the allure of the Cornish ‘practical miner’ that only a month later Rabling was one of two men engaged by the British Lion Prospecting Association to prospect on the Heemskirk tin field.[13] The Heemskirk tin deposits, like those of Mount Bischoff, occurred in granite—and who knew more about working tin in granite than Cornishmen?

A tributary of Granite Creek was the site of one of three Heemskirk sections leased by Rabling. The creek, he said, would be sufficient to drive machinery.[14] Even today the site, within a several hundred metres of the sea, is a remote one, three hours’ walk from shack settlements at Trial Harbour and Granville Harbour. It is hard to imagine what a young man from Camborne made of tent life exposed to the roaring surf of the Southern Ocean.

The ss Amy at dock.
Anson Brothers photo courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Even being delivered to the Heemskirk field was an endurance test. Rabling first ventured westward out of Launceston on the small steamer the ss Amy, which had begun to unload if not dock at Boat (later Trial) Harbour.[15] Seventeen passengers plus stores for the Pieman River goldfield were crammed aboard the tiny vessel, which took on further stores at Latrobe on the Mersey River during a five-day stopover. When the Amy got underway again, overloading had made it so unsteady that the bulk of the cargo had to be put ashore at the Mersey heads. Another layover occurred at the port of Stanley, in the far north-west, this time for bad weather. On the seventh day out of Launceston the steamer put in at the remote sheep and cattle station of Woolnorth, on the north-western tip, again delayed by buffeting winds, the passengers having enough time ashore to go rabbiting, inspect the bones of a stranded whale and hold a meeting in which they established their own west coast prospecting association! Reaching the Pieman River heads ten days out of Launceston brought good news —the dreaded bar was passable, for the first time in many days. So many vessels had come to grief on the Pieman River bar that a successful crossing was invariably met with an address of thanks to the captain and his chief officer and a hearty round of cheers. Passengers had time to develop an opinion on nearby gold workings before re-embarking for Heemskirk.[16]

Sections of the metalwork of the overshot waterwheel remain on site next to the Carn Brea wheelpit today. Nic Haygarth photo.

Developing the Carn Brea Tin Mine

At the inaugural meeting of the Carn Brea Tin Mining Company, held in Hobart in January 1883, Rabling was appointed mine manager and promptly adjourned to the west coast with eight assistants. While publicly, at least, Rabling made no grandiose comparisons with the Cornish tin field, he did name the mine Carn Brea, after the hill that stands over his home town, Camborne, in Cornwall, perhaps a reflection of homesickness as well as an assurance of worth to cheer the shareholders. In February 1883 Carn Brea shareholders authorised a loan to pay for a battery and a 24-foot iron overshot waterwheel manufactured at WH Knight’s Phoenix Foundry in Launceston.[17] A road had to be built to North Heemskirk before the equipment was delivered by steamer at the dangerously exposed port of Trial Harbour.[18] However, when the machinery came to be hauled up the road by horse team the carters ran out of horse feed, causing further delay.[19] When visiting the Carn Brea Mine, the Mercury newspaper’s ‘special’ reporter Theophilus Jones was only able to inspect the stone cutting and wheel pit prepared for its reception, Rabling’s 84-foot drive and 20-foot winze and a lode said to be four to five feet wide. He was reassured by the manager serving him steaming Royal Blend tea, preserved meat and ‘excellent’ bread and butter. Furthermore, Rabling had

‘pitched his camp in a snug corner formed by the junction of two banks above a small creek. He has not wasted the shareholders’ money by erecting large and substantial houses, stable and blacksmith’s shops, with a store and a post office thrown into the bargain, but has contented himself with putting up tents, and cutting chimneys and fireplaces in the bank’. [20]

The battery and a rock face that appears to have been cut away to accommodate a work site, Carn Brea tin mine. Nic Haygarth photo.

The most settled weather in western Tasmania is in February and March, but many water-powered mines found it too dry to operate in those months. April, May and the winter and spring months would normally provide abundant rainfall, but the west coast weather would then be bracing, to say the least. Rabling would have had no choice but to stay put and do his shareholders’ bidding by preparing the claim for crushing as soon as possible, much of his time being spent huddled in a sturdy tent.

The fatal first crushing

The first half-yearly meeting of the Carn Brea Tin Mining Company in July 1883 glowed with a happy anticipation. Neither the £1800 advance on machinery, nor the six calls on shares, had disturbed the shareholders’ equanimity. Stone assaying a payable 7.5 to 14% had been paddocked awaiting the crusher, demonstrating the admirable ‘energy and skill’ of the company’s mining manager.[21]

The Carn Brea was one of nine mines on the Heemskirk field to erect a battery during the boom period. In all, 75 or 80 head of stampers were raised.[22] By October 1883 Thomas Williams was ready to crush at the Orient tin mine.[23] The Cliff and Carn Brea were almost ready to crush, the Montagu and the Cumberland were erecting machinery and mine manager George Lightly of the West Cumberland was preparing to receive machinery.[24]

However, the failure of the Orient crushing one month later threw ‘a great damper … on lode tin mining at Mount Heemskirk …’[25] Confidence in the field evaporated. The Carn Brea Tin Mining Company kept going until at its second half-yearly meeting in March 1884 it was revealed that, although assay results from the first shipment of 30 bags of crushed ore were not yet available, directors regarded mining operations as a failure. Not surprisingly, expenditure due to work delays and heavy freight costs had far exceeded Rabling’s estimates. Work had been suspended, and many shares in the company had been forfeited. One of the directors, Grubb, condemned Rabling’s management, and several disputed that he had secured any tin from the mine. Eventually, shareholders voted to accept Rabling’s offer to take the mine on tribute (that is, working the company’s lease for a percentage of the value of ore won, so at no cost to the shareholders), the unknown value of the 30 bags of tin being taken as part payment for the wages the company owed him.[26] All work seems to have been abandoned soon after. No further substantial work appears to have taken place at the Carn Brea Mine.

Although Trial Harbour would enjoy a brief resurgence as the port for the Zeehan–Dundas silver-lead field, the Heemskirk tin field would never fulfil early expectations. Former Peripatetic Tin Mine manager Con Curtain estimated that at least £100,000 were spent at Heemskirk 1880–84 for a return of about 70 to 100 tons of dressed tin.[27] By 1962 total production on the field had not progressed substantially, amounting to a mere 668 tons of metallic tin.[28]

[1] Gustav Thureau, West coast, Legislative Council Paper 77/1882, p. 27.

[2] ‘Mt Heemskirk’, Mercury (Hobart), 5 October 1881, supplement, p. 1.

[3] Census for England 1851 and 1861.

[4] ‘Miss Eliza Rabling’, Cornishman, 19 January 1889, p. 2; Sharron P Schwartz, Mining a shared heritage: Mexico’s ‘Little Cornwall’, Cornish–Mexican Cultural Society, England, 2011, pp. 51–52.

[5] England and Wales Probate Calendar, 1858–1966.

[6] Rod Home, ‘Science as a German export to nineteenth century Australia’, Working Papers in Australian Studies, no. 104, London, 1995, pp. 7–11, 17.

[7] Census for England 1861 and 1871.

[8] Philip Payton, Cornwall: a history, pp. 215–20; Allen Buckley, The story of mining in Cornwall, p. 140.

[9] ‘Gold news’, Launceston Examiner, 3 March 1877, p. 5.

[10] ‘Our Launceston letter’, Mercury, 4 October 1879, p. 3.

[11] Conduct record, CON37/1/11, p. 6063 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart [hereafter TAHO]).

[12] ‘Second Court’, Mercury, 28 July 1881, p. 3.

[13] ‘Mining’, Mercury, 30 August 1881, p. 3; ‘Tin’, Launceston Examiner, 31 August 1881, p. 3.

[14] ‘Mining’, Mercury, 27 April 1882, p. 3.

[15] ‘Tin’, Launceston Examiner, 31 August 1881, p. 3.

[16] ‘The west coast goldfields’, Mercury, 17 September 1881, p. 2.

[17] ‘Heemskirk’, Mercury, 23 October 1883, p. 3; ‘Tin’, Launceston Examiner, 9 March 1883, p. 3.

[18] ‘Mount Heemskirk’, Mercury, 8 May 1883, p. 3.

[19] ‘Managers’ reports’, Mercury, 30 June 1883, p. 2.

[20] ‘Our Special Reporter’ (Theophilus Jones), ‘The west coast tin mines’, Mercury, 31 May 1883, p. 3.

[21] ‘Mining’, Mercury, 1 August 1883, p. 3.

[22] According to Con Curtain and LJ Smith, companies which installed batteries included the Carn Brae (JT Rabling; 10 heads, from .H Knight’s Phoenix Foundry, Launceston), Orient (John Williams; Thomas S Williams; 10, Salisbury Foundry, Launceston), Cliff (John Hancock; William Williams; W Thomas; PT Young; Edward Perrow, 5), the West Cumberland (George Lightly; 5), the Wakefield (5), Cumberland (AB Gallacher; 10), the Montagu (Alex Ingleton; 15), the Victorian-registered Cornwall Tin Mining Co (Mark Gardiner; 10, WH Knight), and Peripatetic (Con Curtain; 10). Companies which did not install machinery included the Montagu Extended (Robert Hope Carlisle), Prince George (John Addis), St Clair (James Henry Nance), Champion (WG Hensley), Mount Heemskirk and Agnew (John Greenwood), Heemskirk River (Edwin Tremethick) and the St Dizier (Nicholas St Dizier). The Empress Victoria (Thomas Fowler) had a steam hoisting plant but no treatment plant. See Con Henry Curtain, ‘Old times: Heemskirk mines and mining’, Examiner, 27 February 1928, p. 5; and LJ Smith, ‘South Heemskirk tin mine’, Advocate, 11 August 1928, p. 14. Curtain claimed there were 75 heads of stampers on the field, but Smith’s list of batteries added up to 80 heads.

[23] Con Henry Curtain, ‘Old Times: Heemskirk Mines and Mining’. There is a five-head battery at the Carn Brea mine today.

[24] ‘Heemskirk’, Mercury, 23 October 1883, p. 3.

[25] Editorial review of 1883, Launceston Examiner, 1 January 1884, p. 2.

[26] ‘Mining’, Mercury, 3 April 1884, p. 3.

[27] Con Henry Curtain, ‘Old times: Heemskirk mines and mining’.

[28] AH Blissett, Geological survey explanatory report, One Mile Geological Map Series, Zeehan, Department of Mines, Hobart, 1962, p. 112.

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.