Alberton the Elephant

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It had always been assumed that the Ranee, the first elephant  at Melbourne Zoo was the first elephant in Victoria.  Ranee,\ whose story features on this blog site was ousted today by a chance discovery.  While chatting on social media with another writer, the subject of elephants came up, as it would and I was advised that an ancestor of the writers had purchased an elephant from Siam and imported it into Australia via Tasmania. This  chance communication sent me scurrying off to Trove and there  I  unearthed additional information.

Edward Martins did indeed purchase an elephant for the princely sum of £175 in the early 1840’s and transported the animal to Gippsland.  To the town of  Alberton.  Alberton is a small town in  Victoria. It is located along the South Gippsland Highway, 6 kms south of Yarram and 216 kms east of Melbourne .  The township was surveyed in 1842 and named after the Price Consort, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.  It seems both the town and the Elephant shared the royal name.  Thank you, Archie for sending me off on the trail of Alberton the Elephant.

The following is a transcript from Trove’s archival material and tells the story of the Gippsland Elephant.

REMINISCENCES OF EARLY GIPPSLAND. BY ” LIGHTWOOD.”

The present generation can form but a small idea of the struggles and difficulties encountered by the early settlers in the forest encumbered areas of Gippsland fifty year ago. For it must be remembered that in those days of giant enterprise, the difficulties of the land were calculated to appal even the most determined of the pioneers. Huge forests of eucalypti and box reared their lofty trunks to heaven, in that fierce struggle-for existence which dominates all nature. Thick undergrowth of ti-tree and other scrub defied the puny efforts of the settler, and mocked at his patient resolution. The dingo was a terror in the land, and eternal vigilance was the price to be paid for relief from his incessant depredations. Gradually the efforts of settlement made themselves apparent amid the pristine profusion of the bush, and the wanton growth of forest trees centuries old ; gradually the towering timber yielded to the axe and saw; gradually the undergrowth disappeared before the advance of the settler; and smiling homesteads, surrounded by fruitful orchards, and half hidden by a wealth of lightwood, willow and wattle, delight the eye of the traveller, where once the desolation of the scene was broken only by wandering herds of kangaroo and emu; feeding along the grassy slopes of the fern lifted creeks.

In the year 1838 the present writer’s forbear landed at Port Phillip from the sailing ship Bonnie Chiel. This was the first vessel to leave Liverpool direct for the port, and had been chartered for the purpose by the members of three families, the voyage out occupying some six months. Shortly after their arrival the voyagers selected nearly all the area of Brighton under the then existing land act. They stocked their land with some 1800 sheep, but were not successful, the country proving unfit for stock. After a sojourn of about seven years at Brighton, where the immigrants had profitably engaged in various speculations, they moved to Yarram, in South Gippsland.

After this time a travelling circus had arrived at Port Albert from Tasmania, and being in a state of financial collapse, parted with its menagerie at auction. The elephant a fine specimen of its kind-fell to the bid of one of the party who had a penchant for big game, for the sum of £175. The sight of the huge beast was a veritable revelation to the blacks, who now beheld the tusked monster for the first time, and were lost in terror and amazement. The enter prising owner of the beast mas waited on by a selected deputation of the dusky tribe, by whom he was held much in awe, as the possessor of a “debbil-debbil.” The animal’s trunk especially excited their curiosity, an aged black eagerly inquiring, “how white fella make him big fella carry two fella tail.” The elephant eventually proved more of a nuisance than a help, for though he would work well, he was exceedingly mischievous, and did a lot of damage sometimes. He was employed, inter alia, to drag the sledge, which carried the water from the distant creek. Frequently -on the completion of this task, however, he would remove the bung from the cask, and alter slaking his thirst and showering himself all over with his trunk, allow the residue of the water to run to waste. The climax came when, in the dead of night, he forced open the kitchen door, smelt out the trough of bread which had been set to rise, an., after gorging himself therewith, amused himself by flinging the rest about the walls and ceiling. The tea and sugar chest having also claimed his attention, the appearance of the kitchen in the morning was such as to justify the rope’s ending “his nibs” received at the hands of his master. He turned sulky at this, broke away to the bush, and was never again seen alive. Some twelve months after his skeleton was found many miles away in dense scrub, the actual cause of his demise remain ing a mystery.

1903 ‘REMINISCENCES OF EARLY GIPPSLAND.’, Traralgon Record (Traralgon, Vic. : 1886 – 1932) , 20 February, p. 3 Edition: MORNING., viewed 13 Dec

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About lindandsam

Linda is a poet and writer. She is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) completing Bachelor of Creative Writing. Published in the USC Storyboard, 2015. Self-published ‘Where is Gedhum Choekyi Nyima?’ For the Tibetan Children’s Village, Dharamsala, 1997. She lives in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and shares her life with her partner and their four-legged fur babies Hugo and Tashi-la, and their second-hand book shop.

3 responses »

  1. Hi, LInda; I’ve just sent you another Trove article on FB that contains ‘facts’ contrary to the above article, bearing in mind that history gets muddled, even in the 160 years or so since Uncle Edward bought the elephant. Other articles say that the Martin brothers named the shire after Albert, the first white baby born in the new settlement. This is probably why creative non-fiction is a good vehicle for historical writing. The notion that Uncle Ed, despite his reputation for abnormal physical strength, could run twice as fast with a 22 stone man on his back than an unencumbered runner, is fanciful to say the least—see article following the one you’ve posted here. The elephant stuff looks about right according the other information I’ve gathered. Cheers, Linda. Archie.

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