Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lion cubs at Wellington Zoo

Another postcard, this one of two lion cubs, simply called "The Cubs", which leads me to think these were somewhat special at the time of the photo. How old is the card?

The handwritten text on the back I think gives me some clues.

"Dearest Jean,
I expect you'll be wondering how in the world I have got down to Wellington. Well I decided all at once on Sunday to come down with Mr Brooks for a day or two & see about a few agonies. We are going back as far as Masterton tomorrow when I have promised to stay one night so as to sing a solo at the mission being held there by the Rev Val Triggs of Melbourne. I will be writing again soon dear to tell you all about everything ..."

That sentence in bold led me to look for a mission held by a Rev. Val Triggs, in Masterton, after 1906 (the year the Wellington Zoo began). The earliest instance I found was late August - early September 1913, when the Methodist minister Rev Val W Trigge shifted his mission from Rangiora on 28 August to Masterton, setting himself up there for 10 days from 7 September 1913. (Wairarapa Daily Times, 5.9.1913)

Now, I don't know if Rev Trigge ever returned to Masterton or not. He made several trips across the Tasman over the next few years, until just beyond the First World War -- but 1913 was a special year for the Wellington Zoo. A lioness on loan from Wirth's Circus, as consort to the famous King Dick, gave birth to twin cubs on 16 February that year.

The lioness lent to the Wellington Zoo by Messrs. Wirth Bros, for a period of twelve months has given birth to twin cubs. The lioness is under offer to the authorities for £100, and a movement is on foot to purchase her in order than she may not be separated from her spouse "King Dick."
Colonist 21.2.1913

The curator of Wellington Zoo, Mr Langridge, has discovered that the lioness in the zoo has added two cubs to the animal collection, instead of one, as previously stated. As the cubs are worth at least £50 each (says the "New Zealand Times"), naturally the authorities are greatly pleased at the turn of events. It is expected that in about three weeks' time the baby lions will be moving about, but in the meantime the mother and her offspring have been boarded in, so as to avoid any disturbance and the possibility of the lioness eating the cubs through annoyance from spectators. It is unusual for a lioness to breed in captivity, as shown by the experience of the London Zoo, though the Dublin Zoo has been more fortunate in this respect. "King Dick's" companion is a very quiet animal, and was one of the best performing lionesses in Wirth's Circus.

Press 21.2.1913

My good friend Liz would know way more about lions and their cubs and how to judge their age from an image -- but from what I've seen, the cubs on the postcard could be six months old. Which means the image dates from August 1913, if they are the twins ... just in time for our writer from Eketahuna to pick up the card while staying in Wellington, on the way to Rev Trigge's Masterton mission that September.

Well, right or wrong ... at least it's a possibility.


  1. Oh aren't they just gorgeous. Most likely they are between 4-6 months of age. But no older than that. It would mean these cubs are the first cubs fathered by King Dick at Wellington Zoo. One of the cubs born was definitely a male. I recall he was named 'Young Dick' but I'll have to check my notes on that - this is going off the top of my head. So I may be wrong. Great post Lisa really great how you were able to pinpoint the year through the letter on the back.

  2. Lisa the female cub was named Maude and the male cub was named George. George later died sadly at quite a young age. Maude however went on to have cubs of her own. Fathered as I recall by one of Boyd's lions named "Briton"