(Hobart Zoo, from a photo at the State Library of South Australia.)
It is with regret that we have to announce the death yesterday of Mrs. Roberts, of ”Beaumaris” Hobart. She was in her 81st year. When well advanced in age, she developed a hobby for zoological studies, and established at her home a collection of examples of Tasmanian fauna that made her famous amongst nature lovers. Her private zoo had been visited by many thousands of people. She had shipped specimens to the London Zoological Gardens, and also to other zoos, and was probably the greatest authority on the character and habits of the Tasmanian devil and the Tasmanian tiger. She was the widow of Mr H L Roberts, one of the founders of the firm of Roberts and Co Ltd, Hobart, which is still managed by members of the family.
The Mercury, 28 November 1921
From Australian Dictionary of Biography:
“In 1877 Mary and her husband built Beaumaris on two acres (0.8 ha) of land between Newcastle Street and Sandy Bay Road. Mrs Roberts was interested in birds: her aviary may have been started in her former home, Ashfield, but the major hobby-collection she developed in the grounds of her new home became the basis of the Beaumaris Zoo, opened to the public in 1895.
“Mrs Roberts had no formal scientific training, but was skilled in animal care. Her zoo, set in attractive gardens, became noted for its display of thylacines as well as birds. The first Tasmanian zookeeper to attract international attention to indigenous Tasmanian fauna, she was elected a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London in 1910. She was well known as the first to breed Tasmanian devils in captivity, publishing a study of her achievement in the society’s Proceedings of 1915.
“Mrs Roberts joined in many social issues. Concerned for the welfare of native animals, she founded the Game Preservation Society and the Anti-Plumage League (1910) and was responsible for the Royal Society of Tasmania’s campaign to strengthen the State’s protective legislation. She helped to found the Tasmanian branch of the Girl Guides’ Association, was a council-member of the Art Society and the Mothers’ Union, committee-member of the National Club and Young Women’s Christian Association and a delegate to the Tasmanian National Council of Women. She also belonged to the Royal Society of Tasmania, Victoria League, Hobart District Nursing Association, Cat Society, (Royal) Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Avicultural Society, Tasmanian Field Naturalists’ Club, Linnean Society, Liberal League, Queen Mary Bridge Club and the Orpheus Club.
“Mrs Roberts had strong moral views (disapproving of a 1912 pantomime because of the brevity of the mermaids’ costumes) and was intensely patriotic. She raised a fund to erect a statue to King Edward VII and during World War I ran charity afternoons at the zoo, often with vice-regal patronage; when St David’s Cathedral refused to lend seats for a Belgian Relief Day she transferred her religious allegiance to St George’s, Battery Point.”
Photo: “Hobart ‘Beaumaris’ 82 Sandy Bay Rd” by J.T. Collins, form State Library of Victoria
The death of Mrs. H. L. Roberts is a clear loss to the community; how far that loss is to be reckoned permanent and irreparable depends upon public opinion. On her own initiative, and at her own expense, Mrs. Roberts established and maintained a zoological garden on a small scale, but quite unique. Beginning without scientific training or any special knowledge, and taking the thing up as a hobby, she very soon gave to this collection of birds and animals a special and personal character. It became known among scientific people all through Australia and beyond, and men of eminence in the scientific world were pleased to receive and to answer letters from Mrs. Roberts regarding the life habits of Tasmanian fauna. The question now, which is of public importance, is whether this work is to die with Mrs. Roberts. It cannot be expected that her executors will carry it on for the public benefit, but we have no doubt that they will give any possible help in any proposal that it be carried on for the public of Tasmania. Primarily we should say this is a matter in which the Royal Society should take the lead, and if it does so, sup- port should not be lacking. The Government and the City Council are both concerned in what is a national work, and which also has a special Hobart interest. The work begun and carried on by Mrs. Roberts is too big and important to be allowed to go by the board for lack of public interest.
The Mercury, 29 November 1921
We learn that the whole of the valuable collection of animals belonging to the late Mrs. Mary Roberts has been offered by that lady’s family to the trustees of the Tasmanian Museum and Botanical Gardens to form the nucleus of a Zoological Garden which would be fitting memorial of Mrs Roberts’ work and long services to tho public It seems that many offers have been received from would-be purchasers the Beaumaris Zoo, acceptance of which would entail the removal from Tasmania. This, it will be generally agreed would be a sad loss to the State and a real disgrace if permitted when it could be avoided, the distinctly Tasmanian character of the collection being its chief feature. If the animals are suitably housed on an agreed site and money sufficient to maintain the Zoo is provided, the Trustees are willing to undertake responsibility of management, and they estimate that the annual cost would be about £800 reducible by charging admission fees. This very generous offer on the part of Mrs. Roberts’ family we are pleased to bring before the public, who will doubtless be unanimously in favour of its favourable consideration by the Government in order that the Museum trustees may carry out this scheme even if the financing should necessitate the admission charge as suggested.
The Mercury, 8 December 1921
To the Editor of “The Mercury,”
Sir.–I was very sorry to see that the Premier was not able to accept the very generous offer made by the family of the late Mrs. M. G. Roberts. As one who has long been interested in our native birds and animals and their preservation, may I join in the wish ex-pressed in your paragraph on Saturday, namely, that our city fathers may see their way clear to accept the offer which the Government has refused? Might I point out that the collection is of the greatest value, and contains some of our nearly extinct animals, and if it is not secured now the loss will be little short of a calamity.
A small portion of the Domain could be fenced off with wire netting and a small charge made for admission to the zoo, where the birds and animals could be seen in almost their native habitats. Trusting that our city fathers will not miss this unique opportunity. –Yours, etc
A. L. BUTLER.
The Mercury, 19 December 1921
Messrs W. A. and G. A. Roberts, together with Mr A. L. Butler and the trustees of the Tasmanian Museum, met the Reserves Committee of the City Council yesterday morning and discussed with the committee the proposals concerning the Beaumaris Zoo. The Museum authorities stressed the value of the collection, and the generous nature of the gift, as well as dealing with the general position as regards upkeep management, etc. The committee is to consider the question and report to the next meeting of the council which is to be held on January 9, the Messrs Roberts having kindly consented to leave the generous offer open until that date/
The Mercury, 24 December 1921
FREE GIFT TO CITY COUNCIL.
THE OFFER TO BE ACCEPTED.
The Reserves Committee reported to the City Council last night that an offer had been made through the trustees of the Tasmanian Museum for the transfer of the Beaumaris Zoo to the City Council as a free gift in memory of the late Mrs Mary Roberts.
The trustees of the Museum and the late Mrs Roberts’s estate conferred with the committee, and, after discussing the matter, it was resolved to approach the Government for some financial assistance. A letter was accordingly sent to the Premier, and a reply had been received, stating that in order to assist the Council to retain the collection in Tasmania the Government was prepared to submit, for the consideration of Parliament, a proposal to provide a subsidy of £280 per annum towards the cost of the maintenance of the zoo on the understanding that the City Council undertook all responsibility for buildings, management, and upkeep generally.
The committee had under consideration a proposal whereby Mr A. R. Reid, a taxidermist with a wide knowledge of the habits of Tasmanian animals and birds, would take over the management of the zoo.
The committee recommended that the generous offer of the trustees of Mr Roberts’s estate be accepted with thanks, provided the Government will grant a subsidy of £250 per annum.
The committee had not yet decided the question of a suitable site, and would submit a report on this later.
In moving the adoption of the report, Alderman Williams said the gift included not only the birds and animals, but all the houses and wire netting needed for them. It was a larger collection than the committee at first thought. In regard to the question of a site for the zoo, the committee had that day inspected St David’s burial ground, Queenborough reserve, and Sandy Bay, but all those sites had been turned down. Then they inspected the old sandstone quarry opposite Government House, and they were all agreed that it would be an ideal site. They did not want to lose the zoo, and, though there would be a growing expense in connection with it, they recommended that the Council should take it over.
The report was adopted
The Reserves Committee then report ed that it was of opinion that the old sandstone quarry, almost opposite the entrance to the Government House grounds, was the most suitable locality for the Beaumaris Zoo.
The report was adopted, on the motion of Alderman Williams and Lord.
17 January 1922
Current Occupants of the Zoo (following above article).
The City Council’s new Beaumaris Zoo, situated in the Queen’s Domain, will be officially opened on Friday afternoon. No charge for admission will be made on that day, but on subsequent days the charge will be 6d. for adults, and 3d for children under twelve years. The hours of opening are to be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The Zoo will not be open on Mondays.
The Mercury, 31 January 1923