When Prince Alfred returned to Australia in 1870, he brought with him a four-year-old elephant that had been presented to him by Sir Jung Bahadur, the ruler of Nepal. It was perhaps an appropriate gift, insofar as the prince was known to be greatly impressed by these majestic animals, although he did rather enjoy hunting them in the wild.
The young elephant was employed hauling coal on the docks at Galle (Sri Lanka) and reportedly could do the work of as many as thirty men, making re-coaling steam ships much quicker. The attention of the sailors on board the prince’s ship, HMS Galatea, was drawn to the elephant. A few tried to ride the animal others offered it biscuits and buns. The elephant’s placid nature and playful spirit soon won the sailors’ affection, the more so when the buns were soaked in beer.
Dubbed “Jung” after its former owner, the elephant was renamed “Tom” by the sailors. When HMS Galatea arrived in Sydney, Tom was stabled a Neich’s “Bath Arms” hotel on Burwood Road (corner of Parramatta Road). The stables there were amongst the largest in the colony and importantly, made of stone. They were also far enough from Sydney to avoid the curious crowds of onlookers as well as those who wanted to poke Tom with a stick, throw stones or pull his tail. Tom was housed at the rear of the hotel with a sentry posted to keep out intruders, but also to suggest to him, that it might be a good idea to go inside when it was time to sleep. Like most four-year-old children, Tom would only go reluctantly, and was known to play tricks on his guard by scooping up a trunkful of hay and throwing it at the sentry as he walked past the door.
Leaving Sydney, the prince continued his round-the-world tour taking Tom with him to New Zealand. The prince brought with him a veritable menagerie of birds, an opossum and a giant tortoise described in the Christchurch Star as:
“…a beautifully marked specimen of his genus, and chiefly serves as a pedestal for children to stand upon all day. For that matter, he appears willing enough to fulfill the office of a pedestal in one particular spot forever. There are several other living curiosities on board the Galatea, amongst them an ethereal-looking Chinese boy, and a minute, jet-black, negro sailor. They generally run in couples.” (Christchurch Star, 23 December 1870)
Tom was accompanied by his mahout, for whom he showed great affection, and the aforementioned tortoise. The mahout was dropped off at Galle on the return voyage. Something that caused Tom to grieve for many weeks. It is not known what happened to the tortoise.
Once back in Plymouth, Tom was unloaded and placed on a train for London. Recognising Tom’s loss, the prince asked recently retired horse trainer, Corporal Mathew Paton, to look after Tom on the journey. Unfortunately, Tom became startled and kicked down the partition of the horse box in which they were travelling, in the course of which Paton was crushed to death.
Tom proceeded to London where he was housed at the London Zoo for several months until transferred to the royal estate at Sandringham. At the insistence of the Prince of Wales, Alfred’s older brother, Tom was again transported to Liverpool and finally to Dublin Zoo. Here for many years, he gave children rides and became a much-loved favourite. On his death in 1882, his skeleton and hide were preserved in Trinity College Zoological Museum in Dublin, affectionately known as Dublin’s “Dead Animal Zoo”.