A Zoological Curiosity at the Town Hall 1877

“The head and body and voice are decidedly pussy’s; but there the relationship with that useful domestic animal ceases…”

john Gould's Tasmanian kangaroo rat 1863

Courtesy of Museum Victoria
John Gould print image of the Long-nosed Potoroo
Potorous tridactylus(formerly known as Hypsiprymnus apicalis)
Photo from Mammals of Australia, Vol. II Plate 68
Part of the 3 Volumes by John Gould, F.R.S.
Published by the author, 26 Charlotte Street, Bedford Square, London, 1863

The Waywardness of Nature
Photographer Thomas J. Nevin began exhibiting stereoscopic views and carte-de-visite portraits at Hobart Town Hall shows in the late 1860s. Once he became the Town Hall Keeper in 1876, and Office-Keeper in 1877, he not only managed a busy calendar of show events, he staged a few of his own. This newspaper article, published on 8 May 1877, invited the public to visit the Town Hall where he was displaying a mutant kangaroo rat, the only one in a litter of kittens bred from a domestic cat by Thomas’ father John Nevin at Kangaroo Valley (near New Town, Hobart Tasmania).

A Zoological Curiosity at the Hobart Town Hall
Thomas Nevin’s mutant kangaroo rat
Report in
The Mercury 8 May 1877


“A ZOOLOGICAL CURIOSITY. — Mr. Nevin, Town Hall keeper, yesterday brought to our office what Artemus Ward would undoubtedly have christened “an interesting little cus.” It is of the feline order, and has a perfect black coat. The head and body and voice are decidedly pussy’s; but there the relationship with that useful domestic animal ceases. The legs belong to the order of kangaroo rat, and it is quite amusing to see the little stranger perch himself up on his haunches, or drag himself slowly along by the aid of the fore part of the fore legs, which instead of being erect, as in the cat, falls flat on the ground, and so produces that roundness of the body which is the marked feature in the kangaroo. The animal is one of a litter of kittens bred by Mr. Nevin’s father, at Kangaroo Valley, and strange to say it is the only one in which are present the singular malformations which we have attempted to describe. Mr. Nevin will gladly show his curiosity to anyone who may call upon him during the next two or three days, and if there are many people in Hobart Town who take an interest in the waywardness of nature, he may expect to have quite an influx of visitors before he closes his show. ” (The Mercury, 8 May 1877)

Artemus Ward
John Nevin would have been familiar with the writings of American humorist Artemus Ward  from his time spent in the Californian gold mines ca. 1854-1858, a lonely episode in his life which he remembered with bitterness in his poem, “My Cottage in the Wilderness” published in 1868. Read the full version of the poem in this article here.


“A. Ward and his grate show” (from the original sketch by George Hoyt)
Source: Non Solus blog

John Nevin probably owned a copy of the works of American humorist Charles Farrar Browne (aka Artemus Ward), with this passage in mind when he spoke to the Mercury reporter:


To the Editor of the——
Sir—I’m movin along—slowly along—down tords your place. I want you should rite me a letter, sayin how is the show bizniss in your place. My show at present consists of three moral Bares, a Kangaroo (a amoozin little Raskal—t’would make you larf yerself to deth to see the little cuss jump up and squeal) wax figgers of G. Washington Gen. Tayler John Bunyan Capt Kidd and Dr. Webster in the act of killin Dr. Parkman, besides several miscellanyus moral wax statoots of celebrated piruts & murderers, &c., ekalled by few & exceld by none. Now Mr. Editor, scratch orf a few lines sayin how is the show bizniss down to your place. I shall hav my hanbills dun at your offiss. Depend upon it. I want you should git my hanbills up in flamin stile. Also git up a tremenjus excitemunt in yr. paper ‘bowt my onparaleld Show. We must fetch the public sumhow. We must wurk on their feelins. Cum the moral on ’em strong. If it’s a temperancecommunity tell ’em I sined the pledge fifteen minits arter Ise born, but on the contery ef your peple take their tods, say Mister Ward is as Jenial a feller as we ever met, full of conwiviality, &the life an sole of the Soshul Bored. Take, don’t you? If you say anythin abowt my show say my snaiks is as harmliss as the new-born Babe. What a interestin study it is to see a zewological animil like a snaik under perfeck subjecshun! My kangaroo is the most larfable little cuss I ever saw. All for 15 cents. I am anxyus to skewer your infloounce. I repeet in regard to them hanbills that I shall git ’em struck orf up to your printin office. My perlitercal sentiments agree with yourn exackly. I know thay do, becawz I never saw a man whoos didn’t.
Respectively yures,
A. Ward.
P.S.—You scratch my back &Ile scratch your back.
ARTEMUS WARD (1834-1867)Title: The Complete Works of Artemus WardAuthor: Charles Farrar Browne (AKA Artemus Ward)

Thomas Nevin and his father brought another specimen from Kangaroo Valley into the newspaper offices six months after putting on display their mutant kangaroo rat. This time it was a wounded white Tasmanian goshawk which The Mercury duly noted in an article of 22 January 1878. The detailed references in that article to John Gould’s Handbook of Australian Birds (1865) would indicate the family’s keen interest in native fauna and ownership of several volumes of Gould’s handsome books on birds and mammals. The Public Library housed in the upstairs rooms of the Town Hall was also part of Nevin’s purview as Keeper, giving him ready access to such gloriously illustrated tomes. And out the back of the Town Hall was a paddock where he kept an emu, possibly a rare native specimen which died in 1878, also reported by The Mercury on 22 July 1878 as an Ornithological Disaster , another zoological item belonging to Mr. Nevin.

Tasmanian Rat-Kangaroo (Potorous tridactylis apicalis)

The Red List
The Chromosomes of the Tasmanian Rat-Kangaroo (Potorous tridactylis apicalis)
Margery W. Shaw, R.S. Krooth
Department of Human Genetics, The University of Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan
Cytogenetics 1964;3:19-33 (DOI: 10.1159/000129795)

The Kangaroo Rat, 1790
Creator Stone, Sarah, ca. 1760 – 1844
Poto Roo or Kangaroo Rat ca. 1790
State Library of NSW Call no. PXA 909/27