Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria




Self-Inflicted Wounds

In the decades that followed the gold rush, Melbourne was an energetic and at times anarchic city. Frederick McCoy's vivid accounts of fatalities and near-death experiences resulting from mishandling snakes in public places provide an idiosyncratic window into the evolving metropolis.

He inadvertently described the struggle to understand a newfound environment and its creatures, as some curious colonists tried to turn a profit from Victoria's most dangerous natural resources.

... a police magistrate bitten on the arm by a Tiger Snake, died in 24 hours; a man named Underwood, a well known vendor of a supposed antidote, was bitten in public by one of this species and was dead within an hour; another man named Cartwright, exhibiting some of these snakes, was bitten and also died within an hour. Dr. Casey, of Brighton, reported a case in which a man died within a half hour of the bite; and a man named Griffiths, handling some of these snakes as an exhibition at the Port Phillip Club Hotel, was bitten by a Tiger Snake, and died in less than half an hour. The symptoms seem to be much alike in all cases if snake-bite, viz.:-At first faintness and slight convulsions, then sickness of the stomach (probably a reflex action from the brain), with trembling and weakness in the limbs ; the pupils of the eyes dilated, a tendency to sleep, and then total paralysis and coma immediately preceding death.


Historical Voices:
Tiger Snake
Tiger Snake, Notechis scutatus, by Arthur Bartholomew.
The Port Phillip Club Hotel in Flinders Street.