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Auckland Acclimatisation Society’s garden: Auckland Domain (1867-1882)
Lisa J Truttman “... a curious little zoo that used to exist in the Domain, wherein a few monkeys and some other not very rare animals were kept.” (E. Earle Vaile, “Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland City and Provinces, 1955, p. 8) In terms of any account of the story of New Zealand’s early menageries and zoos, the influence of the acclimatisation movement from the mid 19th century in the country should be noted. It may seem odd to do so -- the image of the societies is associated usually with fish, English birds, deer and the possum and rabbit pests which were introduced to acclimatise this country. This was hardly in the same league as the exotic collections of lions, tigers, bears and monkeys. But it was the emergence of the acclimatisation movement which brought about New Zealand’s first wildlife legislation -- the 1861 Protection of Certain Animals Act which defined permitted species and rules for hunting. 1 In 1867, the Societies themselves were the subject of another protection act “to provide for the Protection of Certain Animals and for the encouragement of Acclimatisation Societies in New Zealand.” Under this legislation, the introduction of “any fox, venomous reptile, hawk, vulture or other bird of prey” was forbidden. In 1895, another act made it necessary to obtain written consent to introduce “any animal or bird whatsoever.” In 1907, administration of these protection acts passed from the Colonial Secretary to the Minister of Internal Affairs. 2 Up until 1910, there was no difference in the legislation between animals imported for acclimatisation purposes or by private individuals for economic or sporting purposes -- and those which formed the stock of permanent menageries and later zoological gardens. It was from the earlier activities of the acclimatisation societies that legislation which would ultimately affect the development of zoos in New Zealand would stem. It is also possibly the Acclimatisation Societies which gave entrepreneurs in New Zealand the idea of linking animals on view to the public with the natural beauty of surrounding flora and other entertainment such as sports or games. We’ve already seen the close links between these factors in Melbourne during this period, and it is unlikely that New Zealanders would have been unaware of what was happening in their fellow colony of Victoria. The first Auckland Acclimatisation Society formed in November 1861. 3 As early as 1863, a member of the Auckland Provincial Council (Edward King, also honorary Secretary of the Society) put forward a motion requesting that the Council contact the Central Government, asking for a suitable site be set aside in the Domain for the Society. 4 It wasn’t until 1867 when acclimatisation societies were also formalised by legislation that the new and second Society set about establishing an aviary at their 2½ acres site on the Domain (close to the site of today’s Domain Nursery). The Society charged a fee for admittance. Transport of the specimens from the Home Country to Auckland, however, came at a very high price for the specimens themselves. “By the ship ‘Water Nymph’, from London, the Auckland Acclimatisation Society have received an interesting shipment of miscellaneous birds … About 600 birds were put on board, and kept in cages constructed in a sheltered part of the vessel near the after cabin. About one-third of those shipped, however, died during the first fortnight of the voyage, and a considerable number during the latter part of the journey. With the great care exercised in their management the following
were alive and healthy on the arrival of the vessel here, viz., 41 sparrows, 11 starlings, 8 partridges, 5 greenfinches and 3 larks. The birds will be landed this morning, and deposited in the Society’s aviary in the Domain.” 5 William Brighton was appointed as the first curator of the Domain gardens in 1867. 6 To keep the bird collection safe, he took to poisoning meat with strychnine each night for rats and cats, and shooting both hawks and moreporks. 7 These weren’t the only predators: “The Kingfisher has proved very troublesome in destroying birds, having killed a Californian Quail and attacked another bird, which, however, made its escape.” 8 By early 1869, however, the birdlife in the Society’s aviaries were apparently flourishing. £102 18s was received in admittance fees in the first year, 9 topped the following year by £150 in receipts. 10 To the Society, these figures provided “satisfactory proof that the Society is affording a large amount of recreative enjoyment of the purest kind to many who may not realise the importance of its objects.” 11 The aviary stood to the left of the entry gate to the fan-shaped, “well fenced in” garden. Along with the flying birds was “a pretty little pet wallaby, a castaway of Solomon’s Island” and “a fine emu presented by Sir George Bowen, and others.” 12 The gardens, at different times during the next 15 years, were home to Angora goats, 13 hares, a land tortoise, 14 and a “paddymelon” (red wallaby, a species which also featured in Mrs. Foley’s earlier menagerie) which “was not doing very well. The rats had eaten much of the hair off its tail during the voyage from Australia, and it had not yet recovered from the effects of the passage.” Brighton placed it in the cage with the other wallaby and thought it would soon recover. 15 In August 1869, William Brighton tendered his resignation, and George Abercrombie was appointed in his place.
Wet weather over the important Christmas holiday period in 1870, along with economic depression, didn’t reduce the receipts significantly. 17 The Domain Board granted additional land for the Society’s use, so that the gardens now covered “rather more than five acres.” 18 This meant that new, larger aviaries could be built by mid 1871, with the addition of deer in a fenced compound. 19 In turn, by the following year, a marked increase in revenue from admission fees was noted in the Society’s annual report, “testifying to the increased interest taken in the work of the Society, as well as to the benefits afforded by the gardens as a place of public resort.” A pair of Temminck’s Tragopans were presented to the Society by the Zoological Society of London in 1871. 20 Over the course of the next few years, the zoological side of the gardens was enhanced by a number of donations of animals – a total of five monkeys from 1869 to 1877, wallabies, a kangaroo, a pair of emus, bandicoots, a turtle and lizards. But, from 1872, the gardens began to cost far more than was spent to maintain them. Two years later, the labour force was reduced, and by 1875 the evident reduction in visitor numbers was put down to the curator having too many duties and not being able to keep the gardens in good order. 21 By now, of course, the privatelyrun Ellerslie Gardens may well have begun to prove to be a formidable competitor. The Society made alterations to the gardens in 1877-1878, and with a new curator, E. Lipiatt, a sub-committee was tasked to investigate way to make the gardens “more attractive and generally useful.” 22 The gardens often ran short of water during this time, and a hydraulic ram was installed in one of the Domain creeks, to replace more costly labour employed in carrying water to the gardens. By mid 1881, the Society was finding it more and more difficult to keep the gardens going. Their funding came primarily from the amount granted by the Government from games licenses; this, however, was barely covering the costs of wages for the curator and groundsman. Gate takings from the public were not enough to meet the shortfall. In late August 1881, the Society decided to
hold a “great clearing-out sale” of “THE WHOLE OF THE VALUABLE AND CHOICE COLLECTION OF BIRDS, ANIMALS, PLANTS, &c. comprising Monkeys, Oposums, Kangaroos, Australian Cranes, Silver Pheasants, &c., &c.” 23 This decision attracted immediate public protest, one letter writer expressed his or her views thus to the Evening Star: “I confess to experiencing great surprise on reading the announcement. I was under the impression that the Society was assisted very considerably by the Government, in fact so much so as to constitute it a public institution, and that the grounds would ultimately contain a zoological, botanical, and floral collection, as to constitute it a special attraction for visitors, and source of enjoyment to the residents.” 24 The Star’s editorial described the sale as an “outrageous destruction of valuable property”; 25 the Star’s proprietor Henry Brett was one of those members of the Society who petitioned to have the sale postponed. 26 It went ahead anyway, and Brett purchased most of the animals, including “the monkey -- which had been one of the ‘lions’ of the gardens for years” which was purchased for 10s according to the Herald 27 (the Star quoted 13s.) 28 It was hoped that Brett could hold them for either the Society or the Domain Board to set up another zoological/botanical garden, or if not to pass them over to Joseph Ellis at the Ellerslie Gardens (see below). The animals most likely didn’t return to the Domain, and if they ended up at Ellerslie it wouldn’t have been long before they would have had to find new homes again as the estate was about to be sold off. The Society in its report of 1881-1882 summed up the situation: “The diminished income of the Society, and the prospect of a still further decrease, rendered it imperatively necessary to curtail the expenditure upon the gardens. The subject was fully discussed in all its bearings at several special meetings, and it was at length decided to dispose of the birds and animals kept. It was felt that the collection was too small to have any value from a zoological point of view, and had failed to prove a source of attraction to visitors, while costing the Society a large sum annually for food and attendance.” The Society wound down its gardens completely, handing over operations to the Domain Board, later the Auckland City Council from 1884, in return for the Society paying these bodies a yearly subsidy. 29
David Young, Our Islands, Our Selves, 2004, p. 73 An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 1966, Vol. 1, p. 3 3 Southern Cross, 26 November 1861, p. 3 4 Southern Cross, 2 April 1863, p. 3 5 Southern Cross, 26 November 1867, p. 3 6 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1867, from William A Sullivan collection, MS 93/125, Folders 1 & 2, Auckland Museum Library 7 Southern Cross, 17 December 1868, p. 3 8 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1868-1869 9 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1868-1869 10 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1869-1870 11 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1869-1870 12 Southern Cross, 25 January 1869, p. 4 13 Southern Cross, 6 April 1869, p. 6 14 Southern Cross, 19 May 1869, p. 3 15 Southern Cross, 3 July 1869, p. 4 16 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1869-1870 17 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1871 18 ibid 19 Southern Cross, 14 August 1871, p. 3
Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1872 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1876 22 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Report, 1878-1879 23 Advertisement, NZ Herald, 26 August 1881, p. 8 24 Letter from “Citizen”, Evening Star, 26 August 1881 25 Star, 27 August 1881 26 NZ Herald, 30 August 1881, p. 3 27 NZ Herald, 31 August 1881, p. 5 28 Star, 31 August 881 29 Auckland Acclimatisation Society Annual Reports, 1882-1883 & 1884-1885
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