This asset features a male and a female thylacine standing in their favoured habitat of grasslands and dry eucalypt forest - called a 'tiger' or 'wolf' by Europeans, the thylacine was the world's largest marsupial carnivore; it was somewhat shy, always avoided contact with humans and was not related in any way to tigers or wolves; incorrectly thought to be endemic to Tasmania, these seminocturnal animals once also lived in New Guinea and were widespread on the Australian mainland 7,000 years ago but died out there about 2,000 years ago, possibly as the result of competition for food with dingoes.
It shows the striped markings and heavy semirigid tail that distinguished the thylacine - other features were its relatively large head, a wide gaping mouth and a stiff gait when moving; fully grown males measured about 180 cm from nose to tail tip, stood about 58 cm high at the shoulder and weighed up to 30 kg, while the females were smaller; thylacines were usually mute but were capable of husky coughing barks when excited and terrier-like double yaps when hunting; the usual litter size was three, and the tiny hairless young attached themselves to teats inside their mother’s backward-opening pouch before they became big enough to leave, staying hidden in caves, nests or hollow logs while their mother hunted.
It illustrates the only mammal to have (probably) become extinct in Tasmania since European colonisation as thylacines have not been officially sighted for the last 70 years - between 1888 and 1909, the Tasmanian Government placed a bounty of £1 on the thylacine’s head and the combination of hunting, snaring, trapping, poisoning, disease and habitat destruction decimated the thylacine population; thylacines survived in zoos for up to nine years, but were never bred in captivity, the last thylacine died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936.
It is a reproduction from an initial sketch by John Gould, who is best remembered for his superb colour-plate illustrations of birds - Gould was a skilled entrepreneur and he developed an international network of specimen collectors, artists and administrative agents, who worked together to produce at least 500,000 individual hand-coloured plates under his name.
It is an example of lithography, a printing process that enabled prints to be produced from drawings made on highly polished chalky limestone blocks using special crayons - the block was washed with nitric acid and wiped with gum arabic, then made wet before applying an oily ink that adhered only to the greasy crayon; paper was placed on the stone and put through a special printing press, transferring the ink to the paper to produce a mirror image of the original drawing; a wash, similar to watercolour, was applied with a brush to individually hand-colour each plate (print); the blocks could be sanded back and reused.