The saga of Boyd’s Zoo

Boyd’s Zoological Gardens was a commercial enterprise established by John James Boyd in Upper Aramoho, Whanganui in 1909 after he had imported a lion and lioness, a tigress, and breeding pairs of bears and black buck antelopes, together with four macaws, two vultures and two demoiselle cranes from a zoo in Hamburg, Germany. The New Zealand Graphic published the following photo of some of his animals in the recently opened zoo in their issue on 9 February 1910:

New Zealand Graphic. Zoological gardens in Wanganui, 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19100209-19-1.

Soon he must have expanded his menagerie because a photo published by the Graphic of 13 July 1910 includes an emu. This photo also shows his vultures:

New Zealand Graphic. In the Wanganui zoo – an interesting collection, 1910. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19100713-23-1.

However Upper Aramoho did not prove to be a good location, with poor attendances at Boyd’s zoo. Early next year he decided to move to Auckland. On 17 May 1911 the New Zealand Graphic published the following photo of the animals, including a forlorn-looking bear, about to be moved to Auckland:

New Zealand Graphic. Going to Auckland, 1911. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZG-19110517-29-1.

At this time there was no other zoo in Auckland, so naturally the local journals were also excited by this coming attraction. On 27 July 1911 the Auckland Weekly News included the following photo of Boyd’s menagerie, which now included Australian cockatoos and domestic poultry:

Auckland Weekly News. About to change their place of residence, 1911. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19110727-11-1.

Specifically, Boyd chose to establish his zoological garden in suburban Onehunga. He purchased 6½ acres of land near the corner of Symonds Street and Trafalgar Street for his new commercial enterprise. On 6 July 1911 the Weekly News included the following photo showing the construction of cages and houses for Boyd’s zoo on his Onehunga site.

Auckland Weekly News. Building the Auckland zoo, 1911. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19110706-12-2.
Boyd also applied to import further animals for his zoo. To do so he had to meet strict public health regulations about the care and maintenance of the animals. He complied with all Government health regulations, and then started expanding his animal collection. On 10 August 1911 the Weekly News included the following photos of more animals from Australia and even more exotic, faraway lands:

Auckland Weekly News. To be treated with respect. A noble pair of leopards for the Onehunga zoo, 1911. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19110810-16-1.

Auckland Weekly News. Australian visitors. Wallabies for the Onehunga zoo, 1911. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19110810-16-2.

After Onehunga Borough Council issued a permit for the zoo, Boyd’s Onehunga Zoological Gardens opened with great fanfare. For the first few years crowds flocked to see the animals and other entertainment attractions put on there. However before long the council began to receive residents’ complaints about the noise and smell emanating from the zoo. Presumably standards of hygiene and care for the animals’ welfare had deteriorated, and later photos of sad animals in overcrowded cages also indicates this. In 1914 the council passed its first by-law which seemed likely to close Boyd’s zoo down:

Auckland Weekly News. Soon to be withdrawn from exhibition, 1914. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19140319-51-1.

Despite this, Boyd’s Zoological Gardens managed to survive. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in an attempt to thwart his enemies Boyd audaciously stood for Onehunga Borough Council in the 1917 council election. And his fellow councillors endorsed him as mayor! But the zoo’s bad smell followed him into the council chamber. Soon afterwards an embarrassing situation arose when council officers had to notify their mayor that he must remove the large advertising sign outside his zoo in Symonds Street.

After his opponents also alleged Mayor Boyd had abused his public power to act in his own private commercial interest, and he was then judged to have actually breached the Municipal Corporations Act, the mayor wisely stood down. However the final blows were struck when there were reports that lions had escaped on two different occasions from Boyd’s zoo:
Press, Volume LIII, Issue 16096, 29 December 1917, Page 8.

On a later occasion a lion escaped into Symonds Street, bounded down Trafalgar Street and rampaged down Queen Street, terrifying some of Onehunga’s citizens. Mr Boyd’s son, Edward, was finally able to recapture it, but the council was now resolved that the zoo must go. Boyd was notified he must close his zoo or legal action would be taken to do so.

Boyd fought a vigorous rearguard action to keep his zoo open. His lions were obviously the main problem. On 6 October 1921 the Weekly News published two photos of bored and frustrated lions in their overcrowded cages:

Auckland Weekly News. Some of the lions at the Onehunga zoo which have been the cause of considerable litigation, 1921. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19211006-34-6.

In an attempt to avoid the new council bylaw’s fines for keeping large animals within Onehunga Borough, Boyd took his animals on tour in trucks and travelling caravans around towns in southern Auckland and Waikato.

According to Edward Boyd, matters came to a head when his father was threatened with charges of animal cruelty and had to leave his animals for 13 days continuously at the zoo to give them room to exercise while he improved their travelling caravans. This gave the council grounds to successfully prosecute him.

Auckland Weekly News. Wanted – a zoo for Auckland, 1922. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWNS-19220622-31-2.

Finally Mr Boyd was forced to close his Onehunga zoo in 1922. He managed to sell some of his animals to private buyers. According to the Weekly News, the rest would have to be put down unless Auckland City Council bought them for a new zoo somewhere else in the city. The City Council decided to save the animals, and they became the basis for the menagerie at the new Auckland Zoo which was opened on 16 December 1922 at Western Springs.

Author: Christopher Paxton, Heritage Content and Engagement

Further reading

Janice C. Mogford. The Onehunga Heritage. Auckland: Onehunga Borough Council, 1989.