Wild tigers did not exist within the borders of Hong Kong in the early 1900s, or so zoologists had believed.

But a tombstone in Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley tells a different story.

On March 9, 1915, Ernest Goucher was attacked by one of the big cats while on duty in the New Territories.

He had been investigating the death of a villager in Sheung Shui who had reportedly been killed by a tiger.

Residents had run into Fanling police station earlier that month to report sightings of a tiger on the loose, but had been dismissed - officers putting it down to "the Chinese propensity for exageration", according to South China Morning Post reports at the time.

Only after the reported death of the villager did police take action.

Goucher went to investigate, and was attacked by the big cat. He initially survived and was rushed to Government Civil Hospital.

His colleague Indian constable Ruttan Singh was also killed, the tiger even biting him once he was already dead on the ground. 

Their colleague Constable Holland then emptied his revolver into the beast, preventing it from killing others.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, Goucher was left with a broken arm and "terribly lacerated about the loins". He died at Government Civil Hospital three days later.

Independent ecologist Andy Cornish happened upon Goucher's tombstone while exploring Happy Valley Cemetery over the Ching Ming weekend.

It reads: "In loving memory of Ernest Goucher, a native of Belph, Mansfield, Nottingham, Constable, Hong Kong Police, who, while on duty in the New Territories, was mauled by a tiger and died from his wounds on March 12, aged 21 years old."

Cornish says, "By complete chance I found this remarkable gravestone in the Hong Kong Cemetery. The poor chap died almost exactly 100 years ago [today]."

The tiger was killed on March 9, 1915, when Assistant Superintendent of Police Donald Burlingham arrived at the scene with reinforcements and shot dead the animal, which had retreated into the trees.

It measured 2.2 metres from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. It was a metre high and its paws were 15cm across. It weighed 131kg. 

The dead cat was exhibited in City Hall the day after it had been shot and thousands of people lined up to see it.

For 60 years, its stuffed head was mounted above the entrance of Central Police Station.

Now on view in the Police Museum, among collections of triad paraphernalia, old uniforms and other fascinating memorabilia, the Fanling tiger is a major attraction.

While tigers were not native to Hong Kong in 1915, the South China tiger once roamed freely across southern China, sometimes briefly entering the New Territories. As late as the 1950s, there were about 4,000 of these animals in the wild.

Today, the subspecies is considered to be "fully extinct", according to the WWF; there have been no sightings in the wild for over 25 years.  

As recently as the mid-1900s, Hong Kong had been in the range of these big cats.

In 1965, a senior girl at Diocesan Girls` School reported seeing a tiger on Tai Mo Shan, although the sighting was never confirmed.