John Gould

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John Gould
John Gould.jpg
Born(1804-09-14)14 September 1804
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Died3 February 1881(1881-02-03) (aged 76)
Resting placeKensal Green cemetery
Known forIllustrated monographs on birds
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Gould
Scientific career
Fields Ornithology
Influences Charles Darwin

John Gould FRS ( /ɡld/ ; 14 September 1804 – 3 February 1881 [1] ) was an English ornithologist and bird artist. He published a number of monographs on birds, illustrated by plates that he produced with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth Gould, and several other artists including Edward Lear, Henry Constantine Richter, Joseph Wolf and William Matthew Hart. He has been considered the father of bird study in Australia and the Gould League in Australia is named after him. His identification of the birds now nicknamed "Darwin's finches" played a role in the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Gould's work is referenced in Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species .

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science'.

Elizabeth Gould (illustrator) English artist, illustrator and lithographer

Elizabeth Gould, née Coxen (1804—1841), was a British artist and illustrator, married to naturalist and author John Gould. She produced many illustrations and lithographs for ornithological works, including plates in Darwin's The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle and the Gould's seminal work The Birds of Australia.

Edward Lear British artist, illustrator, author and poet

Edward Lear was an English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, now known mostly for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose and especially his limericks, a form he popularised. His principal areas of work as an artist were threefold: as a draughtsman employed to illustrate birds and animals; making coloured drawings during his journeys, which he reworked later, sometimes as plates for his travel books; as a (minor) illustrator of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poems. As an author, he is known principally for his popular nonsense collections of poems, songs, short stories, botanical drawings, recipes, and alphabets. He also composed and published twelve musical settings of Tennyson's poetry.


Early life

Gould was born in Lyme Regis the first son of a gardener. He and the boy probably had a scanty education. Shortly afterwards his father obtained a position on an estate near Guildford, Surrey, and then in 1818 Gould became foreman in the Royal Gardens of Windsor. He was for some time under the care of J. T. Aiton, of the Royal Gardens of Windsor. The young Gould started training as a gardener, being employed under his father at Windsor from 1818 to 1824, and he was subsequently a gardener at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. He became an expert in the art of taxidermy. In 1824 he set himself up in business in London as a taxidermist, and his skill helped him to become the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London in 1827. [2] [3]

Lyme Regis Coastal town in Dorset, England

Lyme Regis is a town in West Dorset, England, 25 miles (40 km) west of Dorchester and 25 miles (40 km) east of Exeter. Styled "The Pearl of Dorset", it lies at Lyme Bay on the English Channel coast at the Dorset–Devon border. It is noted for fossils found in cliffs and beaches on the Heritage Coast or Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site. The harbour wall known as "The Cobb" appears in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, in the John Fowles novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, and in the 1981 film of that name, which was partly shot in the town. A former mayor and MP was Admiral Sir George Somers, who founded the English colonial settlement of Somers Isles, now known as Bermuda. Lyme Regis is twinned with St George's, Bermuda. In July 2015 Lyme Regis also joined Jamestown, Virginia in the Historic Atlantic Triangle of Lyme, St George's and Jamestown. The 2011 Census gave the parish and electoral ward a population of 3,671.

Guildford county town of Surrey in England

Guildford is a large town in Surrey, England, 27 miles (43 km) southwest of London on the A3 trunk road midway between the capital and Portsmouth.

Ripley Castle Grade I listed castle in the United Kingdom

Ripley Castle is a Grade I listed 14th-century country house in Ripley, North Yorkshire, England, 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Harrogate.

Research and works published

Calliope Tschebaiswi Prjer (Thrush Family) by John Gould Calliope Tschebaiswi Prjer (Thrush Family) by John Gould.jpg
Calliope Tschebaiswi Prjer (Thrush Family) by John Gould

Gould's position brought him into contact with the country's leading naturalists. This meant that he was often the first to see new collections of birds given to the Zoological Society of London. In 1830 a collection of birds arrived from the Himalayas, many not previously described. Gould published these birds in A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830–1832). The text was by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and the illustrations were drawn and lithographed by Gould's wife Elizabeth Coxen Gould. Most of Gould's work were rough sketches on paper from which other artists created the lithographic plates. [4] [5]

Himalayas mountain range in Central Asia

The Himalayas, or Himalaya, form a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. The range has many of the Earth's highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 m (23,600 ft) in elevation, including ten of the fourteen 8,000-metre peaks. By contrast, the highest peak outside Asia is 6,961 m (22,838 ft) tall.

Nicholas Aylward Vigors Irish zoologist and politician

Nicholas Aylward Vigors was an Irish zoologist and politician. He popularized the classification of birds on the basis of the quinarian system.

This work was followed by four more in the next seven years, including Birds of Europe in five volumes. [6] It was completed in 1837; Gould wrote the text, and his clerk, Edwin Prince, did the editing. The plates were drawn and lithographed by Elizabeth Coxen Gould. A few of the illustrations were made by Edward Lear as part of his Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae in 1832. Lear, however, was in financial difficulty, and he sold the entire set of lithographs to Gould. The books were published in a very large size, imperial folio, with magnificent coloured plates. Eventually 41 of these volumes were published, with about 3000 plates. They appeared in parts at £3 3s. a number, subscribed for in advance, and in spite of the heavy expense of preparing the plates, Gould succeeded in making his ventures pay, realising a fortune. [2] [7] This was a busy period for Gould who also published Icones Avium in two parts containing 18 leaves of bird studies on 54 cm plates as a supplement to his previous works. [8] No further monographs were published as in 1838 he and his wife moved to Australia to work on the Birds of Australia. Shortly after their return to England, his wife died in 1841. Elizabeth Gould completed 84 plates for Birds of Australia before her death. [9]

Work with Darwin

A studio photograph (c. 1860) JohnGould1860.jpg
A studio photograph (c. 1860)
The Zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle : under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832 to 1836, edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. [Album view] Pl. no. 7, Pyrocephalus nanus held by the State Library of New South Wales digital reference number a1417005h John Gould Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle Pyrocephalus nanus.jpg
The Zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle : under the command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832 to 1836, edited and superintended by Charles Darwin. [Album view] Pl. no. 7, Pyrocephalus nanus held by the State Library of New South Wales digital reference number a1417005h

When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle to the Zoological Society of London on 4 January 1837, the bird specimens were given to Gould for identification. He set aside his paying work and at the next meeting on 10 January reported that birds from the Galápagos Islands which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, "gross-bills" and finches were in fact "a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar" as to form "an entirely new group, containing 12 species." This story made the newspapers. In March, Darwin met Gould again, learning that his Galápagos "wren" was another species of finch and the mockingbirds he had labelled by island were separate species rather than just varieties, with relatives on the South American mainland. Subsequently, Gould advised that the smaller southern Rhea specimen that had been rescued from a Christmas dinner was a separate species which he named Rhea darwinii, whose territory overlapped with the northern rheas. Darwin had not bothered to label his finches by island, but others on the expedition had taken more care. He now sought specimens collected by captain Robert FitzRoy and crewmen. From them he was able to establish that the species were unique to islands, an important step on the inception of his theory of evolution by natural selection. Gould's work on the birds was published between 1838 and 1842 in five numbers as Part 3 of Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle , edited by Charles Darwin. Elizabeth Gould illustrated all the plates for Part 3. [10] [11] [12]

Charles Darwin British naturalist, author of "On the origin of species, by means of natural selection"

Charles Robert Darwin, was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. His proposition that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors is now widely accepted, and considered a foundational concept in science. In a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace, he introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in selective breeding.

Second voyage of HMS <i>Beagle</i> exploration associated with theory of evolution

The second voyage of HMS Beagle, from 27 December 1831 to 2 October 1836, was the second survey expedition of HMS Beagle, under captain Robert FitzRoy who had taken over command of the ship on its first voyage after the previous captain committed suicide. FitzRoy had already thought of the advantages of having an expert in geology on board, and sought a gentleman naturalist to accompany them as a supernumerary. The young graduate Charles Darwin had hoped to see the tropics before becoming a parson, and accepted the opportunity. He was greatly influenced by reading Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology during the voyage. By the end of the expedition, Darwin had already made his name as a geologist and fossil collector, and the publication of his journal which became known as The Voyage of the Beagle gave him wide renown as a writer.

Zoological Society of London English learned society in zoology

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is a charity devoted to the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. It was founded in 1826.

Research in Australia

Platypus from The mammals of Australia (1845-63) Gould John Duckbilled Platypus 1845-1863.png
Platypus from The mammals of Australia (184563)
Letter from John Gould to R. Denny regarding Australian plants Letter to R. Denny.jpg
Letter from John Gould to R. Denny regarding Australian plants

In 1838 the Goulds sailed to Australia, intending to study the birds of that country and be the first to produce a major work on the subject. They took with them the collector John Gilbert. They arrived in Tasmania in September, making the acquaintance of the governor Sir John Franklin and his wife. Gould and Gilbert collected on the island. In February 1839 Gould sailed to Sydney, leaving his pregnant wife with the Franklins. He travelled to his brother-in-law's station at Yarrundi, [13] spending his time searching for bowerbirds in the Liverpool Range. In April he returned to Tasmania for the birth of his son. In May he sailed to Adelaide to meet Charles Sturt, who was preparing to lead an expedition to the Murray River. Gould collected in the Mount Lofty range, the Murray Scrubs and Kangaroo Island, returning again to Hobart in July. He then travelled with his wife to Yarrundi. They returned home to England in May 1840.

John Gilbert (naturalist) English naturalist and explorer

John Gilbert was an English naturalist and explorer. Gilbert is often cited in the earliest descriptions of many Australian animals, many of which were unrecorded in European literature, and some of these are named for him by those authors. Gilbert was sent to the newly founded Swan River Colony and made collections and notes on the unique birds and mammals of the surrounding region. He later joined expeditions to remote parts the country, continuing to make records and collections until he was killed during a violent altercation at Mitchell River (Queensland) on the Cape York Peninsula.

Tasmania island state of Australia

Tasmania is an island state of Australia. It is located 240 km (150 mi) to the south of the Australian mainland, separated by Bass Strait. The state encompasses the main island of Tasmania, the 26th-largest island in the world, and the surrounding 334 islands. The state has a population of around 526,700 as of March 2018. Just over forty percent of the population resides in the Greater Hobart precinct, which forms the metropolitan area of the state capital and largest city, Hobart.

John Franklin British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer

Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin was a British Royal Navy officer and explorer of the Arctic. Franklin also served as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1837 to 1843. He disappeared while on his last expedition, attempting to chart and navigate the Northwest Passage in the North American Arctic. The icebound ships were abandoned and the entire crew died of starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, and scurvy.

The result of the trip was The Birds of Australia (184048). It included a total of 600 plates in seven volumes; 328 of the species described were new to science and named by Gould. He also published A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos (1841–1842) and the three volume work The Mammals of Australia (1849–1861). [14] [15]

Elizabeth died in 1841 after the birth of their eighth child, Sarah, and Gould's books subsequently used illustrations by a number of artists, including Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart and Joseph Wolf.

Phaethornis Pretrei, the Planalto Hermit, Brooklyn Museum John Gould, Phaethornis Pretrei (hummingbird).jpg
Phaethornis Pretrei, the Planalto Hermit, Brooklyn Museum


Throughout his professional life Gould had a strong interest in hummingbirds. He accumulated a collection of 320 species, which he exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. [16] Despite his interest, Gould had never seen a live hummingbird. In May 1857 he travelled to the United States with his second son, Charles. He arrived in New York too early in the season to see hummingbirds in that city, but on 21 May 1857, in Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia, he finally saw his first live one, a ruby-throated hummingbird. He then continued to Washington D.C. where he saw large numbers in the gardens of the Capitol. Gould attempted to return to England with live specimens, but, as he was not aware of the conditions necessary to keep them, they only lived for two months at most.

Other works

Gould published: A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Humming Birds with 360 plates (1849–61); The Mammals of Australia (1845–63), Handbook to the Birds of Australia (1865), The Birds of Asia (1850–83), The Birds of Great Britain (1862–73) and The Birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands (1875–88).

Birds of Great Britain

The University of Glasgow, which owns a copy of Birds of Great Britain, describes John Gould as "the greatest figure in bird illustration after Audubon", [17] and auctioneers Sotherans describe the work as "Gould's pride and joy". [18]

Gould had already published some of the illustrations in Birds of Europe, but Birds of Great Britain represents a development of his aesthetic style in which he adds illustrations of nests and young on a large scale.

Sotherans Co. [18] reports that Gould published the book himself, producing 750 copies, which remain sought after both as complete volumes, and as individual plates, currently varying in price from £450 – £850. The University of Glasgow records that the volumes were issued in London in 25 parts, to make the complete set, between 1863 and 1873, and each set contained 367 coloured lithographs.

Gould undertook an ornithological tour of Scandinavia in 1856, in preparation for the work, taking with him the artist Henry Wolf who drew 57 of the plates from Gould's preparatory sketches. According to The University of Glasgow [17] Gould's skill was in rapidly producing rough sketches from nature (a majority of the sketches were drawn from newly killed specimens) capturing the distinctiveness of each species. Gould then oversaw the process whereby his artists worked his sketches up into the finished drawings, which were made into coloured lithographs by engraver William Hart.

There were problems: the stone engraving of the snowy owl in volume I was dropped and broken at an early stage in the printing. Later issues of this plate show evidence of this damage and consequently the early issue – printed before the accident – are considered more desirable.

The lithographs were hand coloured, and, in writing the introduction for the work, Gould states "every sky with its varied tints and every feather of each bird were coloured by hand; and when it is considered that nearly two hundred and eighty thousand illustrations in the present work have been so treated, it will most likely cause some astonishment to those who give the subject a thought."

The work has gathered critical acclaim: according to Mullens and Swann, Birds of Great Britain is "the most sumptuous and costly of British bird books", whilst Wood describes it as "a magnificent work". Isabella Tree writes that it "was seen – perhaps partly because its subject was British, as the culmination of [his] ... genius". [19]

In 2012 the rare book dealer Peter Harrington [20] described a complete edition of five volumes as follows:

5 volumes, folio (580 × 350 mm). Finely bound by Tuckett (binder to the Queen) in contemporary full green Morocco, spines elaborately gilt in compartments, raised bands, ruling and elaborate floral rolls to boards gilt, yellow coated endpapers, all edges gilt. 367 fine, handcoloured lithograph plates by Richter and Hart after Gould and Wolf, heightened with gum-Arabic.

Peter Harrington


A number of animals have been named after Gould, including those in English such as the Gould's mouse.

Birds named after Gould include

Two species of reptiles are named in his honour: Gould's monitor ( Varanus gouldii ) and Gould's black-headed snake ( Suta gouldii ). [21]

Gould's sunbird, or Mrs. Gould's sunbird, (Aethopyga gouldiae) and the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) were named after his wife. [22]

A visit to Gould in his old age provided the inspiration for John Everett Millais's painting The Ruling Passion .

The Gould League, founded in Australia in 1909, was named after him. This organisation gave many Australians their first introduction to birds, along with more general environmental and ecological education. One of its major sponsors was the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

In 1976 he was honoured on a postage stamp, bearing his portrait, issued by Australia Post. In 2009, a series of birds from his Birds of Australia, with paintings by H C Richter, were featured in another set of stamps. [23]


His son, Charles Gould, was notable as a geological surveyor.

See also


Source: Australian Museum Research Library


John Gould also happened to live next to the famous Broad Street pump during 1854. The pioneering epidemiologist John Snow mentions Gould and his assistant Prince in his famous publication: On the mode of communication of cholera. [24]

Related Research Articles

Joseph Smit Dutch natural history illustrator

Joseph Smit was a Dutch zoological illustrator.

Henry Constantine Richter English zoological illustrator

Henry Constantine Richter was an English zoological illustrator who produced a very large number of skillful coloured lithographs of birds and mammals, mainly for the scientific books of the renowned English 19th century ornithologist John Gould.

<i>The Mammals of Australia</i>

The Mammals of Australia is a three-volume work written and published by John Gould between 1845–63. It contains 182 illustrations by the author and its artist H. C. Richter. It was intended to be a complete survey of the novel species of mammals, such as the marsupials, discovered in the colonies of Australia.

William Matthew Hart (1830-1908) was an English bird illustrator and lithographer who worked for John Gould.

1852 in birding and ornithology

Ongoing events

1853 in birding and ornithology

Ongoing events

1854 in birding and ornithology

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1855 in birding and ornithology

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1856 in birding and ornithology

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1857 in birding and ornithology


1858 in birding and ornithology


1859 in birding and ornithology


1861 in birding and ornithology

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1862 in birding and ornithology

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1864 in birding and ornithology

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1865 in birding and ornithology


1866 in birding and ornithology


1867 in birding and ornithology


1868 in birding and ornithology



  1. Wikisource-logo.svg  Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1890). "Gould, John"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 22. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 287–8.
  2. 1 2 Waterhouse, F H (1885). The dates of publication of some of the Zoological Works of the late John Gould. R H Porter, London.
  3. Russell, Roslyn (2011). The business of nature : John Gould and Australia. Canberra: National Library of Australia.
  4. Stephens, M. (2005). "Patterns of Nature: The Art of John Gould at the National Library" (PDF). National Library of Australia News. 15 (7): 7–10.
  5. Cayley, N. (1938). "John Gould as an Illustrator". Emu. 38 (2): 167–172. doi:10.1071/MU938167.
  6. Gould, John (1832–1837). The Birds of Europe. John Gould, London.
  7. Sauer, G C (1985). "Forty years association with John Gould the Bird Man". Archives of Natural History. 1: 159–166. doi:10.3366/anh.1985.013.
  8. Gould, John (1837). Icones Avium. Richard and John E. Taylor, London.
  9. "Elizabeth Gould · John Gould: Bird Illustration in the Age of Darwin · KU Libraries Exhibits". Retrieved 2018-12-27.
  10. Sulloway, F J (1982). "The Beagle collections of Darwin's finches (Geospizinae)" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Zoology Series. 43 (2): 49–94. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2012.
  11. Sulloway, F J (1982). "Darwin and his finches: the evolution of a legend" (PDF). Journal of the History of Biology. 15: 1–53. CiteSeerX . doi:10.1007/BF00132004.
  12. Ashley, Melissa (2013). "Elizabeth Gould, Zoological Artist 1840-1848: Unsettling Critical Depictions of John Gould's 'Laborious Assistant' and 'Devoted Wife'". Hectate. 39: 101–122 via EBSCO.
  13. Biography – Charles Coxen – Australian Dictionary of Biography. Yarrundi was a property on Dart Brook near Scone, New South Wales.
  14. "Mammals of Australia, key plates [picture]". Digital collections. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 1 November 2008.
  15. McEvey, Allan (1968). "Collections of John Gould Manuscripts and Drawings". The la Trobe Journal. 1 (2): 17–31.
  16. Anon (1885). "A guide to the Gould collection of Humming-birds" (4 ed.). British Museum (Natural history).
  17. 1 2 "University of Glasgow – MyGlasgow – Special collections – Virtual Exhibitions – Birds, Bees and Blooms – Birds – John Gould: The Birds of Great Britain". Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  18. 1 2 "Henry Sotheran's – Birds of Great Britain". Retrieved 17 September 2017.
  19. The Ruling Passion of John Gould. London: 1991, Barrie & Jenkins, ISBN   9780712621588 [ page needed ]
  20. Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN   978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Gould", p. 104).
  21. Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael (2003). Whose Bird? Men and Women Commemorated in the Common Names of Birds. London: Christopher Helm. p. 146.
  22. Anon (2009). "Migrating waterbirds: international postage paid envelopes and aerogrammes" (PDF). Stamp Bulletin. 300: 14.
  23. Snow, John (1855). On the Mode of Communication of Cholera (2nd ed.). London: John Churchill. p. 53.