Our story begins at Melbourne’s first amusement park, the Cremorne Gardens, which opened in 1853 on the banks of the Yarra. A paddle-steamer crowded with pleasure seekers could often be spotted meandering its way down the river from Princes Bridge to Richmond.

Based on the English concept of a pleasure garden, Cremorne played host to all manner of adult entertainments including concerts, fireworks displays, and even tightrope walkers. An elaborate rotunda housed an orchestra and an open air dance floor.

DIagram illustration of Cremorne gardens including location of lake, band stand, menagerie, pathway, railway line and River Yarra
Cremorne Gardens plan. Courtesy of Richmond Local History Photograph Collection, Yarra Libraries; RL00087
Black and white illustration of Cremorne gardens as it appeared in 1862
Cremorne Gardens, 1862. Engraving by Samuel Calvert; IMP20/12/62/8
Black and white photo of Cremorne Gardens rotunda
Cremorne Gardens Rotunda. Courtesy of Richmond Local History Photograph Collection, Yarra Libraries; RL00084

Another entertainment on offer was the menagerie, which was a collection of wild, often exotic, animals kept for display. They were a precursor to the modern zoological gardens, which became the zoos we are familiar with today. Menageries demonstrate our eternal fascination with the animal kingdom. At the time, they gave people the unique opportunity to lay eyes on animals never before seen in Australia.

At its largest the Cremorne menagerie included an orang-outang, a bear, camels, elephants, and even lion cubs, born in captivity.

Colour illustration of exotic animals, including a tiger, a lion, monkeys and an elephant in small cages inside animal menagerie. A man in a top hat and tails is showing people around
Exeter ‘Change, Strand. Drawn by Tho. H. Shepherd, courtesy of the Picture Collection, British Library; 014598531

In 1863 the owner George Coppin experienced financial difficulties and was forced to close the Cremorne Gardens. It is at an auction that we first hear of Wallace the lion.

The Leader reported:

…the menagerie attracted many more spectators than buyers, and tigers and monkeys seemed but in poor demand. The only animals disposed of were Wallace, the African lion, and his lady, which were secured by the proprietor of the City Buffet, for the sum of £100. (The Leader)

Possibly this is Wallace and his mate – Wallace being known for his distinctive black mane.

Black and white photo of lion tamer stands beside lion and lioness in cage.
Lion & lioness, ca. 1860-1869; H2004.55/36

That cafe incident

Wallace’s new home was the City Buffet — a café and hotel on Bourke Street — later called the Palace Hotel. It was run by a man called by William Stutt, and stood out from its counterparts by virtue of its urban zoo, located in an outdoor courtyard.

The Age reported:

For a few weeks past, the City Buffet has had on view… the largest captive lion and lioness in the world…The lion, which is of the black-maned African species, is about ten feet long in the body, and about four feet high…His great stature and fine main gave him a most noble appearance. (The Age)

Black and white photo of large male lion in cage
A photograph of lion. Photograph by Alfred Edwin Wallis;  H96.160/510

In 1866 several papers reported on a curious court case. The plaintiff was Peter Peterson, who on a visit to the City Buffet hotel had ventured beyond the protective fence, stuck his hand in Wallace’s cage, and attempted to stroke him.

Peterson walked away from the encounter with one less finger and a severely lacerated his hand. He proceeded to sue the café owner for damages inflicted by what he called the ‘fierce and mischievous lion.’ (Bendigo Advertiser) The matter was brought before the court, and the jury acknowledging that Peterson’s injury was due to his own wilful stupidity, found in favour of the defendant, and Wallace was exonerated. (The Argus)

A place to call home

William Stutt, evidently came to the realisation that a café was no place for a lion, and hearing that the Acclimatisation Society was keen to expand their zoological collection he eventually sold Wallace and his mate to the Melbourne Zoo. 

Black and white illustration of lion and lioness in cage
Our zoological collection: the lions; A/S20/03/75/193

Melbourne Zoo is Australia’s oldest zoo. Its founding organisation, the Zoological Society of Victoria, formed in 1857, and established a small collection of animals housed in temporary enclosures at the Royal Botanic Gardens. [1]

In 1862 a permanent home opened at the Royal Park site we know today. Initially the zoo was important for the acclimatisation of domestic animals nearly arrived to Australia.  It was only with the appointment of Albert Le Souef as zoo director, that more exotic animals were actively procured for public display, and the gardens and recreational areas were developed.

Black and white illustration of animals roaming freely in Royal Park. Several ladies and gentlemen watch on
Acclimatisation. Animals in the Royal Park, 1862; IAM25/09/62/172
Black and white illustration of monkeys swining in cage at zoo
Sunday at the Royal Park, 1881; IAN06/04/81/77
Black and white photo of elephant standing next to man at Melbourne Zoo
The elephant, Melbourne Zoo, 1886-1887. Photograph by Charles Rudd; H39357/169

By the 1880s the zoo was firmly established as a popular pastime.  On Sundays, entrance was free, the place was so crowded with eager visitors that police had to provide crowd control. [2] Side shows, musical performances and opportunities to get up close and personal with the animals were all part of the experience.

Black and white illustration of members of the public in nineteenth century dress queuing to go in to zoo
Paying day at the zoo, 1881. Engraving by George Rossi Ashton; A/S09/04/81/121
Black and white photo of male lion in cage at zoo
Lion in Royal Park Melbourne, ca.1860-1930; H2012.90/77

The pair were likely the first lions to be exhibited at the Zoo and for many years were the leading characters in the collection. Wallace was particularly famous for his love of classical gramophone music. It is said that he ‘listened attentively with a dreamy, far off look in his eyes’. [3]

In 1887 the lioness died of natural causes, and so affectionate was her husband Wallace, that he fretted greatly and succumbed the following year to join her. (Mount Alexander Mail) The pair were said to have been together 20 years — quite an extraordinary love story.


[1] de Courcey, Catherine, 2008, ‘Zoo’, Encyclopedia of Melbourne 

[2] As above

[3] Montagnana-Wallace, Neil,  2012, Melbourne Zoo and You: 150 years, Bounce Books, Thornbury, Victoria

Further Reading

Neil Montagnana-Wallace, 2012, Melbourne Zoo and You: 150 years, Bounce Books, Thornbury, Vic

Civil Case Files, Peter Peterson v William Stutt, 1866/2735, VPRS 267, P0007, 111, Public Records Office Victoria

Civil Case Files, William Stutt v Peter Peterson, 1866/2912, VPRS 267, P0007, 111, Public Records Office Victoria

Le Souëf Family Archives Guide to Records, The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre

You may also like

This article has 1 comment

  1. HI SLV – This set of stories is great. I did notice that when the Trades Hall was opened in April1859, a Wallace the King of the Lions and his queen were doing tricks. This is four years earlier than the article suggests. Here is The Age from 23 April 1859.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *