16 November 2005
ENGLAND ’S Queen Victoria was in her teens.
Australia was just a penal colony.
Electric light had not been discovered.
The city of Perth in Western Australia had just been founded.
That was in 1830 and that was the year that the tortoise Harriet was born. And she has seen a lot of changes in her time. While the pace of life has sped up over the years, Harriet has continued to take every day in her typical slow way. Perhaps the secret to her longevity?
Harriet is a grand old lady, celebrating her 175 th birthday this year. The giant land tortoise from the Galapagos Islands, whose current home is Australia Zoo, is reputedly the oldest living creature on earth.
(It should be mentioned here that this wonderful creature was known as Harry right up until 1960 when an inspection revealed that the old man was actually an old woman and her name changed accordingly.)
Charles Darwin found Harriet in 1835 when he sailed to the Galapagos Islands. She was only as big as a dinner plate so Darwin packed her in a wooden box and they set sail back to England.
Harriet lived with Darwin until 1842 when, after five years of harsh English winters and a lack of sunshine reduced Harriet to a state of virtual hibernation, she journeyed back across the ocean to Brisbane.
A variety of homes provided new experiences for Harriet and she finally settled in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in 1860. During her 98 years of residence at the Gardens, Harriet delighted children by giving them rides through the grounds. In 1958 Harriet moved to Fleay’s Fauna Reserve. Harriet’s last journey was in 1987, to her permanent home at Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast.
Of her 175 years of ponderous existence on our planet, 163 years of Harriet’s life has been spent in Queensland. Acclaimed children’s author Robin Stewart has written the book Darwin’s Tortoise, which tells the remarkable story of Harriet the giant land tortoise. Australia Zoo celebrated Harriet’s birthday with a giant party and giant cake last week.
Happy birthday Harriet, and may there be many more to come.