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2 corrections, most recently by C.Weber - Show corrections


MRS. MARY GRANT ROBERTS feeding some of her flack in a section of her gardens and private zoo in Hobart 70 years ago.

. Whoever heard of women buying, rearing, and selling ''tigers?" At the turn of the century a Hobart woman did just that for 15 years. The animal she traded in was the Tasmanian tiger - otherwise known as the marsupial wolf,

or thylacine, now almost extinct.

SHE was Mrs. Mary

Grant Roberts, a person of great charm and energy, who lived in a well-known large home, "Beaumaris," from the time her hus-

band, Henry Lewellyn Roberts, built it in 1877 until she died in 1921.

I have been reading her


Mrs. Roberts was clearly a human dynamo, with a wide circle of friends and

correspondents in many countries, a busy charity worker and church sup-


Not content with these activities, she studied zoology, and in 1895, as a hobby, began a collection

of lesser-known animals and

birds from many lands, which grew into a signifi- cant private zoo in her two - and - a - half - acre grounds.

Her reputation spread beyond Australia, and she shipped a surprising number

of animals and birds to

London, New York, Dur- ban, and Wellington, some- times receiving payment, sometimes other species of fauna in exchange.

From time to time the gardens were thrown open to raise money for charities.

Often the Governor at- tended, and it was not unusual to raise £30 at the gate at 6d a head.

Schoolchildren and Scouts and Guides formed many a Saturday afternoon party. Mrs. Roberts con- ducted the tours personally,

and her evident love of

nature encouraged similar feelings in the minds of the young.

Busy routine

A diary extract (January 30, 1910): "Mr. H. D. Baker (a consul) brought round Mr. and Mrs. Sayer with three daughters from Minneapolis, U.S.A. They thoroughly enjoyed the birds and animals, Mr. Sayer making light of the monkey taking off his hat and biting a hole in it. He said the pleasure of the

afternoon was worth a new hat."

On a typical day even in her seventies, Mrs. Roberts would attend to her animal

and bird collection early in the morning (with the gardener's help), then receive visitors and go to town early in the afternoon

on business.

This could include arranging with shipping agents to send animals abroad, going aboard the ship to see the purser, and paying for the ship's

butcher to feed the animals.

On the way home she would make many of the

social calls which were so much the custom of the times - sometimes five or

six calls. In the evening

she would find time to write letters, then attend a meeting.

Surely one of the busiest women of her time, she belonged to the Girls' Friendly Society, Victoria League, Royal Society, Field Naturalists' Club, Overseas Club, Tasmanian Art Society, King Edward Statue Committee, Belgian

Relief Fund, St. George Church, Battery Point (and all its associations), the RSPCA, and the Anti- Plumage League, which

she formed in 1910.

The Anti-Plumage    

League campaigned against the killing of beautiful birds, like peacocks and birds of paradise, to pr0- vide feathers for hats and other trimmings.


Mrs. Roberts doubtless is

the only woman in the world who has reared Tas- manian tigers in captivity, though it is not likely that she ever bred from them, as she would have men-

tioned it.

She was more fond of the Tasmanian devils, which she called her little playmates, and said that

several times she was a

woman "possessed of seven


(The Tasmanian devil, a

smaller but powerful flesh- eater, is not nearly as rare

now as the Tasmanian


WOMAN'S WEEKLY - May 10, 1967.




Early Tasmanian zoo enthusiast liked being able to tell her friends that she was also "possessed of seven devils"

"BEAUMARIS", where the zoo was conducted in two and q half acres of ground^. ABOVE LEFT: This old Tasmanian tiger, or marsupial wolf, was the last of the species seen alive, lt was photo- graphed in the Hobart Zoo in Queen's Domain, and died before the zoo was closed down in 1937. BELOW: A mother and three cubs photographed at "Beaumaris" about 50 years ago. Full-grown "tiger's" body is almost 4ft. long; rump and tail are rather kanga roo-1 ike.

, A newspaper report on a March 6, 1911, described ic an afternoon party for the id RSPCA. The Governor, Ç Sir Harry Barron, declar i11 ing the function open, said nt Mrs. Roberts had tamed pa "even tigers," but he would

not care to go in with them

f as she did.

"j A visitor from England, I ba letter in "Country

Life," London, referred to a male and female Tas i(l ' manian tiger he saw at

"Beaumaris" in 1913. He efl said they seemed quite J friendly and tractable and

ba were not in a cage,

W He asked Mrs. Roberts if !» she was afraid of any of rei the inhabitants of her zoo. old She answered that she was

on the best of terms wit!

¡i ah except the bronze fla, breasted Burmese peacock 3 a mosl savage brute!

al Diary entries show th a "es between 1910 and 191 ^ Mrs. Roberts shipped moi

than a dozen Tasmanis J- dgers and a similar numb

of devils to London, Ne H York, and other places, al o' - numbers of baldcoc t"1 native hens, King tes

kangaroo rats, tiger cats, wombats, and native com- panions.

One day she mentions that some showmen called and wanted to buy a Tas- manian tiger, but she was not disposed to let them have one at any price.

In 1910 Mrs. Roberts paid the country dealers £8 each for tigers, but as they became scarcer the price gradually rose, to reach £20 by 1919.

Still she made a good profit, as cheques received from overseas were up to

£40 each.

Tiger brooch

It was never easy to snare a Tasmanian tiger without hurting it. Mr. James Harrison, an animal dealer of the time, wrote that he caught one by a front paw, which was broken. He kept the animal in a cage with splints on the paw, and after four days it would come to him to have the paw attended


It used to make a "loud hiss."

Trappers who supplied Mrs. Roberts with speci-

mens found that the best

way to catch them un- injured was to suspend a bait over a camouflaged pit. They could then be roped and tied.

At her golden wedding anniversary on August 18, 1913, one of the presents Mrs. Roberts received was a solid gold Tasmanian tiger brooch.

Her husband took no

part in running the private

zoo because he was occu-

pied fully as managing director of Roberts & Co. Ltd., of which he was the main founder in 1865. He died in 1919.

Mrs. Roberts died two

years later. She willed the

collection of animals and birds to her daughter, Ida, who presented it to the Hobart City Council, which used the collection to establish a zoo on the Queen's Domain, near the Botanical Gardens.

The last photograph of a Tasmanian tiger was taken in 1935 in this zoo. It died before the zoo was closed two years later.