When Woolloongabba was Wattle Scented

Friday, March 22, 2013

Man Eating Tiger Eats Man on George St. Brisbane, 1888. Make Tracks if Tiger Attacks!

The neighbourhood was all hustle and bustles in the early mornings as Turbot St Brisbane provided the street frontage to the Brisbane Produce Markets where produce from all over Queensland was freighted in the backdoor from the Roma Street rail yards and out the front door to be processed and or sold by Brisbane factories, produce merchants and fruit shops. By lunchtime the area would be relatively quiet, with just light traffic of drays, carriages and horses but around noon on Wednesday 21st of November 1888 there was a blood curdling scream. From a narrow alley opposite the markets ran a mauled and bleeding  Peter Bertram and in hot pursuit, a full grown Bengal tiger. Betrand was an animal keeper and one of his charges. Sammy, from the travelling zoo Higgins Menagerie had escaped and decided that Betrand would be his lunchtime playmate. Betrand was literally running for his life towards George St,  having  already been mauled the tiger dragged him down for a final go and horrified onlookers did what anyone would do in that situation, they "made tracks".

On last Wednesday week the inhabitants of George and Turbot streets were considerably startled at seeing an enormous Bengal tiger spring throughthe menagerie gates, his vast frame flying throughthe air as if propelled from a catapult,and, with a roar, seized an unfortunate man and fell him to the earth with one blow of his terrible paw. The victim, one Peter Bertram,  for an instant lay motionless in the gutter, whilst the tiger crouched on the ground snarling and growling most horribly, the passers-by meanwhile making tracks from the vicinity. The tiger then seemingly satisfied with his work got upand was moving away, when Bertram, finding himself free, rose and started to run. Instantly thebeast's feline nature asserted itself, and again itsprang upon the unfortunate man, this time seizinghim with its teeth and lacerating his neck and backwith its cruel claws. At this moment Higgins, theproprietor of the menagerie, and one Valentine E.Spendelove, of Rosalie, appeared on the scene, and both, without any hesitation, rushed forward to savethe man. Spendelove, who deserves the very greatestcredit for his presence of mind and pluck, seized Bertram's arm to drag him away, whilst Higgins, with the courage of an hero, deliberately "thrusthis arm" into the brute's mouth, thinking that by virtue of his long knowledge of the animal, that itwouli not bite him. In this he was mistaken as the powerful jaws closed over the limb, and the blood instantly spurted out from the deep gashes made by the animal teeth. Not to be deterred by this, however, Higgins held on to the animal, and getting his arm free he labored him about the head with a stick and by creating a diversion enabled Spendelove to drag Bertram from the spot where he lay bathed in his own blood. By this time Higgins had again got command of the tiger, and by dint of much flogging finally got him back into the menagerie, and chained him up. Bertram was taken to the hospital, where he now lies in a rather precarious condition, but his life will probably be saved. Higgins's wounds are progressing favorably also. The outcome of all this is that the menagerie will be removed from the place it occupies at thee corner of Turbot and George streets, the inhabitants of the vicinity objecting to a wild beast show in such close proximity, though, as the tiger escaped by reason of the negligence of Bertram himself, no blame can be attached to Higgins. Rather should credit be given to him and Spendelove for the 
courageous way in which they went to the rescue.

After that incident you'd expect the travelling zoo would have been run out of town overnight. But no, two tigers, a cheetah,  black panther, dingoes, snakes, monkeys, and an orangutan remained in the menagerie for at least three months, whilst all manner of petitions and negotiation went on over the future of the animals. One idea as reported in the Queensland Figaro was that they form the basis of a government run zoological attraction.

The government buyout was a proposition supported by Higgins himself who had come up with a joint venture vision for a zoological gardens, whilst others just wanted the whole dangerous, stinking mess cleaned up and shipped out. With the writer of this letter ;"Astonished"' and describes Brisbane as a "patient donkey" on the issue.

There were various reports  through early 1889 that the animals had been sold to the Manly Aquarium in Sydney or were to be rehoused at the about to open Queensport Aquarium at Hemmant but the menagerie eventually wound up at Toombul.Sammy and Jimmy the Bengal Tigers were affectionately known by locals as the Toombul Tigers and prior to their fame as man eaters, as tiger cubs they would wander Chales Higgins property just 200 metres from the Toombul Railway Station on long chains pegged into the ground. "A Talk with a Tiger Trainer" was published in The Brisbane Courier in July 1889 where Higgins gives a comprehensive account of his life as a tiger trainer and describes what seems to be a fledgling tiger breeding enterprise, Higgins talks of breeding at least two other tigers and describes a female tiger as the "wife" of one of the males. You can read the article at Trove here.

Cute as kitten! Tiger cubs at the the Toombul Tiger Farm, 1884. It was one of these two tigers who dragged down keeper Peter Betram in Turbot St Brisbane just four years later.

In the image above, Higgins Menagerie was located on the corner of George and Turbot streets, where today still stands the Brisbane Associated Friendly Society dispensary building with it's arched windows. The foundation stone for the building was laid in 1915, about 30 years after the tiger attack.

Corner of George and Turbot Streets today.

Could this be the alley from which the Bengal Tiger "catapulted" himself?

Unidentified group posing with a tiger (bottom right) at Toombul Tiger farm, 1884.

By August of 1889 Sammy, Jimmy and a female tiger by the name of Dina were star attractions at Queensport Aquarium at Hemmant, in the Australian Town and Country Journal Saturday 21 July1894  a small notice reported the death of Chales Higgins, thrown from a truck on Ipswich Road at Rocklea. The keeper Peter Betram recovered from his injuries but in 1889 was charged with intent to murder in a shooting incident at Toombul where he accidentally shot a man dead, it was noted in newspaper reporting of the shooting  that Betram had had "mental deficiencies" since the attack.

The Queensport Aquarium was severely flooded beyond repair during the floods of 1897. Can you imagine, Life of Pi style, three tigers drifting on raft out through Moreton Bay? The idea is slightly ridiculous but there is no mention of the eventual fate of the tigers and the the Queensport Aquarium closed. An auction notice for the Aquarium shows no sign of the tigers, though three tiger cages are listed. I feel for the "apes" of which one may have been Higgins orangutan, being auctioned off amongst the goods and chattels of what used to be Brisbane's premiere day trip destination. One can only hope that Sammy, Jimmy and Dina found a safe home and remember, "make tracks" whenever a tiger attacks.


Images From the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.


From Trove @ trove.nla.gov.au

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) 23 Jan 1889: 3. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page95299>.

Australian Town and Country Journal(NSW : 1870 - 1907) 21 Jul 1894: 15. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71261958>.

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) 9 Apr 1886: 5. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4483231>.

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) 28 Nov 1888: 6. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3489245>.

Queensland Figaro and Punch (Brisbane, Qld : 1885 - 1889) 8 Dec 1888: 24. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page8760694>.

Queensland Figaro and Punch(Brisbane, Qld : 1885 - 1889) 1 Dec 1888: 3. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84132924>.

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) 29 Jul 1889: 7. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3499275>.

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) 16 Aug 1889: 2. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3500043>.

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) 8 Jul 1891: 3. Web. 23 Mar 2013 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3528383>