2011-02-12

Alice in Wonderland City a lost elephant story


'Princess' Alice (1876 -1941)
at 'Wonderland City' Tamarara,Bondi,Sydney NSW Australia

Image sourced from The Elephant Database website

Lately I've been researching the African Lion King Dick which was the reason behind Wellington's first zoo in Newtown Park. So the far the research has revealed a number of footnotes in the history of long since dead zoo and circus animals. Menageries and Circuses were part of the Australasian landscape and society during the 19th and 20th centuries. All manner of wierd and wonderful beasts were brought from across the globe by great circuses, such as the famous Bostock & Wombwell's Circus and Menagerie. King Dick himself had come from this very organisation, that, for over a century entertained families all over the world.

In the course of my research I discovered an Asian Female Elephant named Alice. Previously I had researched the background of the Auckland War Memorial Museum's elephant Rajah which appeared as a guest blog post on the wonderful Timespanner blog last year. Since then I've been researching other lost animal stories, of which there seem to be many.

Alice began her life around the year 1876. She was in the possession of Bostock & Wombwell's Circus and Menagerie, as far as I can ascertain, until she was sold at auction in December of 1906. The Otago Witness reported the proceedings of the auction in an article reprinted from The Argus

The sale did not begin until shortly after noon, and in the meantime the elephant Alice, oblivious of the fact that within two hours she would have a new master, good naturedly helped to remove the heavy tent poles and philosophically ate grass between engagements.


The highest sum paid was £337 10s, which was realised by the elephant Alice, who was purchased by Mr William Anderson, the proprietor of the pleasure resort 'Wonderland City', at Bondi, Sydney, is 30 years of age. She is described as a splendid worker, perfectly docile and trained to ride. Her equipment consists of a howdah, seating six adults or eight children, elaborate gold-worked trappings, and a set of working harness. It is further announced that an experienced keeper is at liberty to accept a situation at a moderate salary





The Bondi Aquarium later Wonderland City
at Tamarama, Bondi, Sydney NSW Australia where
Alice gave children rides on the beach

Image sourced from The Elephant Database

After the auction Alice went off to spend her days, it seemed, giving rides at Wonderland City for children on the beach. Below is a brief history of Tamarama where Wonderland City was located.


In 1887 Sydney's first coastal amusement park, and one of the earliest in Australia, opened at Tamarama. Named The Bondi Aquarium its greatest attraction was a plunging roller coaster that dived and twisted over the beach. People flocked to the attraction, not only for the rides, but for vaudeville acts and aquarium creatures, including seals and a tiger shark. On the evening of July 11, 1891, fire destroyed the aquarium and pavilion, but it rose from the ashes in September the same year, and continued to entertain Sydney's populace. The last identified concert at the Aquarium was a fund raiser for the Waverley Benevolent Society in July 1906.

Ownership and management changed several times throughout its existence, until the site was finally sold by Mrs Margaret J. Lachaume in 1906 to William Anderson who transformed the amusement park, renaming it Wonderland City. In 1906 Wonderland City opened and replaced the Bondi Aquarium as the latest attraction at Tamarama. Powered by its own steam plant, the amusement park featured an airship suspended over the bay and an elephant named Alice available for rides on the beach. There was also a miniature railway operating on a two-mile track over the cliff tops. Frequent battles with local residents over beach access, charges of animal cruelty and an incident with the airship saw a decline in numbers. After a few years of low crowds and poor revenue Wonderland City closed in 1911. In 1920, the NSW Government bought the area and proclaimed it Tamarama Park. There is still a Wonderland Avenue at Tamarama.


In February 1907 Alice was used as part of a wedding ceremony


WEDDING IN A THEATRE.

ORIENTAL COSTUMES AND AN ELEPHANT.


Sydney, February 17.

Mr. Anderson's Wonderland ,City at Bondi was the scene of a unique wedding on Saturday evening. A young couple, Mr. A. V. Donehue and Miss Derbridge, both of North Sydney, attired in Oriental costume, were married in the King's Theatre, the service being conducted by the Rev. F. B. Cowling. After the service the couple, mounted on the elephant Alice, and preceded by a number of young ladies in Oriental costume, travelled through the paths of Wonderland City amid cheers and showers of confetti. Over thirty thousand people witnessed this remarkable wedding.

- The Advertiser 18 February 1907

In June 1907 Alice arrived by boat in Cairns as part of Wonderland City's travelling entertainment in the state of Queensland. The arrival at Cairns of the Innamincka , a crowd had gathered there, had hoped for some entertainment, when Alice's trunk came in close proximity to a passenger's hat.


ARRIVAL AT CAIRNS

The news of the arrival of the show, kept a number of people, and especially the juveniles, on the qui vive all yesterday morning, and when tho vessel drew up alongside the wharf, despite the rain, there was a large crowd to meet it. The sight of Alice, the elephant, standing out in a prominent position on the vessel, swinging from side to side in the restless manner peculiar to her kind, caused great interest and as she playfully raised her trunk, and held it quivering in dangerous proximity to a passenger's hat, great hopes were raised that a free show was to begin. However, Alice remembered her manners in time, and the owner of the hat was left in industrial possession.

The vessel presented a very peculiar appearance, her decks, crowded with menagerie vans and conveyances of various hinds with all the paraphernalia of a giant circus, whilst along one side, in improvised stalls, stood tho horses of all sizes and colors. The work' of "shipping the show ' occupied all day out Saturday at Townsville, and delayed the Innamincka several hours in her departure.

The interest was first of all centered on Alice, but the way that bulksome female stepped off the gangway prepared for her showed her to be an experienced traveller. Thc beasts in the cages were next lifted over thc side and safely housed in one of the big Adelaide Co.'s sheds, where Alice was also located. Just here may bc stated that 'Alice is still in her teens, being in fact "sweet fifteen,'' but as to the truth of the rest of the adage, the keeper declined to be pumped.

- Morning Post 10 June 1907

Whilst it was reported that Alice was supposedly a 'sweet fifteen', she had been given the age of 30 at the dispersal sale in 1906 by Bostock & Wombwell's Circus and Menagerie.

In December 1907 Alice was part of a weight guessing competition which led to an interesting event


WONDERLAND CITY.
This afternoon and evening the many open air attractions, with recitals of music by De Groen's band, will be available at Wonderland city, where the free circus, entertainments at the vaudeville theatre, and numerous side-shows will be patronised by visitors. For this evening Mr William Anderson announces a military spectacle; showing Dargai Heights and the storming thereof with rifle-fire, artillery bands of music and many picturesque and dramatic effects.
Today at noon Alice the elephant will be publicly weighed on the Sussex-street machine, in connection with the weight-guessing competition.


- Sydney Morning Herald 19 December 1907


The Cairns Post reported Alice being on the street in the company of her keeper without a permit due to the weight guessing competition

STORY OF ALICE
Many people in Cairns will remember Alice, the elephant, that formed part of Anderson's Wonderland show. Here is a story of Alice from Sydney :-In order to decide the weight guessing competition in connection with Wonderland, Alice the elephant strolled into the city behind her keeper, much to the delight of an army of small boys collected on the way. lt transpired, however, that no permit had been given by the council for Alice to traverse the streets, and a constable drew the keeper's attention to the fact.. The latter waggishly replied : " I am not leading her arrest the elephant." Apparently no arrest was affected for shortly afterwards from a Sussex-street weighbridge ' Alice’s weight was announced as 2 ton, 15cwt 2gr 3plb, a figure which, by the way, a Wollahra young lady had exceeded in her guess by' only half a pound. . She got upset," explained tho keeper, 'but she would have struck the exact weight if I had not pedicured Alice this morning'.
- Cairns Morning Post 28 December 1907

Alice is mentioned again in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1908 as still being at Wonderland City


WONDERLAND CITY

Wonderland City will reopen for the Empire Day holiday from 11 till 5.30 p.m., when the beauties of the Bondi seaside gardens and a score of attractions, including Alice the elephant, will attract both juvenile and adult visitors.


-Sydney Morning Herald 25 May 1908

In the reading the history of the Wonderland City venture, there was a notation, that by March of 1908 William Anderson, the owner, was running into financial trouble. By 1911 Wonderland City and all its attractions were shut down for good.

Alice, however, by November of 1908 was back to her previous life as a circus elephant, when she was purchased by George and Philip Wirth of Melbourne based Wirth's Circus, and was later renamed 'Princess' Alice .

"......the performing elephant 'Alice' who goes through a number of remarkable tricks. She ends by abruptly by apparently lying and standing on her trainer, but so carefully her great bulk is disposed that his clothes are not even rumpled' .........'The children are specially catered for by the elephant Alice, who carries laughing loads about the grounds under the guidance of her trainer."

- Excerpt from a report on Wirth's Circus from the Argus 24 November 1908


One of the stars of Wirth’s circus is the huge elephant ‘Princess Alice’ The Princess is getting on in years, for Messrs George and Philip Wirth aquired her from Mr William Anderson, a well know theatrical manager about thirty years ago, and he purchased her from Bostock and Wombwell Circus and Menagerie….

-The Advertiser 30 June 1927
Between the years 1908 and 1941 Alice travelled extensively with Wirth's Circus. In 1916, while on tour at New Plymouth in New Zealand Alice had a close call when she went down to a creek to drink, then slipped and fell. Finding herself stuck, Alice attempted to free herself but was unable to do so. Keepers using the other elephants extracted her several hours later as reported in the Poverty Bay Herald below.



- Article from the Poverty Bay Herald 3 March 1916
Sourced: Papers Past National Library of NZ Website

At the grand age of around 57 years old Alice rendered assistance when a train derailed at the Wagin Railway yards in Western Australia


STOCK TRAIN DERAILED.

Elephant Renders Assistance.

WAGIN, Aug. 23.— The engine of an important stock train from Katanning en route to sales at Midland Junction was derailed in the Wagin railway yards about 5 p.m. yesterday during shunting operations. A relief engine was immediately requisitioned from Narrogin to take the stock to its destination. The relief train left Wagin about two hours behind the scheduled time, but arrived at Midland Junction in time for the sales, as a fast engine was utilised. No damage resulted to the live stock. A special break-down train was sent from Narrogin to Wagin last night, and the original engine of 'the stock train was re-railed about 9 o'clock. It was then hauled to Narrogin. The cause of the derailment is not known, nor the extent of the damage to the engine.

As Wirth's circus was showing here last night, the services of Alice, the elephant, were requisitioned to remove the trucks from the derailed engine. There was no engine under steam in the Wagin railway yards, and the elephant's timely help was fully appreciated. A crowd of sightseers was interested and amazed in watching the work of the elephant, which appeared to remove the trucks without effort and revel in the task. Other valuable assistance was rendered by the electrical staff of the Wagin Municipal Council, its members erecting a lead from the street lighting poles to the scene of the derailment thus enabling the break down gang to work at ease during the evening.

- The West Australian 24 August 1933

Later in 1933, Alice also got up to mischief while aboard the steamer Lutana when she loosened a winch.

WILD ANIMALS ON STEAMER
CAUSE EXCITEMENT
(Reprinted from Yesterday's Latest Edition.)

ADELAIDE, Tuesday.

Music may soothe the savage breast of many jungle denizens, but the clatter of a ship's steam winch is more to the liking of Alice, Wirth Bros. 140 year-old circus elephant.

How this elephant enjoyed herself immensely by setting a steam winch in motion was told by officer of the Tasmanian steamer Lutana, which transported Wirths' Circus from Melbourne to Burnie. The vessel is now at Port Adelaide discharging timber from Tasmania.

The Lutana was a veritable Noah's Ark on the trip, the animals including bears, lions, tigers, seven elephants, monkeys, zebras, a hippopotamus, and 38 horses.

Bored with standing tied by the legs to a stanchion, Alice, the elephant, foraged around with her trunk until she came to a tap controlling the supply of steam to one of the winches. She persevered until a terrific clamor brought alarmed deck hands rushing to the scene, to find the winch drum spinning merrily.

They turned the tap off, but as soon as they went away Alice turned it on again, and the wicked gleam in her eyes suggested that she was enjoying the commotion.

After this had happened several times an engineer spoiled the fun by turning the steam off down below. Later the chief engineer (Mr. Robertson) was dozing in his cabin, when a snake-like object floated through the door and passed within a ,few inches of him.

Mr. Robertson leaped out of his bunk and discovered that another elephant had been sending its trunk out on a foraging expedition.

To add to the variety of the trip a savage honey-bear got loose below and led his hunters a merry dance before he was recaptured. Snarling angrily, the animal was about to leap at Captain Bull, master of the Lutana, but luckily its dragging chain got caught in an obstruction and pulled the bear up abruptly.

- Barrier Miner 13 December 1933



1936, Alice was again in the news. At the grand age of 60 years old she was aging gracefully as well as showing her flamboyant and rather colourful character as reported in the articles below:


- Evening Post 11 April 1936
Sourced:Papers Past National Library of NZ Website

ALICE THE ELEPHANT


Stories About the Famous Circus Animal

Alice, the old elephant In Wirth's Circus, is a favourite with children all over the world. During a recent tour of Australasia, while she was being carried with two other elephants on trucks along the railway between Taronga and Wain(?) in New Zealand, she came to a spot which she remembered well. Two years before she had grabbed with her trunk a tree growing near the line. Alice hung on, but the tree could not be budged, and the truck ran off the rails. This year the same thing happened, but this time Alice got her two companions to help her, and this time two trucks were pulled off the line.

Mr. C. W. L. Bride, of Mareeba, North Queensland, tells how he first made the
acquaintance of Alice 23 years ago. Twenty-three years is nothing in the life of Alice, who is one of the longest lived animals in the world. When he met Alice, she was shunting wagons at Port Pirie. He decided to buy her five dozen ripe bananas. Alice watched him keenly while he asked her keeper if he could do so, and when consent had been obtained, Alice made joyful little squealing noises and all but said "Thank you" in words. She pushed the keeper out of the way and made for the bananas, which disappeared in less than two gulps. Back she came for more, but her friend 'showed her that the fruit was all gone, and Alice sadly went back to work.

Alice in More Trouble.

Later in the day he saw her in, a less praiseworthy moment. She and a companion were being led along a side street to the empty, show ground to take a last load. On their way they passed a pair of fragrant fig trees planted on tile side walk in front of a shop. Alice sniffed the fragrance on the breeze, and in a flash broke away from her keeper and charged across to the trees. Her mate followed, and the two stripped both trees of their leaves before any one could stop them. Alice's tail twisted. with Joy as she was at her luscious meal.

The owner of the trees was in despair, but Mr. Bride tells us that six months later they were flourishing as well as ever.

- Western Mail 6 August 1936

The Great Wirth's Circus Hoax of Princess Alice's 'great age'

Across Australasia throughout the 1920's onwards, a new myth emerged that Alice was the oldest elephant in captivity. Wirth's claimed Alice was over 100 years old. Doris Wirth in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1937 claimed the elephant was 150 years old.
"For a number of years now, Alice, our old elephant, has been employed in carting our trappings to trains and elsewhere. Molly has been in the habit of assisting her. One day Alice set off with a load and a little later, was dismayed to see that not Molly, but another elephant was assisting her. Alice did not pause to think. She broke her harness and almost galloped to Molly's quarters
"Molly was sick and Alice comforted her in elephant fashion. It was the most amazing display of affection I have seen among animals. “
Princess 150Years Old.
"Do you see old Princess over there? Well, she is 150 years old, and at one time was in the London Zoo. She is tired and wrinkled, and is allowed to do much as she pleases. Some years ago Molly was a terror. She was always fighting and breaking away, and we used to chase her on a pony we called Maori. Molly could never get completely away, because Maori could jump fences while Molly had to push them over."
-Interview of Doris Wirth Sydney Morning Herald 6 April 1937

Through out the papers of the times, Alice's age varied from 97 years old to 150 years old. The story so carefully tended by the Wirth Brothers blossomed into claims, in some newspaper reports, that Alice was actually the former companion of P.T. Barnum's African Elephant Jumbo. However, I can't find any record of her being alive in the time frame that this Alice's story covers according to the Elephant Data Base the Alice in the possession of Barnum & Bailey's Circus was an African Bush Elephant, not an Asian elephant so it is not her- there was another Elephant at Barnums also named Alice who was an Asiatic elephant but she was killed in a fire during the 1880's.




In 1941 Alive made one of her last public appearances.....


CIRCUS PARADE FOR LORD MAYOR'S FUND.

Tomorrow, in aid of the Lord Mayor's Comforts Fund, Wirth Bros' Circus will parade in the city streets for the first time for nearly half a century.

Alice, the elephant, who is said to be more than 147 years old, will lead the parade, which will begin at 12.30 p.m. The route will Include -Oxford, Elizabeth, Hunter,George, Liverpool, and Riley Streets.

The Wirth family has given the proceeds of the last 11 days or the circus's Sydney season to the Lord Mayor's Fund.


- Sydney Morning Herald 30 April 1941



The Death of 'Princess Alice' 24 November 1941

On November 25th 1941 Alice finally ended her days as being one of the oldest known elephants in captivity. She passed away at the grand age of 65 years old at Wirth's Circus in Melbourne.

Death Of Oldest Elephant In Captivity
MELBOURNE. November 24.
"Princess Alice." claimed to be the oldest elephant in captivity in the world, died at Wirth's Circus early tonight. She was 157.
Princess Alice was a popular at traction at Regents Park Zoo. London, for many event's, and was a contemporary of Jumbo She was 'brought to Australia more than 35 years ago.
- Advertiser 24 November 1941
For the last nearly 100 years speculation over what happened to Alice of Wonderland City came up with two theories. The first that she had been shot and buried on the beach the other was that she had ended up at Moore Park in Sydney. The entire time Alice had been under everyone's noses right there in the papers, performing in the Wirth's Brother Circus under the show name of 'Princess Alice'.

In 2008 Alice was celebrated in contemporary sculpture in an exhibition by Artist and Sculptor Rod McRae.
Images of the collection Sculpture by the Sea' can be viewed on the Sydney Daily Photo Blog


Postscript:

WILL THE REAL ALICE PLEASE STAND UP!

During my many hours of searches I found reports of an 'Alice' belonging to Wirth's Circus after 1941. There is a record of an 'Alice' being transferred to Melbourne Zoo in 1952 with her death recorded at an unknown location in 1956. Who this elephant Wirth's Circus had after 1941 really is, at this stage, still a complete mystery - what we do know is that it was not the Alice of Wonderland City.

Since the time of writing this blog post further information has come to light about the other elephant named Alice at Wirth's Circus. There were indeed two with the same name. I suspect the second Alice arrived with a shipment of 8 others circa 1923. It's possible she was originally named 'Mary' as her age fits about the age of the mother elephant. 'Mary' was around 35 years of age when she arrived from Thailand with a calf at foot. Once 'Princess' Alice had died in 1941 then the second 'Alice' took over the role of being the star of Wirth's along with the myth that she was over a century old. The lifespan of elephants is around 70 years at most. It's been a century since Wonderland City was closed down for good. The Waverley Library are currently updating their records and doing a special booklet about Alice and Wonderland City. I was only glad that I was able to answer a 100 year old mystery as what had happened to the elephant at Wonderland City.

FURTHER READING:
Multimedia:
Wirth's Circus Film Circa 1925 on Australian Screen
Wirth's Circus on Youtube


4 comments:

  1. I love this post! What a lot of research you have done. I am so interested in it because my husband has spent his entire career at our national zoo. In their past, some critters arrived in their collection as a result of a circus moving through town and trying to recycle their animals...also, foreign countries sometimes "gift" animals. Today, however, there are strict collection policies that make these sorts of random animal adoptions practices a thing of the past.
    Such good work and by the way, thank you so much for "stopping by" recently, Liz!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Patricia!

    It took me a while to write this and I'm seeing glitches there already. I just happened to read about her in the article about the auction and after researching three others which I still have to write of two of them Alice caught my attention. There seemed to be no or little background on her. Indeed perhaps she was a footnote in history but I discovered an elaborate ruse it seems by Wirth's Circus so have more than one Alice. So will the real Alice please wave her truck. This has resulted in a second post being cooked up I think.

    CITES Treaty and of course the specialised global approved programmes for endangered species have now replaced the old days of gifted and traded animals. Zoos and circuses were huge in the wild animal trade. We now see organisations like Big Cat Rescue Trust in Florida for example taking up the slack to rescue unfortunate Big Cats that people still even now are allowed to keep as pets. Eventually I hope that will not be allowed.

    I loved visiting your blog again after such a long time and I will be visiting now on a regular interval I have missed my wonderful bloggy friends.

    Love to you
    Liz

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  3. Lovely piece of work. I found you while searching for Tamarama and although knowing about Wonderland I had no idea they had Alice there. Wonderful :)

    Mark - who played at Tamrama many times as a child.

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  4. Hello Mark

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The mystery of what happened to Alice the elephant remained such for 100 years. Many so I've been told tried to find out but didn't manage to locate what had happened to her. Rumours included her being sent to Moore Park, or being shot and buried on the beach. After a little digging thanks to the wonders of the NLA digital newspapers I found her whereabouts after Wonderland City days. If you contact Kimberley at the Waverley Library at Tamarama she can also help you with Wonderland City history and would be happy to hear your stories of playing at Tamarama as a child. She has been a fantastic help and was thrilled to know that at last the mystery of Alice the Elephant was solved.

    All the best and again thank you for your thoughts and sharing
    Liz

    ReplyDelete