Thomas Bell: A Monograph of the Testudinata

London: 1832-1836
Sp Coll f276

A pioneering dental surgeon by profession, Thomas Bell was also an eminent zoologist who was an expert on crustaceans. He became Professor of Zoology at King's College in London in 1835 and was a founder member of the Zoological Society of London. His Monograph of the Testudinata is said to the first comprehensive account of tortoises. Bell aimed to describe all known species for the first time, including newly discovered varieties.

The work was published by subscription between 1832 and 1836; eight parts were produced, each containing five plates. Although highly acclaimed, its publisher ran into financial difficulties and production of the parts ceased before the work was completed. The unsold parts and unpublished plates were bought by the publisher, Henry Sotheran, and the work was eventually published completely in 1872 as Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles. This later book contains twenty more plates than the original monograph, ordered slightly differently.

The magnificent plates form the best collection of illustrations of tortoises, terrapins and turtles ever produced. Since many were drawn from living specimens, they are lifelike in both pose and colour. James de Carle Sowerby (1787–1871) made the drawings; from a formidable family of nineteenth century naturalists, Sowerby had helped to found the Royal Botanic Gardens but he is probably now better known for his many book illustrations. Edward Lear, now remembered for his nonsense verse, was responsible for producing the lithographs; the most accomplished lithographer of the time, he is credited with imbuing the tortoises and turtles depicted with their charming character and individuality.
For more images and background information on the Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles version of this book, see the Special Collections book of the month article for September 2007

Testudo Tabulata

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