Tiger Hotel Tantanoola

tiger hotel 1940s

The Tiger Hotel, Tantanoola, South Australia 1940s

The two Tantanoola tigers

IN 1884 near Tantanoola in South Australia’s south east a Bengal tiger supposedly escaped from a travelling circus. A search was mounted, but the tiger was never found. The South Australian Register reported on Tuesday 2 May 1893:

Mount Gambier, May 1.
It is said that a tiger roams the country in the Tantanoola district, killing the stock. It is believed that it escaped as a cub from St. Leon’s Circus thirteen years ago.

Over the next few years, there were many reports of missing sheep in the area and some suggested that the sheep had become the prey of the missing tiger. Eleven years after the tiger went missing a local man, Tom Donovan, saw what he thought was the Bengal tiger in a paddock with a sheep in its jaws. He took a shot at it with his gun, hitting the animal in the side.

tiger 1896

The Melbourne Punch February 13 1896

As it turns out, it was not a Bengal tiger, but a Eurasian wolf – equally out of place in the Australian environment. It is thought that the wolf was a stowaway on a boat that was shipwrecked off the coast, but managed to make it to the shore.

The wolf was stuffed and remained in the possession of Donovan until it was placed on display in the Railway Hotel at Tantanoola.

The owner of the Railway Hotel, established in the 1870s, took advantage of the legend and the name of the business was changed to the Tiger Hotel in March 1906.

tiger hotel 1911

The Tiger Hotel, Tantanoola 1911

tiger 2

The stuffed wolf at the Tiger Hotel in the 1940s

 The Border Watch reported the death of Donovan on Thursday 14 September 1950:


Mr. Tom Donovan, the man who shot the “Tantanoola Tiger,” died in Mount Gambier on Tuesday at the age of 94 years.

The “Tantanoola Tiger” became almost a legend in this district, and Mr. Donovan was always closely associated with it. When he lived at the Glenelg River, he had the animal on show there and later it was removed to Tan-tanoola after it was purchased by Mr. V. A. Willshire to be displayed in the bar of the “Tiger” Hotel.

The tiger is believed to have been a Siberian wolf, which es-caped from a shipwreck, or a type of wolf which was lost in 1880 by a circus travelling between Mount Gambier and Millicent. After ravaging the Lower South-East for 10 years it became Australia’s most famous animal, next to the bunyip.

Mr. Donovan shot it in 1895.

Though Mr. Donovan has passed on, his name has been perpetuated at the Glenelg River, where official recognition has been given to a community known as “Donovans.” He was a champion shearer in his young days, but for more than 40 years, made his home at the River. He lived quietly there with his wife, fishing, shooting and milking a few cows.

The Donovans celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in February, 1942, but nearly five years later, in December, 1946, Mrs. Donovan died. The funeral is taking place this afternoon at 3 o’clock at Mount Gambier.

This photograph of the late Mr. and Mrs. Donovan was taken on the occasion of Mr. Donovan’s 80th birthday.


Mr Donovan and his wife. This picture was taken on Mr Donovan’s 80th birthday

For fifteen years after the shooting of the wolf, however, sheep continued to go missing from the area. A policeman from Adelaide eventually went to investigate and arrested a local man for sheep stealing.  The Murray Pioneer reported on Thursday 26 June 1947:


With the recent removal of the stuffed Russian wolf to the Tiger Hotel Tantanoola, the subject of the Tantanoola Tiger has again been raised. I happened to mention the matter to Lindsay Humphries, of Renmark, this week, and he, whose fund of general knowledge always amazes me, wits able to tell me a story right from his home ground.

Lindsay hails from Tantanoola. It was about 1891, he told me that the Tantanoola tiger first became a phrase. Mr. Humphries’ mother, who is still living in the South-East, remembers the morning when two little girls arrived at Tantanoola school almost stiff with fear – they had seen a tiger, they told the teacher. It appears, my informative told me, that this first “tiger” had actually been a fox among the trees, with the shadows throwing stripes across its body.

Soon after, some poultry and sheep were killed in the neighbourhood and everyone set out tiger hunting. Among the huntsmen’s bag was a red deer, a stray from Bome bred in a nearby area – and the Russian wolf, which Mr. Humphries describes as resembling a mangy alsatlan dog.

It was 20-odd years before the “tiger” raised his head again. Sheep were disappearing in large numbers on the property of Lindsay’s grandfather.

After protracted police inquiries it was discovered that the sheep’were being taken into a big patch of dense Utree and being slaughtered. The Carcases were being covered with titree and the skins sold. Eventually a court conviction was recorded, but not until some four hundred sheep had been disposed of by the second and final Tantanoola tiger – a human one.

Robert Charles Edmondson (pictured) pleaded guilty to killing 78 sheep, belonging to James Chand, a farmer of the district. He was sentenced to six years’ hard labor. The case was the sequel to the sensational ‘Tantanoola tiger’ scare.
tiger hotel 2017

The Tiger Hotel, Tantanoola as it looks today. Photo: Google Streetview

Categories: Australian Hotels, South Australia Hotels

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