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Lisa J Truttman
Excerpted from The Zoo War (2008)
Internationally, the early menageries and zoological gardens were few and far between up to
the middle of the 19th century. To be successful, such an enterprise required an audience that
would keep coming back for more, which meant a nearby relatively large resident population;
ready access to food supplies for the animals and birds; and certainty that whatever animals
are captured out in the wild could also be brought back alive. For Britain, the Industrial
Revolution period from 1750-1850, coinciding and associated with the rise of her Empire,
meant that the rich man’s hobby of collecting animals as one would collect postage stamps
was something which could be introduced and extended into part of a movement to create
public gardens almost anywhere in the world.
Australasia’s first zoo at Melbourne came about as a result of a meeting in 1857 of
professional men in the town to form a zoological society and gardens. The new zoo operated
in tandem with the city’s Botanic Gardens at first, and then it was placed at Royal Park.
Acclimatisation and zoological concerns ran closely together, the zoo in the 1860s described
as little more than “a glorified acclimatisation farm”. Indeed in 1870, the zoo’s true founder
Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souef (1828-1902), the first director, was appointed honorary
secretary to the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria. Over the next thirty years however, until
his death in 1902, his zoo became a model for others in the region. 1
In New Zealand, isolated by distance and under-populated, permanent collections of wild
exotic animals and birds were to remain rarities until the 20 th century. But of course, for a
showman, where there is a population of any respectable size, there is a shilling to be made.
Halfway through the second decade of our history as a British colony, the entrepreneurs
arrived with a brief, temporary taste of the magical and wonderful in terms of animals few
colonists would have seen before – and it enraptured New Zealanders for the next hundred
The Foley family’s Circuses and Menageries (1855-1860s)
Auckland’s first menagerie which was not just a part of a larger entertainment, such as in a
travelling circus or the later tea gardens, was that of Mrs. Catherine Foley (1820-1887). Born
Catherine Huggins in Louth, Lincolnshire, she married first husband Daniel Caparn in
London, 1845. The Caparns travelled to Hobart, Tasmania to settle, but perhaps the California
goldrush attracted them; the couple headed there separately in 1849, but Daniel died later in
1851 in Hawaii. Four months later, in June 1851, Mrs Catherine Caparn, widow, married
William Henry Foley, described in her biography as “a charismatic clown, circus proprietor
and theatrical entrepreneur.” 2
She arrived in New Zealand with her second husband Foley in late 1855, performing in
Nelson that September. Then after just one engagement Mrs Foley left her husband and his
mainly equestrian Victoria Circus troupe to head to Auckland with an amazing selection of
animals from the circus’ menagerie: 3
“REDUCTION OF PRICES.
Adjoining the Wynyard Pier, Official Bay.
MRS. FOLEY, in soliciting the patronage of the ladies and gentlemen of Auckland and
neighbourhood, begs most respectfully to inform them that, being convalescent, she will be
most happy to exhibit the collection; amongst which will be found a beautiful Female
Leopard, American and New Holland Eagles; aboriginal Bear, Dogs, and Cats of New South
Wales, Native Companion, Emus, Oppossums, Bandicoots, Paddy Mellon, Monkey, &c., &c.;
also, a most extraordinary Goat with two perfect heads! A Laughing Jackass and the smallest
Terrier ever before seen!!! A Monkey Band will perform during the day; also a Tight Rope
Dancer and Indian Juggler.
Open daily from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M.
Mrs. F., with a view to meet the convenience of all classes, has reduced the charges. The price
of admission will be from 9 to 12 a.m., for adults, 1s. 6d., children, 1s.; from 12 to 2 p.m.,
being set apart for private families, 2s. and 1s.; from 2 to 9 pm., 1s. 6d. and 1s. each.
Auckland, 6th November 1855.”
(Advertisement, Southern Cross, 6 November 1855)
Her husband arrived in Auckland towards the end of that year, and gave performances in a
paddock behind the Greyhound Hotel in Queen Street. Then he joined his wife in her career
as a theatre performer, combining their finances to build the Theatre Royal in Victoria Street
East. The Foleys remained there until April 1856 when they performed another season as the
Royal American Circus in Auckland, and then sailed for Wellington, arriving there in July. 4
After performing in the lower North Island, the circus apparently left for Canterbury in
February 1857, but Mrs. Foley remained in Wellington to pursue her theatrical calling until
she rejoined her husband in April. 5 She was back in Wellington in April 1858. 6 At this point,
Mr. and Mrs. Foley seemed to have parted company on a more permanent basis.
Subsequently, Catherine Foley took up with an actor who had arrived in Auckland from
Liverpool named Lowten Lowten, going under the stage name of Vernon Webster, working
together on the stage from the late 1850s, married him (bigamously, but this was of course
withheld from public knowledge at the time) back in England in 1882, returned to New
Zealand to take up the stage with him again as “Mrs W H Foley” and “Vernon Webster”, but
reverting to Mr and Mrs Lowten Lowten after 1885, enjoyed a brief life of retirement as a
publican’s wife, and died 4 March 1887 in Hawke’s Bay. 7
Mr W H Foley, however, was back in Auckland in 1865 with a couple of zebras:
“ZEBRAS! ZEBRAS! ZEBRAS!
THE ONLY TWO ANIMALS OF THE KIND EVER DOMESTICATED.
LAST WEEK OF THE ZEBRAS.
NOW ON SHOW
(Two doors from the Greyhound Hotel).
Admittance - One Shilling.
OPEN FROM 10 A.M. TILL 4 P.M.
W. H. FOLEY, PROPRIETOR.”
(Advertisement, Southern Cross, 12 April 1865)
Then, in May that year, he joined the Californian Circus of Greenwood & Co. as manager
and toured the lower North Island. Foley ended up in Wellington where, for a time in 1867, he
fitted out and operated the Retreat Hotel in Willis Street. 9 But, by December 1867, he was in
Dunedin, once again heeding the siren call of public entertainment, after bringing “a large
menagerie of performing animals” with him from Melbourne.
By March 1868, he was
manager of a new troupe known as “Mr and Mrs Fernandez’ Royal Menagerie,” boasting a
collection of animals including “a lion and lioness, a leopard, two bears, coons, apes,
monkeys, etc.” 11 Advertisements later in the year boasted:
“… the Royal LION WALLACE, and the Lion King FERNANDEZ. The Magnificent LIONESS
and LEOPARDESS. The largest and smallest BEARS ever shown in the Southern Hemisphere.
The ICHNEUMON, GUINEA PIGS, WHITE MICE, YANKEE COON, APES, MONKEYS with
their BABIES (who request children to bring nuts, oranges, and cakes)
(Advertisement, Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 16 July 1868, p. 2)
The “Ichneumon” could have been the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) named
after the legendary natural enemy of the dragon, while a “coon” sounds like it was a raccoon.
After shows in Wellington, they reached Auckland by late April, offering the Aucklanders “a
series of zoological entertainments” in a large pavilion set up on the Market Square site
beside Queen Street (present day Aotea Square and Centre).
This was a very successful
show, judging from the reviews published in the Southern Cross. On June 1 1868, they
performed before Governor Bowen
(the latest in a series of gubernatorial audiences for the
Foleys stretching back to the 1850s.)
The show featured two stars: ‘Professor’ Fernandez the lion tamer and the lion Wallace,
“King of the Forest”, who issued proclamations in the newspapers of towns the troupe visited
all around the country that year:
“THE LION KING -- THE GREAT FERNANDEZ!
WHEREAS it hath come to our Royal Ears in our capacity as MONARCH of the FOREST,
that there are in the City divers and numerous persons afflicted with the Grumps, Mumps,
Megrims, Mullygrubs, Blues, Sighs, Neversmiles, Melancholy, Long-faces, and various other
maladies too numerous to mention, all of which are curable by the application of our
Sovereign Balsam Good Humour and General Enjoyment: Now this is therefore to summon
all such persons to be and appear at the Pavilion, situated on Market Square, This Day and
Night, and Every Day and Night This Week, on pain of incurring our royal displeasure. -Given under our hand and seal.
(Signed) WALLACE, King of the Forest.”
(Advertisement, Southern Cross, 19 May 1868, p. 1)
In Westport in August that year, “a grand ceremonial” wax held at the menagerie, where two
newly-born lion cubs were christened “Sir George Bowen” and “Lucinda”, in honour of
“The royal infants were got out of the den by Signor Fernandez, after he had managed with
considerable difficulty to block the lioness out, and, previous to the christening, were handed
round in a basket to be fondled or patted by a host of, for the nonce, lion lovers. Mr Payne
acted as officiating minister, and, standing on a table at the end of the store, dipped the paws
of the cubs in a basin of water, and gave them their respective names … The little cubs are
about the size of small cats, and evidently did not appreciate the affection bestowed on them,
for they spat viciously at every one that touched them, just as a kitten does.” 14
Foley’s last circus was at Wellington in 1882; after that, he vanishes from the record in this
country. His son Edward is said to have kept the family name going with travelling circuses
until 1914. 15
Other travelling menageries
From Foley’s time, travelling circuses with accompanying menageries toured on a reasonably
regular basis around the circuits of New Zealand’s provincial towns and main centres.
Barlow’s Circus in 1875 advertised “beautiful fairy ponies” and “wonderfully educated dogs
Cooper and Bailey’s Circus and Menagerie performing in Wellington in
1878 as part of a very successful Australasian tour boasted a menagerie tent 120 feet in
diameter, in which were the cages for the “monarchs of the forest”, the lions and tigers. Any
concerns as to public safety around these animals were eased by the reporter from the
“At first sight these cages have an appearance of weakness, relatively to the gigantic strength
of their ferocious occupants, but this comparative weakness is only apparent. The bottom
bars which look to be only painted wood are really heavily plated with iron, and the other
bars, which are of the best tempered steel, are firmly screwed in, the central bars also being
secured by shoulders above and below the iron cross pieces, and passing through both the
floor and the roof, thus giving vast strength and perfect rigidity. The animals do not seem to
mind being shut up suddenly, and for a long time. They have become used to it, and they
simply go to sleep as soon as shut up. Hence the danger of transporting these formidable
prisoners is not so great as it might appear, and the chances of a stray lion or tiger
perambulating Taranaki-street and its neighbourhood, are in the last degree remote.” 17
Barnum’s Menagerie in 1880 offered Hamilton residents a view of live animals at Whyte’s
“The specimens, which are all living, comprise a Tasmanian devil, two Tasmanian opposums,
two tortoises over 200 years old, a wonderful animal half monkey and half cat, and a monkey.
The show is really worth seeing.” 19
James Anthony Bailey would join P. T Barnum in 1881 to form a world famous circus
In 1885 there was the St Leon’s Royal Palace Circus performing in Wellington, complete with
a menagerie, abounding “with rare and costly Zoological marvels, specially selected from all
parts of the world.”
The Fitzgerald Brothers in 1898 included “Carl Hagenbeck’s
Zoological Circus” with a tricycle act involving a lion and an elephant.
They returned in
1903, again with Hagenbeck’s zoological attractions, although it is quite likely they had
simply purchased the animals from the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, where they may also
have been trained. This time, they billed a tiger on horseback, and an albino kangaroo, along
with equestrian acts straight out from the days of the Foleys.
Wirth’s Circus, touring in 1904, advertised a “circus and zoo” with two wild animal trainers
and “a lion, lamb, hyena, pony, and dog all performing amicably together.”
Fairly tame stuff
for a menagerie, but Wirth’s 1904 tour had more to it than that, as I found by chance one day
while researching through microfilmed newspapers of the same period, looking for another
topic other than circuses, zoos and menageries. The headline “Scene in a menagerie” caught
my eye, and I read on.
Wirth’s Circus had arrived in Whangarei on January 31 1904, a Sunday afternoon, and
immediately landed the menagerie from off the boat Terranora. During the night on the next
day, one of the male leopards broke through the walls of its cage into the adjoining cage,
containing a female leopard. Before the keepers could intervene, the female cat was killed and
partly devoured. 24
The menagerie comprised performing animals, such as lions and bears, as well as such
oddities as “a three-legged bull and a two-headed calf.” In all, there were 12 cages.
the circus was in Rotorua in mid February, a small cat is said to have strayed into the
menagerie, creating some unexpected drama.
“At the afternoon show … a small cat strayed into the menagerie … the high-jumping
greyhounds started the ball by barking. The cat did not know where to look first. It simply
jumped onto the elephant’s back and then the camel’s. From one cage to another it went, and
next onto the tigers’ cage, where the three performing tigers were, there being no boarded top
on. Everybody expected to see poor pussy taken and torn to pieces by the tiger, but they were
mistaken, as Pasha, the man-eating tiger, simply got hold of the cat and started to fondle it, as
if it were a small cub, and the trainer could not get him to let it go till he brought some meat
in view. Poor pussy then crept through the bars, much to the relief of the ladies present.” 26
The circus’ star act, Herr Pagel the strongman, was reported in several papers as performing
feats such as entering lions’ cages and lifting a lion over his head; doing the same to a pony
and jockey combined and carrying them around the ring, and finally placing a plank on his
chest while lying on the ground, then letting an elephant walk on the plank.
procession by the circus through the streets of Wellington in March nearly came unstuck on
Lambton Quay when a cage of monkeys tumbled to the ground near the Bank of New
Zealand. “The monkeys, however, objected to ‘passing in their cheques’ in this manner, and
chattered volubly in protest till the services of an elephant were enlisted, and the cage was
Ellerslie Gardens (1874 - early 1880s)
Robert Graham (c.1820-1885), Kororareka and Auckland merchant and past Superintendent
of Auckland Province, as well as Member of the House of Representatives, is well known for
his tourism developments at the hot springs of both Waiwera and Rotorua in the 1870s. He
also had a grand plan for his large farm in the central-eastern suburbs of Auckland called
Ellerslie. No doubt the formation of a rail link between Auckland and Onehunga just a year
before, going straight past his property, helped a great deal with his decision. In early 1874,
he set about, with a landscape designer and gardeners, to create his Ellerslie Gardens, opened
twice during 1874 – first on Queen’s Birthday (May 25th), 29 and then on the Prince of Wales’
birthday, on 9 November. He advertised his Gardens widely, linked in with his hotel at
Ellerslie (close to the gardens), the Lake House at Ohinemutu in Rotorua, and the Terrace
Hotel at Tarawera.
It lasted through to c.1882, eventually subdivided and sold off along
with the rest of his estate.
Primarily, his tea and sports gardens were to do with games and nice walks through his
collection of exotic plants – but he did have a menagerie “of monkeys and kangaroos, parson
birds, quail, Tasmanian crows, &c.” right from the start.
The “zoo” at the gardens,
according to William Mackie in his 1974 history of the Auckland Racing Club, included “a
lion, a tiger, a bear, an eagle, several monkeys and two emus.”
Perhaps -- but it is likely to
have been just a small part of the total acreage of the gardens. The menagerie’s area doesn’t
even appear on auctioneer’s sketches of the area, when it was finally subdivided for sale in
There was only one incident of note which occurred in connection with the menagerie at
Graham’s Gardens. One day in July 1875, a “large monkey” broke loose, and made its way
across the gardens, pursued by Mr Bullen, local proprietor of the Ellerslie Hotel. Bullen
managed to seize the monkey, but for his trouble the top of his thumb was nearly bitten
through. According to the Southern Cross, the only Auckland paper found which covered the
incident, the monkey was shot. 33
Wellington Botanic Gardens menagerie (1881-1882)
Another menagerie idea possibly inspired by the success of the public gardens in Auckland
and Australia was in Wellington for a brief time. From 1881-1882 or so the Botanical Gardens
had its own small menagerie, started when Messrs W. & G. Turnbull presented a case of nine
monkeys from Singapore to the Gardens in February 1881. The monkeys joined a cassowary
and “a pond of tadpoles” after the initially reluctant authorities decided to accept them,
despite misgivings as to whether they could afford their keep. “The Botanical Gardens,” said
the Evening Post, “ought to become a most attractive resort for all and sundry.”
Again, it was the monkeys in staging a break-out in 1882 which caught the attention of the
“Yesterday afternoon, an amusing episode occurred on the Karori-road. Five monkeys,
confined in a cage in the Botanical Gardens, managed to get loose, one of them more
precocious than the others having opened the door. They ran away as hard as they could, and
arriving at the boundary of the gardens, climbed up a willow-tree, and set their pursuers at
defiance. By this time a number of people were watching their antics, and a well-meaning
member of ‘the force’ attempted their capture by ascending the tree. The monkeys, however,
were ‘too many’ for him, and dropped quietly to the ground. After crossing the road, and
indulging in a few peaches, stolen from an adjacent garden, they quietly made tracks for
It is likely, however, that the monkeys at the gardens either perished from the cold (they were
kept in little more than modified birdcages)
or were sold to circuses after mid 1882. No
more record of them has been found. The cassowary and the frogs also disappear from
Wanganui Museum menagerie (1896-c.1905)
Samuel H. Drew (c.1841-1901) arrived in Wanganui in 1864 and set up business as a jeweller
and watchmaker. It was his hobby of collecting natural history specimens which was to
immortalise him, and led to the creation of the Whanganui Regional Museum of today. He
initially collected both for his own curiosity and as an education tool for his children. This
developed to the point where he was exchanging specimens with other collectors around the
world. His research was published in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, and he
was made a fellow of the London-based Linnean Society. 37
A public meeting held in 1892 set up the beginnings of the Wanganui Public Musem, set up in
a wooden building in Drew’s Avenue, 38 and it was officially opened on 23 December 1895,
with Drew as honorary curator. 39
Live animals were displayed at the museum from 1896, the otherwise lifeless natural history
collection including living examples of tuatara.
By 1897, an aquarium was proposed for the
museum. Drew suggested that a small aviary could be added, as “he felt sure the live birds
would add greatly to the interest of the Museum.”
By March 1898, two live emu had been
added to the Wanganui Museum’s collection, before an aquarium had been constructed.
“Throughout yesterday the interesting live specimens were inspected through the fence by
quite a number of people. The general interest displayed only emphasises the cat that the
adjunct of an aquarium to the Museum would greatly increase the popularity of the
The birds quickly became a favourite. Pupils from a local school collected up
scraps thrown away in the playground and took them to the emus at the Museum. 43
By March 1899, a new wing had been added to the museum,
and by July with the building
of two aviaries to contain live birds along with a small monkey-house for two monkeys, as
well as an enlarged paddock for the emus, it appeared that a true menagerie was developing
alongside and as part of the museum, with the promise of one day becoming a zoo.
nuisance which would be a bane of the later zoos began to appear – the cruel mistreatment of
the animals by visitors.
“WANTED Known - A reward of £2 will be given for such information as will lead to the
conviction of any person cruelly treating the Monkeys at the Museum. S. H. DREW.”
(Advertisement, Wanganui Herald, 20 September 1899)
The reward was given to Drew by a local resident who was concerned that Drew might
remove the monkeys due to the cruelty. “Settler” wrote in a letter to the Wanganui Herald two
days before the advertisement:
“I don’t blame Mr. Drew, for last Sunday I saw dogs being held up and encouraged to bite at
the monkeys’ hands if put through the bars. Numerous sticks were also thrust into the houses,
and if by lucky chance a monkey got hit a shout of approval would go up, and laughter at the
grotesque faces and gestures made by the injured one.”
More injuries came in July 1900 when Dolly the hen emu died after trying to get through the
fences. Drew put this death down to her being in a “greatly excited state for some days past”
and that it was nesting time.
But another likely cause became apparent by December that
year. The surviving emu was attacked by wandering dogs, and again in January 1901, this
time left with several lacerations on its neck.
By 1904, the emu had died, and the surviving
four monkeys were disposed of, due to the continuing cruelty from visitors.
continued for a while, but eventually this too was discontinued.
Catherine de Courcy, The Zoo Story, 1995, pp.14-18
Peter Downes. 'Foley, Mrs W. H.', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of
New Zealand, updated 5-May-2015
Peter Downes, Shadows on the Stage: Theatre in New Zealand - the first 70 years, 1975, pp. 28-29
Downes, p. 30
ibid, p. 35
ibid, p. 38
Downes, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Taranaki Herald, 6 May 1865, p. 7; Evening Post, 22 June 1865
Evening Post, 5 September 1867, p. 4
Evening Post, 9 December 1867
Evening Post, 9 March 1868
Southern Cross, 27 April 1868 & 28 April 1868
Southern Cross, 1 June 1868, p. 1
Grey River Argus, 8 August 1868
Lionel Klee, “William Foley”, from Foley Family website,
http://genealogy.eproject.co.nz/foley_family/william_foley.html. Sighted 31 May 2008
Southern Cross, 19 October 1875, p. 1
Evening Post, 13 April 1878, p. 2
Advertisement, Waikato Times, 20 May 1880
Waikato Times, 20 May 1880, p. 2
Evening Post, 19 December 1885
Wanganui Herald, 2 April 1898
Advertisement, New Zealand Free Lance, 21 February 1903, p. 16
Evening Post, 26 February 1904, p. 6
NZ Herald, 2 February 1904
Evening Post, 11 March 1904, p. 6
Wanganui Herald, 12 February 1904
Wanganui Herald, 19 February 1904, p. 2
Evening Post, 7 March 1904, p. 5
Southern Cross, 23 May 1874, p. 2
Advertisement, West Coast Times, 4 November 1880
Southern Cross, 23 May 1874, p. 2
William Mackie, A Noble Breed, 1974, p. 15
Southern Cross, 7 July 1875
Evening Post, 1 March 1881
Evening Post, 25 February 1882
Letter to the editor, Evening Post, 3 April 1882, p. 3
“Collection History - Samuel Drew”, from www.wanganui-museum.org.nz. Sighted 22 June 2008
Wanganui Herald, 11 June 1892, p. 2; M. K. G. Smart and A. P. Bates, The Wanganui Story, 1972, p. 267
Wanganui Herald, 23 December 1895, p. 3
Wanganui Herald, 18 June 1896
Wanganui Herald, 18 June 1897, p. 2
Wanganui Herald, 21 March 1898, p. 2
Wanganui Herald, 7 May 1898
Wanganui Herald, 23 March 1899, p. 3
Wanganui Herald, 3 July 1899, p. 1
Wanganui Herald, 18 September 1899, p. 3
Wanganui Herald, 10 July 1900
Wanganui Herald, 12 January 1901
Wanganui Herald, 29 July 1904, p. 6
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