A Tale of Two Brothers

Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1913) was a German trader of wild animals who founded Circus Carl Hagenbeck, one of the most successful in Europe. Hagenbeck is often considered the father of the modern zoo as he was the first to recreate natural living spaces for animals without any bars of cages. The Hagenbeck animal collection went on to become the renowned Tierpark Hagenbeck in Hamburg-Stellingen.


in 1886, John Hagenbeck (1866-1940) who was 22 years younger than his half-brother Carl, set sail for Ceylon and set up a business in the outskirts of Colombo, In addition to catching and dealing in wild animals, John Hagenbeck dabbled in many business enterprises and the brothers purchased several plantations where they grew tea, coffee and cocoa.

The earliest known poster of Ceylon is one from 1883 promoting Carl Hagenbeck’s Singhalesen-Truppe, a Sinhalese dance troupe that performed at Umlauff’s Welt-Museum in St. Pauli, Hamburg. There also exists a few posters from Carl Hagenbeck's Ceylonese exhibition held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington, London circa 1886.

By 1890, Hagenbeck plantations were shipping large quantities of tea and cocoa to Germany where they were sold under the brand name Hagenbeck Thee. Several examples of Hagenbeck tea posters can be found in museums and in private collections.

Carl passed away in 1913 and John Hagenbeck continued with his business enterprises in Ceylon until the First World War when his properties were confiscated by the authorities. He left Ceylon and only returned at the end of the war. In 1922, he published Funfundzwanzig jahre Ceylon (twenty five years in Ceylon), which chronicled his experiences as a wild animal catcher, trader, sportsman, and planter. In 1936 the Government once again listed John Hagenbeck and an enemy alien and seized his property and liquidated the company assets. Hagenbeck and his Ceylon born wife were sent to an internment camp in Diyatalawa where he died shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. Habengeck's Zoological Gardens Company and his collection of wild animals became the Dehiwala zoo in 1936.