10 October 2005
SOON to turn 175 years of age, Harriet the Galapagos Tortoise – possibly the world's oldest living creature – is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Children's author Robin Stewart has written a book, Darwin's Tortoise, about the animal that lives at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast.
Harriet was first taken from her home on the Galapagos Islands off South America by English naturalist Charles Darwin.
It is thought that Harriet was hatched in 1830. Five years later she and two other were collected by Darwin and taken to England aboard his ship, The Beagle.
The three, then named Tom, Dick and Harry, were cared for by Darwin, but five years of freezing English winters and a lack of sunshine reduced them to virtual hibernation and they were taken to Australia, arriving in Brisbane in 1842.
Their saviour was John Clements Wickham, after which Brisbane's Wickham St and Wickham Tce were named. He was a first lieutenant on The Beagle with Darwin and, having been offered a job as police magistrate in Australia, offered to take the tortoises to save them from a certain death in the cold climate.
For a time the three tortoises lived at Old Government House, Brisbane, and in 1860 they were moved to the Botanic Gardens where they entertained people and children were allowed to ride on their backs.
Dick died in the late 1880s while Tom died in 1949.
In 1958, the zoological gardens were closed and Harry was taken to Fleay's Fauna Reserve on the Gold Coast.
In 1960, a visiting director of Hawaii's Honolulu Zoo examined Harry and found he was a she, a move that prompted the name Harriet.
After 40 years at Fleay's, Harriet was "retired" to the Australia Zoo.
Three other tortoises are believed to have lived to a greater age than Harriet but have died.
Stewart has aimed her book at the children's market, but it seems the remarkable story of Harriet is just as appealing to adults.
Do you have any old photographs or film of Harriet? If so contact The Courier Mail. Publishers Black Inc of Melbourne are seeking old photographs or amateur footage of Harriet. The owner of the oldest photograph will be invited to Harriet's birthday party at the Zoo on November 15.