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Thomas Paine Bellchambers
1858 - 1929

"There is the evil that comes from the destruction of valuable links in natures chain, on which man's very existence largely hangs.”

T. P. Bellchambers

Tom Bellchambers was well known as a naturalist and conservationist and was most notable for his study of and life long passion for Malleefowl. In 1914 he became the first person to breed Malleefowl in captivity.
Tom was born in England in 1858 and emigrated to Australia in 1874. He had an intense interest in the environment, nurtured by his mother, and in 1905, at the age of 47, he bought some land in the Mount Lofty Ranges and started the Humbug Scrub Wildlife Sanctuary. Tom and his wife Eliza lived on the Sanctuary with their 10 children. Tom died and was buried in the Sanctuary in 1929.
Tom wrote many articles for local papers on the topic of conservation and the native flora and fauna. He also wrote two books, Nature: Our Mother” and “A Nature-Lovers Notebook”, both of which are available in PDF format from the National Library of Australia at the following addresses:

“Nature: Our Mother”
“A Nature-Lovers Notebook”

The following extract is from “A Nature-Lovers Notebook”, published in 1931:

In the story of Hoohow & Hoola I am making a special plea for the preservation of the wild life of the Australian bushlands, which generally speaking, is so little valued, and all too swiftly passing. The story is founded on facts gathered over a great number of years, and after the study of many birds, with the idea of presenting a life history of one of the most wonderful forms of the feathered tribe-one of the small group of mound-building birds known as the mallee fowl (Leipoa ocellata). This bird is remarkably intelligent--a born philosopher, an engineer in its knowledge of construction, and a chemist in its adaption of the laws that govern fermentation. As a physicist, too, one would almost imagine that the bird understands the principles of heat, radiation, capillarity, evaporation, and meteorology, for it appears to be able to regulate the temperature and gauge the thermal conditions if its gigantic mound, which acts the part of an incubator.

Malleefowl bred at the Humbug Scrub Sanctuary were supplied to aviculturists across the country, including the Le Souef brothers in Melbourne and Sydney. (The Le Souef brothers, William Henry (1856-1923), Ernest Albert (1869-1937) and Albert Sherbourne (1877-1951) were directors of the Melbourne, Sydney and Perth Zoos around that time and were also trained scientists). In 1924, a pair of Malleefowl bred at the Humbug Scrub Sanctuary were presented to His Majesty King George v.
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"Nature always provides a surplus for legitimate use, far in excess of needs, to ensure continuance of species...unrestrained, man uses up the capital instead of the surplus and this must, by natural law, end in disaster."

T.P. Bellchambers

In his ideas and beliefs, Tom Bellchambers was truly ahead of his time. Thomas Paine Bellchambers was a remarkable man with a remarkable vision. The Humbug Scrub Wildlife Sanctuary has been kept going by the Bellchambers family, with the assistance of Volunteers.

Information on the Humbug Scrub Sanctuary can be seen at:

The following article was printed in The Register, Tuesday 17th February 1914
Mr. J.P. Bellchambers, "Nature Lover
and Zoological Collector, Humbug Scrub,"  
writes:— "It should prove of interest to  
bird lovers to learn that the mallee fowl,
although so shy and retiring of disposition,
has at last been induced t0 carry to a suc-
cessful issue the art of mound-building and
hatching, while in a state of captivity. I  
have several pairs of these birds all reared
in captivity from eggs of wild parents. I
have for some years endeavoured by      
thought-suggestion to get the birds to take
up family duties. At two years old they
would hardly entertain the thought; at
three years they made a start, but in a
very half-hearted way that proved abor-
tive. At four years old they accepted
the suggestion; so I gave them all the            
material required, which they skilfully  
manipulated, and eventually formed into
the orthodox natural incubator-a large  
loose mound inclosing a hot bed composed
of decaying vegetable matter. They        
were seriously handicapped up till Christ-
mas by excessive moisture, which destroyed
many eggs; but during the last two weeks
living chicks are issuing from the mound.
This is, I believe, the first instance on re-
cord of these birds breeding in captivity.  
The birds are confined in an aviary about
35 feet long by 10 to 15 feet wide."  

The West Australian, Saturday 20 September 1924
(By "Mo'Poke.")  
"Nature: Our Mother."
This is the title of a booklet of na-
ture studies by T. P. Bellchambers, price
1s. I can safely recommend it to those
interested in the life of the bush, and
I have enjoyed reading the copy the
author has sent to me. Wandering up
and down the "fringe of settlement,"
Mr. Bellchambers has learned to love
the bush and the folk it shelters. In
his introductory chapter he says: "My
chief reason for entering the literary
world has been that I might possibly
help in some way to a better under
standing of man's relation to the 'all
mother Dame Nature.' “ And whoever  
reads will assuredly have his under
standing in that respect deepened. There
are accounts of ramblings here and
there, and stories of kangaroos, snakes,
birds, and many other bush denizens,
with many illustrations. A long article
on the life and habits of the mallee fowl
has illustrations showing the birds mak-
ing their nesting-mound, the female lay-
ing, the male placing the egg and cover
ing it, the eggs uncovered to show their
positions in the egg chamber, a twelve-
day chick and an egg, and a last one
showing the male replacing material
heated by the sun. Finally there is a
diagram of a section of a mound, show-
ing construction.

In South Australia.
Giving as his address, "Wild Life
Sanctuary. Humbug' Scrub, South Aus-
tralia," Mr. Bellchambers writes: —
"With us this bird (the mallee hen) in-
habits the dry mallee lands, with rain-
fall from 7 to 10 inches. The dingo
and the aboriginal were its natural
checks in primitive times. It is — or was
— one of the most fecund life forms
of our bushlands, not, as some scien-
tists have stated in the past, a member
of a dying type. Undoubtedly, though
this wonderful bird is doomed unless
adequate steps are taken for its pre-  
servation . . . To show what was pos-
sible I took the mallee fowl (Leipoa
ocellata), one of the shyest of bush
denizens, a difficult subject, but a valu-
able and wonderful type. I secured a
pair of birds for experimental work:
they are still living and busy with a  
mound. The female is 15 years old, the
male 14. In spite of adverse condi-
tions—the rainfall here is 30in., some
time reaching 40 — they have built their
mound incubator every years since their
fourth season. Two seasons proved  
disastrous to them, owing to heavy sum-
mer rains and low temperatures. My
greatest success has been during drought
times. I have had as many as 12 chicks
from the pair. Many of their descen-
dants have gone to various zoos, private
sanctuaries, parks, etc." Mr. Bell-
chambers says that the hatching tem-
perature required to produce good re-
rults is from 86 deg. to 96 deg. and that
the earlier eggs laid in August, never
hatch. "The highest number of eggs
laid" he states has been 29. The birds
are strictly monogamic. He says he      
could stock and keep stocked a large
area, providing a surplus of birds— "but
our governments have not realised the
importance of such a work." Mr. Bell-
chambers does not make his point quite
clear: but if he means to advocate that
Government should finance and assist
someone to run a mallee-fowl farm, then
I am afraid Government never will rea-
lise the importance of such a course.
Which I hasten to say, is as much a
matter for regret to me as it is to him.
That Mr. Bellchambers knows some-
thing about mallee fowls is particularly
borne out by his statement that he has
bred these birds for the purpose of
supply the requirements of other States,
"some of which were, I re-
member," he remarks "to the  
orders of the Le Souef brothers, Mel-
bourne and Sydney." The following  
note should appeal to readers interested
in the gnowa: — ''In the life history of
these birds one thing awaits solution:
that is, how the egg becomes reversed
in the catch hole of the egg chamber,
seeing that the egg is extruded large
end first, yet the narrow end down-
ward straight from the act of laying,        
which I have often watched." In con-  
clusion, the writer says his ambition  
is to see a Nature Lovers League form-
ed with branches in every State. Many
will be opposed to such an organisation:
but the time is not far distant when
each State will have its own circle of
naturalists and these, no doubt, will
work hand in hand. “