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From The Zoo War (2008)
Lisa J Truttman
There is little left of Boyd’s Zoo remaining anywhere in Auckland. His son Edward Boyd lies
buried at Waikaraka Cemetery; 1 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 from
the zoo remain in the collection of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. There used to be the
remains of the band rotunda, sitting on a section on Boyd Avenue for years, until it was
donated 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, in
that some assumptions have become “facts”, and then are simply repeated in later
compilations until they are believed.
Onehunga historian G G M Mitchell wrote an excellent multi-part article on J J Boyd and the
Onehunga Zoo in the Manukau Progress from July 1961. He did not mention exactly where
the 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 family
travelled 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 …” 2
A well-known Symonds Street resident named William Bone Suttie (1877-1964) tried to have
the information corrected two weeks later:
“ … I have lived in both the streets mentioned, Symonds St. and Trafalgar St., for over the
last seventy-eight years, it seems a pity for your good paper, the Western Suburbs News, to
make 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 idea about
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 Avenue in which he lived
from the Minnars, an old Onehunga pioneering family, but I fancy you mean the “Pittars.” 3
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 …”
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. It
used 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 on
his ancestor, referred to the Western Suburbs News article, and corrected several points, but
did not correct the inaccurate location given for the zoo. No reference to the school site was
made 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. 5
The sign says:
“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 down
Symonds Street into Trafalgar Street and then to Queen Street where Mr Boyd’s son
recaptured it, but not before several members of the public had received the fright of their
“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 as
a school in 1943.”
J J Boyd wasn’t Mayor of Onehunga when he opened the zoo in 1911 – he was
Mayor 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 January
1910 – 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
The 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 Symonds
Street 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 umbrella
into 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,
nursed this same young lion in her arms when it was a nice wee cub, and it was quite quiet
and tame.” 6
The basis for the incident appears to be this, from late December 1917:
One of the minor jokes of the week was the encounter between a young lion from
the Onehunga Zoo and a cow. The cow, no doubt to protect its calf, chased the lion, and the
heir-apparent of the King of the Beasts took refuge in a hedge. Is this the result of captivity on
a species renowned for its bravery, or was the animal's strategic retreat attributable to youth
and the fearsomeness of the cow? Put yourself in a young lion's place, and a cow would be
rather a terrible looking animal. But grave doubts have been cast on the lion's reputation for
bravery and fierceness. Do you remember the immortal "Punch" picture of the lion-tamer
seeking refuge in the lion's cage from the wrath of his wife, and the lady standing, outside
shaking her fist at him and calling "Coward!" 7
It would appear that a small incident has become somewhat inflated over time. Nowhere in
any of the Borough Council minutes or news articles of the time have I seen reference to a
lion escaping from the zoo and roaming loose over the Onehunga District – except in stories
which admit to their likely apocryphal nature.
“Once upon a time, the beer in the Royal Oak Hotel was so good that the patrons thought
they saw a lion looking in the door. They looked again and were sure they could see a lion
looking in the door. Moreover, it looked like a real live lion, with golden eyes that shone in the
lamp light and, behind them, a bristling black mane that quite filled the doorway.
“The celerity with which the patrons vaulted the bar to crouch out of sight behind it would
probably have stood as an all-time world record for that feat, if anyone had had the presence
of mind to time the performance. From their hiding place, they hurled reproaches and abuse
at the one man who had not panicked but, after a glance over his shoulder, continued to lower
the contents of his pint.
“’It’s all right. It’s only old Nero -- a good old bloke,’ he assured them. And to the lion,
‘Hullo, Nero. What are you doing here, you old rogue?’
“Having emptied his pint, the imperturbable one took hold of the lion by the mane. ‘Come on
home, Nero, you old rascal,’ he said, and the two strolled across the intersection into
Symonds Street. That was the way to Boyd’s zoo and the man who was not put off his beer by
the sight of a lion in the bar room doorway was the son of the zoo’s owner … That, anyway, is
one of the old folk tales of the Royal Oak. Believe it or not, just as you like.”
If the notion sounds fantastic that a legend involving a full-grown lion on the loose in
Onehunga’s streets came simply from a little cub scurrying under a hedge, there is an example
of the same phenomenon from this year (2008). In Canada, reports came through to
international news links that a two-year-old male lion named Boomer was on the loose in the
backwoods near the nation’s capital in Ottawa in April. News outlets on the internet used a
stock photo of a fully-maned lion from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo to illustrate the story. When
Boomer was eventually recaptured, the truth was evident -- he was just a six-month-old cub.
“Officers were able to get a rope around Boomer’s neck and led him into the back seat of a
cruiser. He was taken to the Kitigan Zibi police station, where he was sitting in a jail cell
until wildlife officials can take custody of him. He was not aggressive when officers
approached him and no one was injured … Boomer reportedly comes when he is called, has
been fed from a bottle and is litter trained. But his escape prompted the closures of schools
and daycares in the area. Police issued public warnings about the animal and set up a
security perimeter. A helicopter equipped with a heat-seeking camera was also deployed to
help with the search.” 9
The full-grown escaped lion roaming around Onehunga story is a very attractive piece of
Onehunga folklore that will probably be retold for many years to come. However, I think the
true story of the young half-grown cub being scared into the hedge by the protective cow,
only to be lassoed and taken back to the zoo like something from out of America’s Wild West
during World War I is a more interesting tale.
The Boyds of Mangere Bridge
In 2005, the Mangere Historical Society published Celebrating Mangere Bridge, a history of
that part of Auckland directly across the Manukau Harbour from Onehunga. In a chapter
called “The Boyds of Mangere Bridge and Royal Oak”, the history of the Boyd zoos was
related. It appears, going by the incorrect date for the purchase of the Aramoho Tea Garden as
1905, that whatever source was used relied possibly on work link to the 1980s Wanganui
Chronicle articles which used that date rather than the true one of 1908. The article repeated
both the Manukau Intermediate mistake as to the location of the Royal Oak Zoo, and stated
that “in 1910 Boyd’s zoo was transferred by steamship to Onehunga,” also not correct.
Whatever source was used, the family names of the Boyd family had become muddled. “J. J.
Boyd had a son who was also called John James but he was known as Fred so that there was
no confusion.” 10 In truth, there already was a son named Fred -- Frederick Walter Boyd, who
supplied a considerable amount of information on the Boyd family. So, to call John Junior
“Fred” would have added to confusion, not detracted from it. It is possible that the source
used got mixed up with the familiar name for the son who did accompany J. J.; Boyd up to
Onehunga -- Edward Edwin Boyd, known as “Ted”.
It is only in the Mangere Bridge book
that “Fred” Boyd is mentioned.
The Boyd/McBurney House
“The Boyd family moved to a large villa built in 1908 in what is now Boyd Avenue, Mangere
Bridge … The McBurney family occupied J. J.’s house sometime later and lived there for
many years. After this the house was rented out to various people …” 12
There is no record in electoral rolls of either John James Boyd or his son Edward living in
Mangere Bridge from 1911 to 1922 when the Onehunga Zoo closed. Mangere came under the
Franklin Electorate before 1919, and the Manukau Electorate covered both Onehunga and
Mangere Bridge from 1919-1922: in 1911, only Edward and his wife Violet are listed, both at
Symonds Street, Onehunga. In 1914: Edward and Violet again, same place. They were joined
by Frederick and his wife Ivy, also at Symonds Street. J. J. Boyd Jnr, according to postal
directories, was at Aramoho in 1912, then back at Wellington in 1913; his father shows up as
being in Wellington during this period. 13
The 1919 electoral roll, where both Onehunga and Mangere feature, shows that John James
senior and his wife Ann Elizabeth were living at Symonds Street, along with Edward and his
wife. Frederick is no longer in the electorate. This is the period when J. J. Boyd made his
successful (1917) and unsuccessful (1921) bids for the Onehunga mayoralty. Across the
harbour, the family of Robert Boyd and his son Robert, both farmers of Green Bank, Mangere
Bridge appear on the roll. There is a considerable family of Boyds represented there: a
spinster, Nellie May Boyd, and Mrs Isabella Gordon Boyd. In 1922, only Edward and Violet
Boyd remain at Symonds Street, and only Robert and Ivy Boyd at Green Bank in Mangere.
The McBurney House is listed on the Manukau City Council District Plan 2002 as being
located at “18 Boyd Avenue (known as 20 Boyd Avenue) Mangere Bridge”. This address
traces back to Section 17 of the Suburbs of Mangere,
owned in 1895 by Jane Mackenzie,
wife of Peter Mackenzie, an Onehunga engineer. She sold the farm to Abraham Craddick in
1910, who two years later sold the property to a Mangere farmer named Robert Boyd. This
was a year after J. J. Boyd’s purchase of the Symonds Street site.
In December 1923, a year and a half after the Onehunga Zoo closed, Robert Boyd sold the
Mangere Bridge farm to Thomas McBurney, an Auckland farmer. McBurney’s intentions for
the land were likely to have been subdivision right from the start; his subdivision plan was
lodged at the end of 1924,
with an extension to Church Road formed (now called Boyd
Avenue). The McBurney house appears on this plan where it is sited today. Thomas
McBurney died c.1932, and the section which included the house was transferred to his heirs,
John Storey and William Nicholson.
It would appear that the Robert Boyd family were early Mangere Bridge farmers, unrelated to
J. J. Boyd’s family, and that the Boyd associations of the McBurney house are with the Robert
Boyd family, not the Boyds of Kilburnie, Aramoho and Royal Oak. Perhaps someone a few
years ago thought on the coincidence of two Boyd Avenues so close to each other, separated
by the harbour, and wondered if they could be connected.
The over-generous son
“At one stage while his father was overseas securing more animals for the Zoo, Fred, who
came up from Wellington to look after everything during his father’s absence, gave one of the
surplus lions to the newly formed Wellington Zoo to provide company for King Dick, the one
they had which had been donated by Wirths Circus. J. J. was not impressed by this generous
act …” 16
The “Fred” in the Mangere Bridge story is identified as John James Junior, as mentioned
above. He was at Aramoho, not Royal Oak. The information used in the Mangere Bridge
story stems ultimately from Brian Boyd, who did family research in the 1980s while he lived
in New Plymouth, and had an article on the Boyd Zoo at Aramoho published in the Journal of
the Whanganui Historical Society Inc in 1986: 17
“A FAMILY ROW!
One other time, when J. J. Boyd Sr. was overseas, his son, J. J. Boyd Jr. came up from
Wellington to manage the Zoo, gave one of the excess Lions as a free gift to the newly formed
(1906) Wellington City zoo, to provide a companion to their one and only lion “King Dick”,
which had just been presented to that City by Wirth’s Circus. When J. J. Boyd arrived back
home and heard of this generous act, in the words of his grandson “did he go crook!”
As discussed in the chapter on Aramoho, J. J. Boyd started his zoo there in 1908, not 1906. It
wasn’t Wirth’s Circus which had donated “King Dick” to Wellington City, it was Bostock &
Wombwell’s circus. J. J. Boyd Jr. took over management of the Aramoho Zoo for his father in
1911-1912 -- but according to the Stroobants (see Aramoho chapter), it was Mrs. Stroobant
who gave away a number of animals.
The escaped lion tale
“The demise of the Zoo was finalised when a lion managed to escape and bounded away from
Boyd’s Zoo …” 18
As mentioned above, this story appears to have been a conflation of the incident where the
lion cub escaped c.1917. The demise of the zoo wasn’t finalised by this, however. See
A band rotunda’s tale
The band rotunda ended up positioned on a rear corner of Lot 23 of the zoo property
subdivision, which became 19 Boyd Avenue. Up until 1941, this was owned by Frederick
Walter Boyd, who sold it to Hilda Elizabeth Doull. In 1950, the property was bought by
Catherine Louisa McLeod, who left the property in her will to Mary Louisa and Edna Rose
McLeod in 1968.
The sisters donated the aging wooden structure, by then clad around the
sides with iron and used as a garage on the property for more than 20 years, to the Museum of
Transport and Technology in Western Springs. 20
But, the band rotunda at the museum today is not the Boyd Zoo rotunda. The present one was
built in 1978. 21 The story of the fate of the Boyd Zoo rotunda is told in the day books kept at
the time by the museum’s volunteers. 22
On Monday 23 June 1969, MOTAT staff had removed the roof of the rotunda at Royal Oak to
lower the overall height, and on Saturday 28 June it was delivered to the Museum by James
Davern Ltd. It was parked outside the gates for the weekend.
Work didn’t begin on the rotunda until 19 November when it was lowered to the ground.
Footings were prepared on 8 December. Then, on 16 December the staff came to a
After Days of frustration etc. The workmen on the band rotunda downed tools. We had to
agree! Each stage revealed more borer-termite-and dry rot! We were faced with virtually
building a replica! Accordingly we can now claim the project was investigated to the full and
found to be hopeless!
We demolished it today!
The lesson?? No more old buildings Please! Please!!!”
Torrential rain delayed completion of the rotunda’s demolition until 18 December. Some
timber and corrugated iron was salvaged and stored under the cafeteria. Thus was the fate of
the last of Boyd’s structures in Auckland.
Boyd’s Zoo at the Auckland War Memorial Museum
Brian Gill, Curator of Land Vertebrates at Auckland War Memorial Museum was a great help
when I enquired as to the whereabouts of "excellent skin of a lion, from a specimen that died
at the Onehunga Zoo, presented by the proprietor, Mr. J. J. Boyd" in 1919
had ended up.
Sadly, it isn’t even recorded in the old accession volumes Brian showed me, so at some point
between the Auckland Institute becoming the War Memorial Museum, the pelt disappeared.
However, four other donated specimens are on the books (although no longer part of the
museum’s collection today):
Blue No. 714 Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Donated 1912, originally from Motutapu
Blue No. 1246 Himalayan bear (Ursus torquatus). Donated 1912.
Blue No. 1250 Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta). Donated 1913, but later destroyed.
Blue No. 1256 Wallaby (Macropus). Donated 1913.
Five more are still at the museum, and three are on display at the Discovery Centre, although
thousands will have passed them by without realising that they came from Auckland’s first
Vernon No: LB10912 Salvin's Mollymawk (Thalassarche salvini). Originally from the
Manukau Harbour, but died at Onehunga Zoo. Donated 1913.
Vernon No. LM339
Pig-tailed Macaque (Macacus nemestrinus). Donated 1913.
Vernon No. LM409
Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta). A juvenile, donated 1913.
Vernon No. LM242
Sun bear (Ursus malayanus). Died at Onehunga Zoo, donated 1914.
Vernon No. LM283
Leopard (Felis pardus). A juvenile (cub), donated 1912.
Permission was very kindly granted for me to take photographs of the specimens that are still
at the museum. As I was reaching upward to capture an image of the sun bear, rough stitches
across the chest from the post mortem treatment visible even from where the bear now
resides, high above the walkway leading to the Discovery Centre, the thought came to mind:
finally, after the original Acclimatisation Society menagerie in the 1860s-1880s, and all the
suggestions by letter writers to the newspapers during the Boyd era, here was the Domain
Zoo. A quiet and silent one, unadvertised and now just part of the wider collection of animal
specimens from the Auckland Zoo since 1922 (including Rajah the elephant) and other
sources, but a collection nevertheless.
After all these hundred years, in collections at museums in Auckland, Wanganui and
Christchurch, Boyd’s zoos still remain.
Cemetery list, Auckland City Libraries
Western Suburbs News, 3 May 1961
Western Suburbs News, 17 May 1961
Mogford, 1989, p. 116
Central Leader, 31 May 1995
Western Suburbs News, 17 May 1961
Auckland Star, 29 December 1917, p14
Ian Munro, “Lion Beer be darned, this one was a customer”, Southern Leader, 15 September 1970
“Police capture Boomer the escaped lion cub”, www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2008/05/01/lion-capture.html,
sighted 2 May 2008
Val Payne, Celebrating Mangere Bridge, 2005, p. 22
Brian Boyd’s notes to Chapter 18 of his biography of John James Boyd, via Rootsweb.
Wises NZPO Directories: 1913 & 1914
CT 75/176, LINZ records
DP 17984, LINZ records
“Historical Record”, Journal of the Whanganui Historical Society Inc, Vol 17, No. 1, May 1986, pp. 6-11. From
private collection, Gerry O’Mahoney, Wanganui
ibid, p. 23
CT 771/287, LINZ records
Roskill & Onehunga News, 17 November 1969
Plans for Band Rotunda, Permit No. 28177, 19 December 1978, Walsh Memorial Library, MOTAT
MOTAT Day by Day history books, 1/7/69B, Walsh Memorial Library, MOTAT
Auckland Institute Report 24 February 1919, from Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute,
Vol 51, 1919, p. 501