Beaumaris Zoo – A History

Beaumaris Zoo - Polar Bear Enclosure

What remains of the Polar Bear enclosure at Beaumaris Zoo as it stands today.

On the Domain, almost across the road from Government House, lies a ruin.

I had lived in Hobart for a number of years before I actually stopped and paid attention to the area. The metal gate shouts Beaumaris Zoo to passers-by, but who stops anymore? Is there even anything to see?

Truthfully? Not really, but that doesn’t take away from the significance of the location. It was here, on 7 September 1936 that the last known Thylacine died; likely the result of neglect and exposure to the Tasmanian elements. The disappointing factor surrounding this is that the animal died less than two months after official protection of the species was legislated on 10 July 1936. Whilst there had been calls for the protection of the species for decades before this, the final outcome came too late to save them.

Beaumaris Zoo didn’t last much longer, closing the following year in 1937, having been in operation at the location on the Queens Domain since 1922. The zoo itself went back to 1895, a private collection owned by Mary Grant Roberts. Mrs Roberts was a socialite, married to Henry Llewelyn Roberts whose success in business allowed his wife to engage in her passion for collecting and caring for animals. The zoo was originally opened to the public on the land the couple owned between Newcastle Street and Sandy Bay Road in Battery Point. Whilst the house still stands, the grounds have since been developed into apartments, leaving the view of the original property obscured.

Beaumaris Zoo Gate - Ghosts of Fur and Feather

“Ghosts of Fur and Feather,” the heading that greets visitors to the Beaumaris Zoo site today.

Despite having no training, Mrs Roberts’ passion and skill in animal care allowed her to see the zoo thrive. In 1910, she “was asked by Mr. A. S. Le Souef, Director of the Zoological Gardens in Moore Park, NSW, to obtain, if possible, Tasmanian Tigers and Devils,” and in April 1911 she received her first Tasmanian Devil family, consisting of a mother and four joeys, allowing her the opportunity to observe “their growth almost from their first appearance when partly protruding from the pouch.” This family was later sent to the London Society, and Mrs Roberts received her second family in September of the same year.

Beaumaris Zoo Tasmanian Devils

Mary Roberts was vehement in her defence of the Tasmanian Devil as a friendly animal.

In 1913, Mrs Roberts became the first person to breed Tasmanian Devils in captivity. Her paper The Keeping and Breeding of Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisi), was published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in December 1915. In it, Mrs Roberts spoke about the relationship between “Billy” and “Truganini,” and Truganini’s subsequent maternal care of the newborn joeys. The original litter, sadly, did not survive; however, the following year saw greater success in the survival of Truganini’s second litter of joeys.

Mrs Roberts’ paper gave a clear indication of her passion for the Tasmanian wildlife, and how much she came to love her Tasmanian Devils in particular. She took great pains to clarify in her paper how the character of the Tasmanian Devil had been misunderstood and misconstrued.

I have derived much pleasure from studying the habits and disposition of the Tasmanian Devils, and have found that they respond to kindness, and certainly show affection and pleasure when I approach them … Others who do not know or understand them may think of them as they like, but I, who love them, and have had considerable experience in keeping most of our marsupials, from the Thylacine down to the Opossum Mouse (Dromica nana), will always regard them as first favourites, my little black playmates.

Mary Grant Roberts, The Keeping and Breeding of Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisi), December 1915

Mary Roberts and Wallabies at Beaumaris

Mary Roberts Feeding her Wallabies at Beaumaris Zoo circa 1910

Alongside her passion for the Tasmanian Devil, Mrs Roberts kept a number of Thylacines, making as many as a dozen shipments of the animals to places such as London, New York and other locations, receiving as much as 40 pounds for each specimen. Sir Harry Barron, at an afternoon party for the RSPCA in 1911, declared that Mrs Roberts had tamed “even tigers,” although with the caveat that he would not care to go in with them as she did. When asked, though, if she was afraid of any of the creatures in her collection, Mrs Roberts answerd that she “was on the best of terms with all except the bronze-breasted Burmese peacock, a most savage brute!”

The zoo became world-renowned, thanks in great part to her passion for the local wildlife in Tasmania, as well as her knowledge of the animals in her care, and her willingness to share it with her patrons. Many school groups and tourists from Tasmania and the world around were thrilled to visit the collection

I shall long remember my visit to the charming residence of Mrs Roberts. I was edified by her beautiful object lessons on bird life. I consider Mrs Roberts collection the best I have seen in all the states.

Rev Joseph T. Vincent of Burnie, Beaumaris Zoo Visitors’ Book, 26 April 1905

Beaumaris House in Sandy Bay

The original house at Beaumaris in Sandy Bay.

Upon Mary Grant Roberts’ passing in 1925, she left her entire estate to her daughter, Ida Roberts. Ida, with other members of her family, first approached the Trustees of the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery to take over the management and maintenance of the zoo. The ongoing maintenance costs associated with managing such a project, though, were beyond the reach of the Trustees, and it was only through negotiation with Hobart City Council and the Tasmanian state government that a plan was able to be reached for the Council to host the zoo at its final site on the Domain.

Appointed as curator was Mr Arthur Reid, a Scottish-born migrant to Tasmania, who was responsible for expanding the zoo beyond a private collection of Tasmanian native wildlife into a spectacular feature. Upon receiving his appointment, Reid embarked on a tour of zoos around Australia to determine the best and most modern animal keeping methods of the time. Under Reid, animals from other continents were added with lions, elephants, and polar bears some of the features alongside several species of monkey, prairie dogs, and in later years, a leopard named Mike, who became a common site outside the zoo grounds, being walked on a leash by Reid’s daughter, Alison, through the Queens Domain.

“We were walking along a path cut into the bank, so he couldn’t see Mike. The man came down to chat me up and the leopard jumped at him. Well, he took off and Mike took off after him. I could hold him, but I pretended that I couldn’t.” (Alison Reid, 1994)

(The Mercury, Leopard Lady of Hobart Zoo in fright of fancy, 12/10/1994 p.5)

Alison Reid and Mike - Beaumaris Zoo

Alison Reid and “Mike,” the leopard that she raised from a cub. The pair were a common sight across the hills of the Domain.

Beaumaris zoo was a site of conservation, both during  the days where Mary Roberts owned it, and after it was taken over by the Hobart City Council. In these days of the early 1900s, the exceptional value of the animals humanity share the planet with was just beginning to be realized.

The immense economic importance of our furred and feathered friends has yet to be realized. Other countries are spending large amounts in investigating their fauna and all investigations go to show the extent of which man is dependent upon the lower animals. The term “balance of Nature” implies much that is dimly understood and Man’s interference has generally resulted in harm instead of benefit.

Clive Lord, Director of the Tasmanian Museum, 1925

Upon auditing of the animals at Beaumaris in 1922, Arthur Reid noted a total of 48 animals in the collection, and 100 birds. Mrs Roberts’ Tasmanian Devils had not survived, and the lone Thylacine in the collection had fallen into ill health. It died of pneumonia in October of 1922 before the Queens’ Domain site could be completed, and the call was placed for a replacement.

Polar Bear at Beaumaris Zoo

A polar bear on display at Beaumaris Zoo.

The Queens Domain site was finally completed in January 1923, and on February 1, the animals were transferred from the Battery Point location to the new site. The following day the Zoo was officially opened, albeit missing the highly anticipated African Lions due from Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney. The opening ceremony, hosted by Alderman W. M. Williams in place of the mayor, allowed free entry to the zoo for that afternoon only.

The Zoo stood on the Domain for the next fourteen years, before it finally succumbed to financial difficulties in 1937. The site was sold to the Royal Australian Navy, who used it as a fuel storage depot from 1943 to 1991, at which point it was returned to the Hobart City Council. As a part of National Threatened Species Day, on 9 September 2000, the new gate that now stands on the site was installed. There have been suggestions for how to use the site, with the early 2000s seeing a call to turn the location into a wildlife rehabilitation centre

Coffee – Amelia Espresso Launceston

Amelia Espresso LauncestonI have one thing to say: Hobart baristas; get your act together.

Being a die-hard Hobart person, it smarts a bit to have to admit that my favourite coffee place in Tasmania is actually in Launceston. There are some good places down south, of course, but the best one I’ve had is hiding away just off the beaten track in the Launceston CBD, a place called Amelia Espresso.

I stumbled across it by accident, actually. In March 2015 I was watching Million Dollar Minute one evening and they had a café owner from Launceston on the show, the eponymous owner of what is now my favourite café in Tassie. Sadly, she didn’t win, but a few weeks later when I was in Launceston, I happened across the sparsely furnished, nondescript space, and wandered in for a coffee.

Amelia Espresso LauncestonIt’s hipster all the way. There’s just the one table, recycled (upcycled?) furniture, and a polished concrete floor. The product? Coffee. Coffee. More coffee. Cups to drink coffee from. Oh, and a few pastries. It all creates a great atmosphere, where I’ve sat down several times now with my laptop to start work on a writing project. Free WiFi is also available for half hour per coffee purchased.

The blend here is fantastic and smooth, just the way I like it, and the most important factor from my point of view, was that I was actually able to drink it straight away. Instead of receiving boiling milk and a scalding tongue, out comes a coffee where I can actually enjoy the flavor, and rest my hands around the glass without feeling like I need oven mitts to do so.

What is it with the Australian preference for ridiculously hot coffee?

Amelia Espresso also have one final winning point from my point of view, they’re passionate about supporting local. They source their coffee from a local roaster, use Tasmania’s Betta Milk brand, and use local food producers to provide the little cakes, pastries and other snacks.

They can be found at 56 George Street, in Launceston – a couple of blocks down from Brisbane Street.

Hobart Zombie March 2015

Hobart Zombie March 2015

Young or old, it didn’t matter. The rise of the undead took them all.

That’s the date that will be remembered by what’s left of history.

In Hobart, it was a beautiful and mild winter’s day. Actually, it was almost perfect. The sky was blue and almost cloudless, the sun shining brightly, and the chill in the air was just enough to be crisp without being uncomfortable. I’d spent the morning wandering through Salamanca market, had lunch at one of the fish punts and posted a fantastic photo of Mount Wellington on Instagram from down at the waterfront. As the afternoon wore on, I decided to stop in at the Elizabeth Street Mall to enjoy a latte and sit down to work on my next project. Turns out, I was about to find a new project

It’s funny, but whenever I envisioned the world falling apart, I figured it would have to happen on a gray, cloudy, miserable day. Perhaps there would be rain and thunderstorms; it would be dark and scary. It definitely wasn’t supposed to happen on a perfect day like this one.

When the busker across the mall paused between songs, I thought I could hear screams from somewhere in the distance. I couldn’t be sure, though. He started up another song – to be honest, he wasn’t too bad. Sadly, though, he wasn’t going to be singing for much longer.

Hobart Zombie March 2015

At times, it got a little close for comfort. I endured the risk, though, to share this terror with the world.

You see, that’s when things went to hell. Literally.

I had heard screams. Before I knew it, I was hearing screeching tyres, sounds of cars crashing, and more screaming. Much more screaming.

Thanks to the morbid curiosity that humanity seems to be famous for, the people scattered throughout the mall began to move toward the noise. I guess I would have too, had I not been engrossed in my writing, and enjoying my coffee. Besides, I didn’t need to wait too long to find out what the commotion was about.

From now on, if you hear people screaming, run. Run. Fast. Don’t wait to see what it’s all about, and don’t even think about going to find out, because I can tell you what it is.

The apocalypse.

The lucky ones who’d gone to investigate the chaos were pretty quickly charging back the other way. There was no hiding from the scream snow, they were running right past me. Now it was my turn to let my morbid curiosity get the best of me. Instead of getting up and running with them, I stayed still, and looked behind the crowd.

To be honest, when I saw my first zombie, I was stuck somewhere between terror and excitement. I was always one of those geeks who loved watching zombie movies and TV shows. I was the guy who actually had swords at home, partly in preparation for the most hypothetical of situations you’d ever imagine. The dead rising.

The first thing I noticed was that they were shambling. That, in a way, was a cause for relief. At least they weren’t those ridiculous fast moving zombies a couple of authors and movie producers have conceived. It was kind of like that scene in Austin Powers with the guy standing in front of the steamroller. You could see death coming, but it was so slow that it seemed to take forever. At the same time, though, I was at a loss as to what to do. A voice in my head told me to run, but the rest of my body didn’t seem to be getting the message.

Finally everything kicked into gear, and I bundled up my laptop and got to my feet, kicking a couple of tables over as I went. I didn’t run, though.

Hobart Zombie March 2015

The rise of the undead happened right here in Hobart.

I mean, come on. I was witnessing the Zombie Apocalypse! A parade of the walking dead was marching through the centre of Hobart, and instead of reading about it or seeing a news report, I was witnessing it! The apocalypse had come, and it wasn’t happening in the United States, or England, it was happening here in little old Tasmania. Seriously.

So of course, out came my phone. I figured that as long as I could stay in front of them, and stay on my feet, I’d be fine. It was probably a stupid idea, but hey, now you’re reading my report of events. I’m the one behind the screen. Would it have been worth it if I’d died? Probably not, but I didn’t, so it was.

It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. There were adults and children; even the youngest of our world weren’t going to be spared this nightmare. I managed to even spy one woman still pushing a pram, with a bloody arm, moving inside the stroller. I wondered if some kind of maternal instinct still remained in undeath? The procession seemed to go on and on, as I finally found a hiding spot out of the way, watching as they marched through the streets and alleyways, the shrieks and groans echoing off buildings.

Excitement won out over fear. Fear won out over sorrow. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it, but in the shock of it all, the fact that these were once living people didn’t cross my mind. It’s only now, sitting down after the fact, that I can consider the reality of the situation. It’s here. The Zombie March is here.