John Gould: The Birds of Australia

London: 1848-1869
Sp Coll n1-a.1-8

A landmark of Victorian ornithology, The Birds of Australia originally appeared in 36 parts between 1840 and 1848. It is a massive work comprising eight folio sized volumes that depict and describe all of the 681 Australian bird varieties then known, many of them recorded by Gould himself for the first time. The birds are illustrated by beautiful hand coloured lithographed plates.

Known as 'the Bird Man', John Gould (1804-1881) made a huge contribution to nineteenth century ornithology. Both an outstanding naturalist and a highly successful businessman, he produced 15 major works (totalling nearly 50 folio volumes in all) containing some 3000 colour plates; these describe birds from all the main continents except Africa.
He was inspired to work on Australian birds by the many 'strange and unusual' specimens sent to him by his two brothers-in-law, who had emigrated to Australia in the early 1830s. He therefore relinquished his post at the Zoological Society and travelled to Australia in 1838 to record the 'habits and manners of its birds in a state of nature' - in country that was then largely unchartered. The expedition resulted in Gould discovering over 300 species; although many of these were later deemed to be subspecies, many of his bird names have survived to this day. He is credited with introducing the budgerigar to Britain; this name is a corrupted form of the Aboriginal 'Betcherrygah'.

For more images and background information on this book, see the July 2005 book of the month article.

Satin Bower Bird

Previous page ; next page