Sunday History Photo / NSW

Submitted: Sunday, Sep 04, 2016 at 07:43
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Taronga Zoo was officially opened on its current site on October 7th, 1916 but its history dates back to 1884 when the first public Zoo in New South Wales opened on a site known as Billy Goat Swamp.

The governors of NSW also kept collections of animals on the large tracts of land set aside as the Government Domain. Mrs Macquarie was said to have established a small menagerie at Government House at Parramatta. But the first collection of animals that could be said to come close to a zoo was established by former army sergeant Thomas Kellett at Botany.
In 1834 Kellett bought land at Botany to establish the Banks Inn. He later expanded the inn into a large hotel complex with the more grandiose name of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel.

The hotel was later acquired by local timber merchant William Beaumont and his business partner James Waller who, in the 1840s, began creating a landscaped “pleasure garden” stocked with a mixture of native and exotic animals. In 1851 they acquired an elephant and a bengal tiger from Captain William Charlesworth, who was known for procuring animals for colonists from India. Charlesworth had displayed his animals since 1848 in Hyde Park under the aegis of the Australian Museum.

To celebrate his new acquisitions Beaumont organised a fete that year, chartering a steamship to bring people from Port Jackson. The zoo and the hotel grounds became a popular picnic destination for Sydneysiders wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as a favoured place for weddings and parties. Beaumont later sold the hotel but kept the zoo until at least 1860 when he sold it to Henry Billing. He kept some animals which he later donated to the establishment of the Sydney Zoological Gardens in 1884.


The Sydney Zoological Gardens was first proposed at a meeting in 1852, which discussed situating it in either the Botanic Gardens or Hyde Park. That meeting had also proposed setting up a local zoological society, but that did not eventuate until 1879, and the zoo itself wouldn’t open for five years after that. Beaumont took a prominent part in planning the zoo.
The Zoological Society temporarily housed some of its collection at the Botanic Gardens in the heart of Sydney until a site was selected at the Billy Goat Swamp, part of the area of Moore Park and Centennial Park that had been set aside for public leisure.

In 1883 the birds were brought to Moore Park. along with an elephant donated by the king of siam. In 1884 the zoo officially opened to the public. When the zoo outgrew its home at Moore Park, another site was sought and in 1916 it moved to its present position at Taronga in Mosman. In 1913, management of the zoo passed to a trust named the New Zoological Gardens Trust which became the Taronga Zoological Park Trust.

The first exhibits were the seal ponds, elephant temple, monkey pits, top entrance, aviaries, paths and roadways and the refreshment rooms. In all, 228 mammals, 552 birds and 64 reptiles were moved from Moore Park to Taronga. Many, including the elephants, crossed the harbour on board a flat top barge.

Taronga Zoo was officially opened on October 7, 1916.
Henry Billing bought Beaumont’s zoo and took the animals to be displayed at Watsons Bay. It proved a popular attraction but Billing ended up in court in 1861 when a keeper was accidentally killed by one of his tigers. He was cleared of any responsibility. When Billing died his widow tried to get the board of the new zoo to buy her animals. After they refused, Billing’s widow is said to have poisoned them.

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Reply By: MUZBRY- Life member(Vic) - Sunday, Sep 04, 2016 at 09:42

Sunday, Sep 04, 2016 at 09:42
Gday Doug
I remember going to the zoo by ferry from old grandma's house in Mosman, over to Circular Quay and onto the zoo ferry. When all was finished we went home on the tram. That would have been in the 1940"s
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Reply By: Member - Peter H1 (NSW) - Sunday, Sep 04, 2016 at 12:47

Sunday, Sep 04, 2016 at 12:47
I also remember the zoo in the 40's and riding on the elephant.
Thanks for the memories.

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