A menagerie at sea

It is said that good company makes a journey seem shorter. But what if you are at sea for a month, travelling with a large collection of exotic Indian fauna?

Andy Duncan booked passage on the S.S. Janus, a steamer that sailed between India and Australia transporting whatever would turn a profit. Regular cargo on the Australia to India run was brumbies for the Indian army. The ship was fitted to carry over 1,000 horses on four decks.

In December 1911 the Janus’ 900 tons of cargo included zoological specimens for Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

NEW ARRIVALS AT PERTH ZOO (1912, January 3), Great Southern Herald, p. 1. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
NEW ARRIVALS AT PERTH ZOO (1912, January 3), Great Southern Herald, p. 1. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Also on board were

  • a porcupine
  • a mongoose
  • toucans
  • two spotted deer
  • two Arabian sheep, “said to be double-tailed”
  • “some 60 members of the simian race”, including four barefaced monkeys and two baboons
  • Indian tea and jute fabric
  • 876 bales of branbags

Andy was one of forty-nine passengers and crew.

Imagine the trip to Australia. The smell of horse sweat and manure probably remained from previous journeys. Screeches from the caged monkeys would have punctuated the air, over the rhythmic clanking of the steam engine.

A later traveller on the Janus recalled,

It was a big steam engine that rattled all the time… Some damned steam pipes that went through our cabin gave off an everlasting bang, bang, bang!  But you get used to anything if you’re with it long enough and are tired enough

On reaching the Australian coast, the final weeks of the voyage must have dragged, docking at Fremantle then Adelaide then Melbourne before finally arriving in Sydney. At each port Andy probably said a fond farewell to the birds and animals as they were unloaded.

S.S. Janus voyage timeline

Dec 5 1911  Left Calcutta

Dec 14 1911  Left Colombo

Dec 28 1911  Left Fremantle

Dec 30 1911  Passed Breaksea Island (near Albany Western Australia) heading East

Jan 2 1912  Arrived Adelaide. Arrived at the Semaphore anchorage on Tuesday evening and berthed at McLaren Wharf on Wednesday morning

Jan 4 1912  Left Adelaide

Jan 6 1912  Arrived Melbourne

Jan 12 1912  Arrived Sydney


Schultz, C., 1995. Beyond the Big Run. University of Queensland Press.

Featured image: S.S. Janus photograph by Allan C. Green. State Library of Victoria. H91.108/1923

Where am I from?


It’s not so straightforward to say where home is after living in numerous places in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Australia again. I sometimes feel homesick for Japan, though my wife asks how an Australian can use that word about Japan.

Now I live in Geelong, Victoria. As I’ve learnt more about my forebears I’ve been surprised to find how many of my earliest Australian ancestors lived or passed through Geelong. Five of my great-great-great grandfathers were here in the 1850s.

  • Two free-settler British ancestors first set foot on Australian soil here, John Nicholls from Cornwall in 1849 and Henry Palmer from Kent in 1852. John was a miller, Henry a bricklayer.
  • Another free-settler, Somerset labourer Solomon Ball, married Frances Victoria Hemmens at Christ Church, Geelong, in 1855.
  • One of my convict ancestors spent some time in Van Diemen’s Land first, but later came this way. Henry Steward, transported for 14 years for stealing a velveteen coat and a pair of trousers, came to Geelong around 1846 after receiving his conditional pardon. He worked as a carpenter and stonemason in Geelong district. Henry buried four of his children during his ten years in Geelong.
  • During the gold rush George Powell walked 85 kilometres from Ballarat to Geelong to deposit his gold in the bank. Riding a horse would have made George a potential target for bushrangers, so he chose to walk.

Gold, land or work drew all these families to Ballarat, where I was born generations later. I am proud of my Ballarat history, but it also feels right to have put down roots in Geelong.