When Lions ran rampant at the Jetty

The year was 1953 when Coffs Harbour was overrun by 'big game hunters' when a van carrying five lions and being pulled by an elephant collided with a train and the animals escaped.
The year was 1953 when Coffs Harbour was overrun by 'big game hunters' when a van carrying five lions and being pulled by an elephant collided with a train and the animals escaped. Information and research by Mich

CAN you imagine the scene, a pride of lions and an elephant running free on Jetty Beach as locals tried to work out what to do?

The year was 1953 when Coffs Harbour was overrun with 'big game hunters' with theories on how to recapture a troupe of circus animals running wild on Jetty Beach.

The dilemma arose after a van carrying five lions and being pulled by an elephant collided with a train and all the animals escaped.

As the story goes armed citizens, along with members of the 13th Battalion with rifles, roamed the area (and were probably in more danger from each other than from lions).

Two lions were recaptured soon after the escape and a third was caught on the Jetty, however the remaining pair were not caught until just after 9am the next morning.

Sadly, the elephant injured in the accident did not recover from its injuries and died a few weeks later.


The first edition of The Advocate printed in Coffs Harbour in 1907.
The first edition of The Advocate printed in Coffs Harbour in 1907. contributed


A masthead of history

THE Coffs Coast Advocate celebrates 110 years of publishing in 2017 and to mark the milestone we have opened the archives to reflect on the great history of the Coffs Coast.

We will run a weekly flashback to a big news headline over the years and we invite readers to take part sharing their images and stories.

Email your historical stories to us at, message us on Facebook or call 66502969.


Way back when Coffs was a fledgling town

COFFS Harbour's population in 1906 peaked at 524.

Though a newly developed town, it was rapidly growing. Local news had been featured in the Raleigh Sun for the last ten years, yet there was an increasing need for the town to have a newspaper of its own.

In 1907, Raleigh Sun proprietor Mrs Elizabeth M. Campbell established a newspaper operation in High Street.

Mr James Sawyer ran the newspaper on behalf of Mrs Campbell.

The paper was four pages long and printed on a small hand-operated press, servicing the communities of Coffs Harbour, Dorrigo, Orara, Coramba, Bucca, Woolgoolga, Glenreagh, Raleigh and the Lower Clarence.

This proved to be the Advocate's humble beginning.

Sydney Daily Telegraph reporter Mr Ashton first travelled to Coffs Harbour in 1905.

At this time he noted that Coffs Harbour was occupied by "a small hotel, post office, a store and, perhaps, three or four other buildings."

On his return to the town in 1907, he noted that now Coffs Harbour featured "the small hotel, thrice enlarged, and now undergoing still further enlargement, this time brick; a bank, a public school, a courthouse, two halls, several general stores and miscellaneous business places... a newspaper, a doctor, a dentist, two lawyers, three clergymen and seven auctioneers."

An article published in the Advocate at the time stated:

"In every direction there is evidence of prosperity in the town of Coffs Harbour; judging by the number of buildings that are being erected. In the main street, extensive business premises are being erected for the Messrs Latimer by Mr M. McFadden; while near the Crossroads, Mr W. Herd is erecting a two storey shop along the street, Mr Price is erecting business premises. Private residences are going up all over the place."


Early growth on the new frontier


In 1908, Coffs Harbour continued to expand, with The Advocate reporting a population "explosion".

"A police census has revealed that the population of Coffs Harbour, those living within a one-mile radius of the police station, totals 770. This was an increase of 251 from the same time a year earlier."

With the growth in population came a growth in business. There were two areas of town:

"The Jetty" and "Top Town." The Jetty was home to businesses such as a branch of the City Bank, the Pier Hotel, several shipping agents and timber companies.

A telegraph office opened and the post office was upgraded to include money orders facilities.

July saw the establishment of a telephone exchange, however this would not run a continuous service until 1912.

Meanwhile, "Top Town" - or Coffs Harbour proper - featured a produce and bulk store on the corner of Moonee and High Streets, and a two-storey emporium on the corner of Grafton and High Streets.

The shipping and timber industries boomed. More than 400 ships stopped at the Jetty throughout the year, taking both cargo and passengers to and from the harbour.

Meanwhile, Coffs Harbour exported 2.75 million super feet of timber over a two year period, with a sawmill located at the current site of Coffs Harbour High School.

Both the Pier and Fitzroy (now the Coast) Hotels were open for business, while local business owner Murdoch Stewart McLean purchased the town's first motorcar.

Topics:  coffs coast advocate coffs harbour headlines in history history

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