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J J Boyds Royal Oak Zoo

J J Boyds Royal Oak Zoo

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Story of the Royal Oak Zoo near Onehunga, Auckland (1911-1922), operated by J. J. Boyd, Auckland's first zoo. Part of The Zoo War (2008).
Story of the Royal Oak Zoo near Onehunga, Auckland (1911-1922), operated by J. J. Boyd, Auckland's first zoo. Part of The Zoo War (2008).

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Published by: Lisa Truttman on Feb 27, 2010
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J H Colby, one of the original members of the deputation who had presented the 1912
petition to the Council for Parliament to change the Municipal Corporations Act, steps
back into the story at this point. In September 1916, 104

he wrote to the Council in
complaint concerning the noise of the Ocean Wave equipment at the zoo. He asked
that Boyd be prevented from opening his zoo on Sundays. This sparked off the
Borough Council’s second major offensive against Boyd and his zoo. In committee,
they decided to grant no more permits to Boyd for his animal cages, to ask the
borough solicitor for a report on the costs to date of the zoo case (the bill submitted in
April the following year totalled £217 6/6), and asked that the faulty by-law be
referred back for opinion as to revised wording to render it valid. Councillor Brewin,
a supporter of both Boyd and his zoo, objected to this, but he was over-ruled.

Still, the new arrivals kept coming from Aramoho.


(Advertisement, Auckland Star, 22 September 1916)

Brewin later that month put forward a motion that the zoo be licensed at £50 per
annum. But Brewin was a lone voice -- the motion lapsed for want of a seconder. 105
According to historian G. G. M. Mitchell, writing about the Boyd saga in 1961,
Brewin publicly stated that he was “revolted at the vendetta a gang of Sicilian bandits
had waged against a worthy citizen who put intellect before brawn,” and refused to
withdraw his remarks, saying they were directed at “the Symonds Street-Norman’s
Hill coterie of would-be’s,” and not the Mayor and councillors. 106

In early October, the Council’s committee received a written report from Russell &
Campbell regarding the result of Boyd’s appeal in Wellington, and the members
agreed to empower the Finance & Legal committee to frame a new by-law. 107

On 13 November 1916, the council’s committee received another deputation
consisting of J H Colby, V G Cole and N A Whyte. This time, they came not with
petitions, but with a unique offer: a guarantee of £80 to the Council toward any future
legal expenses which might be incurred by the Council in testing the validity of any
bylaws regulating zoos. The Council responded with a recommendation that “bylaws
be adopted to prohibit the keeping of certain animals in the Borough in zoological
gardens.” 108

Boyd’s sea lions arrived in late November.

Come and See Two Things, 8ft long, that can walk on the sea as well as on land.”
(Advertisement, 24 November 1916)


(Advertisement, 1 December 1916)

“Come and see the Sea Lions, the Indian Wolves, 14 Fine Lions, Bears, Tigers,
Monkeys. Open Every Day.”

(Advertisement, 15 December 1916)

A letter later that month109

from resident H C Harrison further spurred the councillors
on. He asked that the Council take further steps to regulate the zoo “which was a
source of great annoyance to him.” They responded that the matter was already under
consideration. Indeed it was: the revised by-law wording was revealed at that meeting
of 21 November, specifically prohibiting the keeping of any lions, tigers, panthers,
leopards, wolves or hyenas in the borough. The councillors confirmed the wording of
the new anti-zoo by-law on 18 December 1916. It was then publicly advertised.

Do not trust our Council in framing another By-law in connection with the Royal Oak
Zoo. They have already been defeated. The cost of test in law was hundreds of pounds

to the Ratepayers, and will be thousands of pounds next time, as they gave me a
permit to build the Zoo. It will be fought to a finish. J. J. BOYD, Owner.”
(Public notice, Auckland Star 30 December 1916)

By now Onehunga local politics was sharply divided between those who were pro-
zoo, and those who were anti-zoo. Certainly the other more important issues of the
day, such as road, residential development, tram fares, water supply and even Greater
Auckland were discussed and debated, but – the focus of the media seemed to remain
fixed on the divide over the zoo, through three succeeding local elections in
Onehunga. It was to become something like the prohibition-continuance debate
(which was also reaching a climax at this time) but on a much smaller local scale, and
involving animals, noise and smells. Those who were anti-zoo were the
prohibitionists in the eyes of the pro-zoo crowd who followed Boyd’s every word and

The new version of the by-law was confirmed by the council at a special meeting held
on 8 January 1917 – just before Boyd and around fifty supporters arrived to sit
themselves in the public gallery, possibly to eye the councillors into submission.
When they heard that the council were then going into committee:

“Mr. Boyd rose, and, addressing the visitors, asked: ‘What do you think of that,
gentlemen, for British fair play?’

“A voice: Well, we have missed the bus this time.

“Another voice: It’s all over, Boyd, but the shouting, and that’s illegal now.

[Referring to the recent regulations banning the practice of offering a “shout” in

“A well known burly ratepayer rose, and addressing Mr Boyd, asked: ‘Why not have
a public meeting, when your will get a fair hearing?’

“Mr Boyd, who is a typical Yorkshireman, replied, ‘Aye, lad, we will that.’

“All present then left the Council Chamber except the Mayor and Council. When Mr
Boyd’s friends had reached the footpath, he asked all who were in favour of keeping
the Zoo in Onehunga to sign a petition to that effect. A number of them did so, but not
all, as several of those present were well known opponents of the Zoo. A heated
argument followed between the supporters of the Council and Mr. Boyd and his

From this point on, Boyd was in breach of the new by-law as long as he kept his
animals within the borough, and stood to receive a fine of up to £5 for each day he
continued to do so. Late in January 1917 it was reported that one of Boyd’s lionesses
had produced a litter of four healthy cubs, bringing the total number of lions at the
Zoo to 21. “Lions seem to thrive in captivity in this climate, and as there is
practically no demand for them in the Dominion Mr Boyd, the proprietor of the Zoo,

is thinking of shipping some of the cubs to America, where he expects to sell them to

Big meeting of Ratepayers and Residents to be held in the Lyceum Picture Palace,
Onehunga. As the Council would not give hundreds of Ratepayers in favour of the
Zoo a hearing at their Meeting we have decided to give them a fight for justice on
January 15. All come.
J J BOYD, Convenor.”

(Auckland Star 9 January 1917)

“ZOO, Royal Oak, open Every Day. New additions, Russian and Himalayan Bears, 4
weeks old; 14 Lions. 10 Bears: Birds, Monkeys, etc. Adults. 6d; Children, 3d. All
come. Fed 4 pm.”
NIGHT. 7.30 o'clock Big Meeting of Ratepayers and Residents to be held in the
Lyceum Picture Palace, Onehunga. As the Council would not give hundreds of
Ratepayers in favour of the Zoo a hearing at their meeting, we have decided to give
them a fight for justice on January 15. All come! Convener J J BOYD.”

(Advertisements, NZ Herald, 13 January 1917)

The result was a lively night at the Lyceum Picture Palace.

“The bone or contention between Mr. J J Boyd, the owner of the Royal Oak Zoo, the
ratepayers, and the Onehunga Borough Council—the Zoo—formed the subject of an
intensely exciting meeting, convened by Mr. Boyd, and held in the Lyceum Theatre,
Onehunga, last night. Fully 600 people attended, the Onehunga Brass Band heading
the greater portion of the gathering as it proceeded to the hall. Mr Boyd's arrival was
marked with evident sympathetic approbation, which reached an almost deafening
point as he appeared on the stage. After a slight hesitation on the part of the audience
to supply a chairman, Mr. Joley Thomas consented to act.

“Mr. Boyd immediately proceeded to explain that the subject for discussion was the
Council and the Zoo and the bylaw which would eject the Zoo. He contended that the
proceedings at which the Council confirmed the by-law were irregular, for instead of
starting at 7.30 p.m., as advertised, they concluded at that time. From legal advice he
had obtained he knew that the by-law was ineffective, and he asked those in favour of
the Zoo remaining in the district to sign a petition. He had already obtained over
1,000 signatures to the petition. … He was further prepared to test the validity of the
new by-law. (Applause.)

Mr. G L Taylor (a member of the Council), who was present, ventured to reply, but
was not permitted a very good opportunity, having to content himself with the
intermittent spells of quietness that followed outbursts of resentment.

“After formally traversing the matter under consideration, Mr Taylor proceeded: "I
want a fair hearing."

“A Voice: "You don't deserve it," and applause. "I don't think it's an Onehunga

“A Voice: "Sit down." and boos.

“The chairman intervened on Mr. Taylor's behalf, and the latter proceeded to
criticise the advertisement calling the meeting. "I say there are two deliberate mis-
statements in that sentence—it says hundreds of ratepayers. I give you my word of
honour and guarantee that there were not fifty there."

A high-pitched voice: "And what's your guarantee?" (Laughter.)
"My guarantee is the whole Council," replied Mr. Taylor.

“Here the discussion resolved itself into pandemonium. Mr. Taylor, proceeding,
eventually said: "I want to explain what we were doing last Monday night. Mr. Boyd
advertised for the ratepayers to turn up, for what reason he did not explain."

“The Chairman: "I don't think it's fair of you. Mr. Taylor, to impute motives."

“Mr. Taylor: "It took two minutes to put the business through."

“This was his last remark for fully five minutes. After the roar died down he
proceeded: "At the rate you're going it will take some time.”

“A Voice: "Why don't the Council keep the water clean?"

“The chairman appealed on Mr. Taylor's behalf, and amid the uproar a person was
heard to shout. "He's only rambling."

“Mr. Taylor, in another attempt to proceed, said that the Council could not license
the Zoo. After he had proceeded a little further the assemblage counted the speaker

“Mr. Taylor during the evening made it clear, disconnectedly, that Mr. Boyd’s first
proposal to establish a Zoo was refused by the Council, but later on, finding that it
had no legal status to refuse to grant permits for buildings, the Mayor signed the
necessary building permits. Never to this day had the Council licensed the Zoo.

“At the conclusion of the meeting a resolution was passed by a unanimous vote
pledging the meeting's support in helping to retain the Zoo in Onehunga.” 112

“Mothers bring the children to see the Zoo. Always go where the crowds go.”
(Advertisement, 19 January 1917)

The Mayor, John Rowe, and Councillors E V Sutherland, Taylor, W W Warnock, H J
Davies, I Lomas, T H Pardington and CC Davis made an official statement on the

Auckland Star on 27 January detailing a timeline of the Council’s actions regarding
the zoo. Boyd responded with his own statement in the paper on 8 February.

Boyd then decided to take the battle over his zoo’s right to exist in the district right to
the Council’s chambers – he announced that he would run for office.

I have been battling six years this month, and never missed a ball and not out yet –
My turn at the ball next April. Get your best man ready to take the bat. The first ball I
will give him will be Zoo.

(Advertisement, Auckland Star 7 February 1917)

Do not Promise your VOTE to anyone at the present time.
I will put before you my Views and the way Onehunga has been imposed on, before
the Electors. NEXT MARCH I will stand for your MAYOR against allcomers.”
(Advertisement, Auckland Star 27 February 1917)

Towards the end of February, Councillor Brewin made “an objectionable remark”
(apparently making charges of corruption) to his fellow councillors, the Mayor and
the Town Clerk, and withdrew from a meeting refusing to withdraw the remark. The
Council at their 12 March meeting found Brewin guilty of an offence against the
standing orders of council, and fined him, 113

but the £2 fine was paid for him by an
anonymous donor signing himself “A Believer in Decency and Order”. 114

to G G M Mitchell again, this was during another attempt by Brewin to have a motion
put forward to licence the zoo. He stated that the councillor he had expected would
support him and second the motion this time had been “got at”. 115

Later that month,
the Council were advised that Boyd had erected a sign at the top end of Symonds
Street which was in breach of the sign by-laws. Councillor Davis wanted Boyd
prosecuted, but calmer heads among the Council resolved instead to write a letter
asking him to remove the sign. 116

I, the undersigned, do Challenge the Onehunga Council to take a Vote of the People
of Onehunga whether the Zoo shall remain or not. If I am beaten at the poll, I will
send the animals to Davis’ Glue Works. They should stick well.”

(Auckland Star 14 March 1917)

Established February, 1911.
Permit granted by Onehunga Council, and the Government. Confirmed by the Court
of Appeal, and the By-law went over the Fence.

(Advertisement, Auckland Star, 16 March 1917)


I stand for the MAYORAL CHAIR next April.
I may state that the Onehunga Council has framed another unjust By law against the

The Borough Council has not paid the costs of the last Law Suit, when I defeated
them in the Appeal Court.
I remain, yours truly,

(Auckland Star 22 March 1917)

In the above advertisement placed by Boyd, he used a quote from Shakespeare’s
Henry VIII. It remains unknown whether he was aware of the complete quotation or
not. In full, it goes:

“Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s,
Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall’st a blessed martyr!”

“Be Just and Fear Not” is also a motto beneath the crest for the city of Carlisle.

KEA Parrots, Pukaki, Weka, Rails or Any Wild Birds wanted for the Zoo.
Apply J J Boyd, Zoo.”

(Auckland Star 23 March 1917)

At the same time, J J Boyd fully expressed, via his advertisements, just what he
thought of his lion collection.


(Advertisement, Auckland Star, 30 March 1917)


(Advertisement, Auckland Star, 5 April 1917)

It was at some point in 1917 that he and his son Edward decided to train some of the
lions to perform each afternoon. This was to be a feature by which Boyd was best
known long after the zoo closed.

On Saturday 14 April, a protest supporting the zoo was staged, involving a procession
300 strong led by T Vivian and A E McCredie and headed by the Onehunga Brass
Band, with the Ponsonby Boys’ Band also taking part. The march led to the zoo,
where around 1200 finally arrived to take part in children’s lolly and nut scrambles.


Candidate for the Mayoral Chair
Will address a Big Meeting of Electors at the Lyceum Hall, Onehunga, NEXT
WEDNESDAY NIGHT at 8 o’clock. Both sides invited. All come! Onehunga Band in

(Electoral notice, N Z Herald 17 April 1917)

Boyd’s zoo was a direct descendant of travelling menageries and circuses – now, his
enthusiastic campaign fell back to those roots. He entered the fray of the 1917
municipal election in Onehunga with full showman’s hoop-la, and was the first to toss
his hat into the ring 118

once Mayor Rowe announced he would not seek re-election.
At the Lyceum Hall meeting on 19 April, he stated that his platform was everything
other than the zoo: “sound administration, encouragement of local industries, better
waste, water and electric light services, less waste, lower rates, cheaper tram fares,
and later on amalgamation with the city.” 119

J J Boyd was therefore a supporter of the
Greater Auckland movement, at that point promoted by Auckland City Council who
was actively amalgamating with the smaller boroughs of the isthmus. If you supported
the zoo, therefore, you supported the idea of Onehunga casting its fate with the bigger
city facing the Waitemata.

However his precious zoo, the real reason why he chose to campaign for the
mayoralty, wasn’t left out of his slogans for long.

Sound Administration,
New Blood,
Local Industries,
Hands off the Zoo,
Better Water,
Cheaper Tram Fares,
Electric Light,
Less Waste,
Tax off W.C.,
Less Rates,
Join the City.”

(Electoral Advertisement, 21 April 1917)

It was a wonder that he placed the Zoo issue only fourth on his list.

Two councillors on the old council actively opposed Boyd: Christopher C. Davis and
Edward Vivian Sutherland. Unfortunately, they also both wanted to be Rowe’s

successors as Mayor of Onehunga, thus splitting the anti-zoo vote. The result was that
Boyd triumphed over Davis by 883 votes to 669 (Sutherland had 448), while Boyd
also gained four supporters on the council, with F S Morton, R. Dillicar and G. E.
Foote joining W J Brewin. 120

I thank you all very much for the honour of putting me in the Chair.
‘Be just, and fear not.’”

(Electoral advertisement, Auckland Star, 27 April 1917)

Boyd was in a celebratory mood. The following Sunday after the election, the zoo was
thrown open, with entry free to one and all. 121

The total number on the council was 10, including the Mayor; this meant that the
administration was evenly split between the pro-zoo and anti-zoo factions. Morton
was to later comment that Boyd had been elected (in his opinion) “on a clear-cut issue
of Zoo v. No Zoo”; however “certain members of the present Council who openly
professed that they were in favour of the zoo prior to their election took the earliest
opportunity of casting their votes with the anti-zooites.” 122

Isaac Lomas, E J Higgins,
R W Ainsworth and H J Davies stood on a different platform to the Boyd group,
promising “efficiency, good government and the general welfare of the borough,” 123
and John Stoupe stood in his own stead. Exactly which councillors in the 1917-1919
administration Morton referred to is unclear.

One thing was clear, however: Onehunga had elected John James Boyd as Mayor for
the next two years. The Zoo War had entered a new phase.

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