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The Legacy of Boyd's Zoo

The Legacy of Boyd's Zoo

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Published by Lisa Truttman
The remains of J J Boyd and his Royal Oak Zoo
The remains of J J Boyd and his Royal Oak Zoo

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Lisa Truttman on Feb 18, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Legacy of Boyd’s Onehunga Zoo
The Zoo War 
Lisa J Truttman
There is little left of Boyd’s Zoo remaining anywhere in Auckland. His son Edward Boyd lies buried at Waikaraka Cemetery;
there is a sign on Symonds Street which is supposed to mark the site of the zoo (but it doesn’t), and some stuffed specimens of animals originating fromthe zoo remain in the collection of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. There used to bethe remains of the band rotunda, sitting on a section on Boyd Avenue for years, until it wasdonated to the Museum of Transport and Technology. This, however, no longer exists. And,of course, there are the legends.
There is a commemorative sign, but …
This is a similar situation to that concerning the history of the Devonport Bear Gardens, inthat some assumptions have become “facts”, and then are simply repeated in latecompilations until they are believed.Onehunga historian G G M Mitchell wrote an excellent multi-part article on J J Boyd and theOnehunga Zoo in the
 Manukau Progress
from July 1961. He did not mention exactly wherethe zoo was located (except that it was on Symonds Street), nor did he tie in the zoo with the present-day school site. Just prior to the publication of his article, however, a competing local paper called
Western Suburbs News
published the following inaccurate piece:
“Before he brought his Zoo to Onehunga, Mr Boyd was a very successful building contractor in Wellington. In 1915, he quit the building game and for some time he and his familytravelled around New Zealand with a small Zoo. Later in 1915 he arrived, eventually, at  Auckland and decided to settle in Onehunga, then a fast growing borough. He purchased a plot of land, upon which now stands the Manukau Intermediate School, where he opened his Zoo to the public The house in Boyd Avenue, in which the Boyd family lived was previously owned by the Minnars, an old Onehunga pioneering family …”
A well-known Symonds Street resident named William Bone Suttie (1877-1964) tried to havethe information corrected two weeks later:
“ … I have lived in both the streets mentioned, Symonds St. and Trafalgar St., for over thelast seventy-eight years, it seems a pity for your good paper, the Western Suburbs News, tomake statements which are not quite correct. To begin with the Boyd Zoo was never on any part of the Manukau Intermediate School property and as this school has over six hundred 
children, many of them, after reading your paper, will be impressed with the wrong ideaabout their school being built where the old zoo stood. The school is built on a big block of  good, clean, flat land, bought from Mr Whyte. The Boyd Zoo property is a different block,and I can remember away back in the year 1883 it was owned by a Mr and Mrs Ball and later owned by Mr. Pittar. In your paper you say Mr Boyd bought the house in Boyd Avenuein which he lived from the Minnars, an old Onehunga pioneering family, but I fancy youmean the “Pittars.”
Janice Mogford, in her book 
The Onehunga Heritage
, first published in 1977, and then 1989,wrote:
“The Manukau Intermediate School opened in 1943, though construction had begun several years earlier. Erected on the site of the old Onehunga zoo …”
Margaret Ashton’s
Collection of Stories of Places and Incidents in Onehunga
in 1988 perpetuated the inaccuracy by reproducing verbatim the 1961
Western Suburbs News
article.In 1992,
Tiger By The Tail 
by Derek Wood was published, the history of the Auckland Zoo. Itused information previously self-published by Boyd’s great-grandson Brian Boyd, called
 Boyd Zoo at Aramoho
. Brian Boyd has since, in excerpts from a biography he is preparing onhis ancestor, referred to the
Western Suburbs News
article, and corrected several points, butdid not correct the inaccurate location given for the zoo. No reference to the school site wasmade in Wood’s book, but the Maungakiekie Community Board in 1995, during a period of installation of heritage signage around Onehunga, arranged the production and installation of the present sign outside the Royal Oak School, unveiled on 1 June 1995.
The sign says:
“BOYD’S ZOO“In 1912, John James Boyd, the Mayor of Onehunga, opened his zoo in Symonds Street where now stands Manukau Intermediate School. At some expense he imported from a zoo from Hamburg, Germany, a fine lion and lioness, a tigress, a pair of bears and a pair of black buck antelopes as well as four macaws, two vultures and two demoiselle cranes.“At first the zoo proved very popular and crowds flocked to see the animals, but it was not long before the council began to receive complaints about the noise and smell.“Mr Boyd was finally forced to close the zoo in 1922 soon after a lion escaped, ran downSymonds Street into Trafalgar Street and then to Queen Street where Mr Boyd’s sonrecaptured it, but not before several members of the public had received the fright of their lives.
“The animals were sold to Auckland City for their zoo.“The next major use of the property was as a wartime hospital before it opened for classes asa school in 1943.”
The inaccuracies:
J J Boyd wasn’t Mayor of Onehunga when he opened the zoo in 1911 – he wasMayor officially from 1917-1918, but actually only from May to August 1917.
The zoo was not on the site of the future school.
The animals referred to were imported for his Aramoho Zoo in Wanganui in January1910 – and the “vultures” were two American bald eagles.
The lion escape is unlikely to have happened as the 1961
Western Suburbs News
article seems to have perpetuated. (see below).Hopefully, at some stage, the sign is replaced and relocated by Auckland City Council.
The strolling lions of Onehunga
Western Suburbs News
informed its readers in 1961:
“During the latter part of 1917 a lion escaped from its cage (the gate not being shut  properly) and went bounding down Symonds Street towards Trafalgar Street. A Mrs Isabella Hutchinson, the widow of Onehunga’s first Town Clerk, happened to be walking in SymondsStreet at the same time. According to her story, she became aware of some large animal running down the road towards her, as it approached closer she thrust her opened umbrellainto the lion’s face, which (the lion) immediately continued its gallop down Symonds Street. It then turned into Trafalgar Street and made its way to Queen Street. Mr Boyd’s son overtook it and succeeded in coaxing it into the Zoo’s van.”
According to Mr Suttie, trying to set the record straight:
“Anyhow, talking about the lion, it was only a young lion, not twelve months old by a long way, and when it crossed over into Mr Whyte’s property, Mr. Whyte’s cow that had just calved, at once rushed the young lion, and chased it into the boundary hedge where it hid.Some sailors were visiting the zoo that day and when they heard about the lion being out of its cage they got ropes and lassood it properly, and led it back to its cage. That will be 44 years ago. My sister-in-law, who was then Miss Violet Gray, and lived opposite the zoo gates,

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