Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Government Bounty

From Frederick McCoy's descriptions it appears that the Grey Nurse Shark and White Pointer were the most feared 'man-eaters' of the Victorian imagination.

McCoy did not provide actual accounts of shark fatalities, as tended to be the case when he described venomous snakes. However his perception of the imminent danger posed by sharks was shared by a colonial government concerned for the welfare of its citizens, along with the profitability of its fishing industry.

He reported of the Grey Nurse Shark:

The great quantity of fish fit for the table devoured by this species induced the Government a few year ago to place large sums on the estimates to prevent its increase, by offering a reward to the fisherman for each one killed according to its size; and for want of authentic figures of the different species to refer to, the authorities were ludicrously imposed upon by the fishermen bringing myriads of the harmless little blunt-toothed Dog-fish and other small species of Sharks, which they gravely presented as the young of this gigantic one, and got paid for, at so much a foot, to the amount of many hundreds of pounds.

Its geographical range is very great, extending to the Cape of Good Hope and to the American coast, where individuals are often found to have remains of men and clothing in them when cut up; and it is the commonest of the large sharks seen swimming round our bathing enclosures in Hobson's Bay.

Now known not to be a 'man-eater', the Grey Nurse Shark is locally extinct in Port Philip and adjacent waters.

Historical Voices:
Grey Nurse Shark
Banded Wobbegong/Broadnose Sevengill Shark, Orectolobus ornatus/Notorynchus cepedianus, by Frederick Schoenfeld.
Grey Nurse Shark and School Shark, by Frederick Schoenfeld.