Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

A Dog's Life

Much of Frederick McCoy's information about snake toxicity was gained through association with a close colleague, George Britton Halford, the first chair of Medicine at Melbourne University.

While conducting his own crude trials, McCoy reported a series of Halford's more clinical experiments on the effects of Tiger Snake venom 'introduced' to dogs in the laboratory.1

The greater number of fatal cases of snake-bites to men and dogs near Melbourne, and most of the experiments by Professor Halford and others to test the power of the poison, and the efficacy of the injection of ammonia into the blood, and other modes of treatment, refer to this species, which is by far the most abundant of all the dangerous snakes of the colony. In Dr. Halford's experiments at the University of Melbourne, of 31 dogs bitten by active Tiger Snakes, 27 died and 4 recovered; the deaths occurring, on the average, in 2 hours 2 minutes. Deputy-Inspector-General MacBeth, causing 29 dogs to be bitten by Cobras found they all died, on the average, in 2 hours 42 minutes, showing that, contrary to the expressed opinion of many Indian practitioners, the Australian Tiger Snake is more rapidly fatal than that of the Cobra. Dr. McCrae, the Chief Medical Officer of Victoria, caused 14 dogs to be bitten by this species of snake, and none recovered. No remedies were used in any of these three sets of cases

Unlike the unfortunate dogs, at least one mouse survived its 'introduction' to a Tiger Snake in McCoy's clumsy colonial experiments:

... I put a live mouse into a box in which I had a Tiger Snake, to feed it, and was astonished to find the next morning that the mouse had killed the snake by biting the back of its neck, and had eaten some of its flesh. Keeping some of these snakes together in a box, I frequently noticed then bite each other vigorously when stirred up, without the poison-fangs producing any ill effect.

Historical Voices:
Tiger Snake
Tiger Snake, Notechis scutatus, by Arthur Bartholomew.
Professor George Britton Halford.


1Transactions article.