Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

It all started off innocently enough. The British India steamer ‘Nalgora’ departed Calcutta in early November and arrived in Fremantle Harbour on 28 November 1931, carrying a cargo of gunnies (coarse, heavy fabric) and bananas. After its arrival, the unloading of the cargo began almost immediately and it was at this point, that a monkey was spied on deck.

The alarm was immediately raised and the crew quickly ran to check the two cages on board. One was found to be open and part of their cargo (18 of the 36 rhesus monkeys bound for the Melbourne Zoo) had all escaped.

Rhesus Monkey

Under the Quarantine Act, each monkey was attached with a £50 bond to ensure that they reached their proper destination. If the monkeys were landed elsewhere (which, I suppose, technically they were) the bond would be forfeited. There was far too much money at stake. The search was on!

The crew first began by investigating every nook and cranny on the ship. They scoured the decks, cabins, rigging and boats and after giving chase, found and recaptured 10 of the monkeys. It was at this point however that a man, evidently in a rush, brought with him a message that two monkeys had been seen crossing the overhead bridge, leaving Victoria Quay and headed for James Street.

Several members of the crew went into Fremantle to continue their search and, according to the media, the monkeys led them on a “lively chase”  through the streets; sending them clambering over rooftops in order to catch their rogue cargo.

Scampering off the ship the monkeys scurried from the wharf, and showed their delight at again having their freedom, by climbing to the tops of buildings in Adelaide-street.

Searching for Monkeys

Several were eventually caught. One headed for the safety of the rooftop of the Congregational Church in Adelaide Street and eluded capture for some time. Another proved to be overwhelmingly troublesome and after scampering across the rooftops of a couple of two-storey houses on Queen Victoria Street, soon made his home in a drain pipe where he refused to budge.


By the 30 November, The Daily News reported that 14 had so far been recaptured. The search was ongoing and now included the Chief Officer, Wireless Operator and four of the crew of the ‘Nalgora’. One monkey was soon located on McLeary Street in South Fremantle which took the total found to 15.

Reports alluded to the fact that the only way the monkeys could’ve escaped from their cage was because someone had opened it. Sadly for the monkeys, one person’s foolish (or selfish) act was to result in dire consequences for them. Desperate, and with three monkeys still on the loose, guns were brought in.

By the 2 December it was reported that two of the three remaining monkeys had been found. One had made it to Beaconsfield while the other was the aforementioned monkey that had made its home in the drain pipe. It had become stuck and a plumber was called in to remove the pipe and extricate the monkey.

The ‘Nalgora’ was due to depart Fremantle on the 2nd. Just before it sailed, the final monkey was spied hiding beneath the wharf. The reports in The West Australian and The Daily News differ. The West reported that the monkey hiding under the wharf was caught after giving chase and a different monkey (which had been on the roof of the Hotel Orient) was shot in the leg with a pea-rifle bullet and his injury was attended to. On the other hand, The Daily News went into further detail by stating that the monkey had been hiding under the wharf but could not be recaptured easily. The pea-rifle was used but without the happy ending printed in The West.

Jacko eluded his would-be capturers in the gloom beath Victoria Quay until yesterday morning, when his liberty, which threatened to cost the ship quite a lot of money, was ended by a bullet from a pea rifle.

It’s a rather heartbreaking end to what initially started as quite a humorous story. But, there is some hope. After the ‘Nalgora’ arrived in Victoria, the Captain, J H Hughes, had to make an official report with respect to the escapade at Fremantle. While the article contained detailed descriptions of where the monkeys were caught throughout the port town, the final paragraph stated:

The agent (Mr. C. R. Duncan) has offered a reward for the monkeys still missing.



2 thoughts on “The Great Monkey Escape

  1. What an amazing story.

    1. Jess says:

      Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for leaving a comment. 🙂

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