Bengal tiger at large in Brisbane (1888)

Sepia drawing of Brisbane, 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 15249

Sepia drawing of Brisbane, 1888. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 15249

On November 21, 1888, Duncan Forbes was crossing Turbot Street in Brisbane’s CBD when he witnessed a shocking spectacle. According to the Telegraph newspaper, Forbes heard shrieking coming from Charles Higgins’ Great Menagerie of Wild Performing Animals, situated on the corner of George and Turbot streets. As he turned, he beheld a man running through the gate, hotly pursued by a large Bengal tiger.

Illustration published in the Queensland Figaro and Punch, December 1, 1888

Illustration published in the Queensland Figaro and Punch, December 1, 1888

The tiger (named Jimmy) had escaped only moments earlier when handyman Peter Bertram failed to secure the cage door while it was being cleaned. As the tiger emerged from its enclosure, Bertram panicked and ran. As the Queensland Figaro dramatically described it (pictured), witnesses “were considerably startled at seeing an enormous Bengal tiger spring through the menagerie gates … flying through the air as if propelled from a catapult, and, with a roar, seizing an unfortunate man and felling him with one blow of his terrible paw”.

Advertisements from the Queensland Figaro and Punch newspaper, November 17, 1888

Advertisements from the Queensland Figaro and Punch newspaper, November 17, 1888

Illustration published in the Queensland Figaro and Punch, December 8, 1888

Illustration published in the Queensland Figaro and Punch, December 8, 1888

In pursuit was owner Higgins who, armed with only a small whip, managed to subdue the tiger but not before getting bitten on his arm. Bertram was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Higgins was also hospitalised when his arm became infected, leaving a man named William Madden in charge. Madden further inflamed locals by getting drunk and threatening to release more tigers, for which he was promptly arrested.

Locals petitioned the mayor to have the menagerie closed. Before the tiger incident, a Mr Jarvis had reported finding a monkey in his bedroom. A dingo also escaped in the days following, being captured in Alice St after menacing some chickens.

Staged photograph of Jack Trackson shooting tigers at Toombul. Most probably Higgins' 'Toombul Tigers'. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 60643

Staged photograph of Jack Trackson shooting tigers at Toombul, c.1884. Most probably Higgins’ ‘Toombul Tigers’. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 60643

Prior to the incident Jimmy and another tiger featured in the menagerie named Sammy were well-known in Brisbane as the “Toombul tigers”, after being reared at Higgins’ property, close to Toombul Railway Station.

Further reading

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland