Friday, December 7, 2012

Snapshot views of Auckland Zoo, 1920s

Bought recently on TradeMe, "12 Real Photographs for Your Snapshot Album" of "The Zoo, Auckland NZ," published by Frank Duncan & Co Ltd, of Lorne Street.

Auckland Zoo turns 90 years old on 16 December this year (despite what the ornate plaque in the grounds tells you. My friend Liz and I reckon it was installed after the actual opening, when someone mucked up the date -- set as the 17th of December erroneously).  Now, most of the wee images in the small envelope (which measures 7 x 8.5 cm) are also available in larger uncropped format at the Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Library. But there, the inherited cataloguing system from years before now has their images credited to Frederick George Radcliffe, which in most of the instances is incorrect as he died in January 1923, before many of the exhibits photographed (including Jamuna the elephant) actually arrived at the zoo. (Yes, I have let them know). Trouble with a lot of early Auckland images -- photographers often photographed each other's images, and collected up negatives which ended up in collections under other names. So, as Frank Duncan's company bought up the right to reproduce images from a number of photographers in their postcard and snapshot series -- the real photographer of these images remains at the moment unknown. But they were clearly from between 1923-24, when buildings such as the "flying aviary" and the elephant house were designed (by M K Draffin) and built, and 1929 when Duncan's firm went out of business.

According to the library's photographers' database, Frank Duncan appeared as a business from around 1915. The firm was described as a stationer's and sold fancy goods, even Mattamac overcoats against the rain. The firm was quite well-established, judging by the Auckland Star's description 15 December 1922 (the day before the zoo opened):

The rapid expansion of the business is strikingly evident on revisiting this emporium after a short lapse of time; the goods themselves revealing in no uncertain sense the wide field to which such a firm must appeal. The salesmen at Messrs Duncan & Co regularly visit every town in New Zealand. The firm's territory extending from North Cape to Stewart Island ...

From a small beginning it has forged ahead and Mr Duncan's individuality upon  the value of view books printed in unique designs has always been a feature of the artistic "Tourist" publications produced by the firm under the emblem of the "Tiki" ... The postcard section is a notable department of the firm, publishing as they do real photograph postcards from 15,000 different negatives. Needless to remark the issue and re-issue of such stock demands an accurate and quick-filing system to keep trace of the supply. Very few people realise that these small photo postcards bought in the shops go through the same processes of production as the ordinary portrait photographs costing about 50/ per dozen ...

(35-R176, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

(35-R159, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

(35-R167, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

(35-R182, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

Image from larger postcard -- also from TradeMe.

(35-R160, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

(35-R165, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

(35-R163, Sir George Grey Special Collections)

(35-R162, Sir George Grey Special Collections)


  1. I would suggest that is a wallaby in the photo and not a kangaroo. While most zoos are now great for the animals within, they were pretty awful places up until the latter part of last century. The lions look surprisingly content.

  2. Could be. The "sacred monkey" for example is (if I recall what Liz told me yesterday correctly) a grey langur monkey. But there's another option for the hopper -- Taronga Park Zoo were trading in wallaroos in the 1920s, and there's correspondence between them and Auckland Zoo on file. I'd say either a wallaby or a wallaroo. They wouldn't have had to look overseas for the wallabies in those days ...

  3. interesting post

    great collection of photos

    I remember seeing the Polar Bears at the Zoo in the 1970s

  4. Thanks, Jen. I remember them too -- poor things. Green because of the fungus or whatever that the zoo authorities tried to track down right from the 1930s. They don't have bears there anymore.

  5. I did note the monkey, and that we know it by a different name now. Wallaroo, quite possible. There were free roaming wallabies in NZ? Obviously imported.

  6. No, there are free roaming wallabies here.

    Definitely imported. Gov. Grey went nuts on them over at Kawau Island.

  7. I think it's a Wallaby or possibly a wallaroo as well - definitely not a Kangaroo. I've got some prints of wallaby I took at Auckland Zoo some time back in the early 1990's. Will check.

    The 'Sea Lion' is a Leopard Seal. There was one caught in 1926. The Auckland Star later reported it as 'dying a slow death' and suggested it should be released. Later in 1927 another Leopard Seal was captured on Karekare Beach and gifted to the zoo by the residents.

    The image of Jamuna is some time after November 1923 the month she gave her first rides. Her mahout Ater Ali left Auckland Zoo after a dispute in January 1925. Later on he appeared in court a couple of times for being and overstayer.He remained in New Zealand for at least three years after leaving Auckland Zoo.

    Great images Lisa!

  8. the only thing i can remember is one of the Polar Bear eating a fish iceblock, the Giant Pandas and the elephant statue that had a baby inside i clearly remember banging my head on that and the hippo area which is now Te Wao Nui area. also the beloved Kashin and Nisha..

    we still have Janie the oldest animal at auckland zoo.