BURRELL's Platypusary

At the turn of the 20th century, naturalist Harry Burrell developed his own small menagerie in Manilla. He had begun his research into the platypus after being shown the animal living in the waters around Manilla and wanted very much to bring a platypus up from the riverbank to add to his zoological collection. But the platypus, Harry found, was no ordinary land dweller and his early experiments to keep one confined, soon failed. One or two issues stood in his way - the utterly relentless demands of keeping a monotreme fed and - housing a river dwelling egg-laying mammal, on dry land. 

Burrell worked through several designs before ending up with a satisfactory enclosure, which replicated the platypus' burrow system, allowing him to keep several of them captive for a limited amount of time. The final 1910 model he dubbed a "Platypusary" and although efforts to keep the animals away from their habitat failed, the unit was compact and mobile, meaning that platypuses could be transported. Such a novel creature would be a prized exhibit and many were sent by this method to Sydney's Moore Park Zoo in the early years of the 20th Century.

Burrell's  mobile platypusary was subsequently made to order for several private collectors and organisations and his container would eventually take live platypus off into the wider world.

Platypusaries were constructed for animal dealer Ellis Stanley Joseph's several attempts to take  the monotremes to America, between 1916 and 1922. His last attempt to land them in America was for him, a minor success, but “a stunt of some concern” to Mr. Burrell, resulting in just one platypus surviving the journey.

Harry Burrell with Platypusaries

The long trip by sea resulted in the death of four of the five taken; then an arduous journey for the last one surviving, overland by rail across the American continent. This last platypus was put on display at New York's Bronx Zoo, surviving just a few weeks.

Museum information panel


MANILLA HERITAGE MUSEUM keeps a replica of BURRELL’s Platypusary, built to scale for the Burrell Memorial project in 1991, along with copies of Harry’s correspondence with his peers, kindly contributed to the Manilla Community Archives by the American Museum of Natural History and The Australian Museum.

To New York in a Platypusary 



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Images: Manilla Community Archive unless otherwise stated.
Text Edits: ©Diana Nichol  2000-2020    http://historyofmanillansw.info   E: manillahistory@gmail.com |  http://nicholarts.com.au

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