John Gould

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John Gould
Born 14 September 1804
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Died 3 February 1881
Bedford Square, London
Nationality English
Fields ornithology
Influences Charles Darwin

John Gould (14 September 1804 – 3 February 1881) 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.

Early life[edit]

Gould was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, 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 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 and in 1824 he set himself up in business in London as a taxidermist, and his skill led to him becoming the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London in 1827.[1][2]

Research and works published[edit]

A studio photograph (c. 1860)

Gould's position brought him into contact with the country's leading naturalists, and also 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 lithographed by Gould's wife Elizabeth, daughter of Nicholas Coxen of Kent. Most of Gould's work were rough sketches on paper from which other artists created the lithographic plates.[3][4] This work was followed by four more in the next seven years including Birds of Europe in five volumes – completed in 1837, with the text written by Gould himself, edited by his clerk Edwin Prince. Some 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 and in realizing a fortune. In 1838 he and his wife moved to Australia to work on the Birds of Australia and shortly after his return to England, his wife died in 1841.[1][5]

Work with Darwin[edit]

When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle to the Geological Society of London at their meeting 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.[6][7]

Research in Australia[edit]

Platypus from The mammals of Australia (1845-1863)
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, 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.

The result of the trip was The Birds of Australia (1840–1848). It included a total of 600 plates in seven volumes, 328 of which 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).[8][9]

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.

Study of hummingbirds[edit]

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.[10] 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 bird, 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 not being aware of the conditions necessary to keep them they only lived for two months at most. 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).

The Birds of Great Britain[edit]

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

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.’ [11] 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 Wolf who would draw 57 of the plates from Gould’s preparatory sketches. According to The University of Glasgow [12] Gould’s skill was in rapidly producing rough sketches from nature (a majority of the sketches were drawn of newly killed specimens) capturing the distinctiveness of each species. Gould then oversaw the process whereby his artists would work his sketches up into the finished drawings, which were then made into coloured lithographs by engraver William Hart.

There were problems, the stone engraving of the Snowy Owl in vol. 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 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, [13] writes that it ‘was seen - perhaps partly because its subject was British, as the culmination of [his] ... genius’.

In 2012 Auctioneer Peter Harrington [14] described a complete edition of 5 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.


A number of organisms have been named after Gould including those in English such as Gould's Mouse, Gould's Petrel, Gould's Sunbird and the Gouldian Finch after his wife.

A visit to Gould in his old age provided the inspiration for John Everett Millais' 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, also known as Birds Australia.

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.[15]


His son Charles Gould was notable as geological surveyor.


  1. ^ a b Waterhouse FH (1885). The dates of publication of some of the Zoological Works of the late John Gould. R H Porter, London.
  2. ^ Russell, Roslyn (2011). The Business of Nature: John Gould and Australia. National Library Australia.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Cayley, N. (1938). "John Gould as an Illustrator". Emu. 38: 167–172.
  5. ^ Sauer, GC. "Forty years association with John Gould the Bird Man". Archives of natural history. 1: 159–166. doi:10.3366/anh.1985.013.
  6. ^ Sulloway, FJ (1982). "The Beagle collections of Darwin's finches (Geospizinae)" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Museum of Natural History (Zoology). 43 (2): 49–94.
  7. ^ Sulloway, FJ (1982). "Darwin and his finches: the evolution of a legend" (PDF). Journal of the History of Biology. 15: 1–53. doi:10.1007/BF00132004.
  8. ^ "Mammals of Australia, key plates [picture]". Digital collections. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  9. ^ McEvey, Allan (1968). "Collections of John Gould Manuscripts and Drawings". The La Trobe Journal. 1 (2): 17–31.
  10. ^ Anonymous (1885). "A guide to the Gould collection of Humming-birds" (4 ed.). British Museum (Natural history). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ ‘The Ruling Passion of John Gould. London: 1991’
  14. ^
  15. ^ Anon. (2009). "Migrating waterbirds: international postage paid envelopes and aerogrammes" (PDF). Stamp bulletin. 300: 14.



Source: Australian Museum Research Library
  • John Gould [1804-81], The birds of Asia; 1850-83 7 vols. 530 plates, Artists: J. Gould, H. C. Richter, W. Hart and J. Wolf; Lithographers: H. C. Richter and W. Hart; Parts 33-55 completed after Gould's death by R. Bowdler Sharpe; Vol VI :Artist and lithographer: W. Hart
  • John Gould [1804-81]; The birds of Australia; 1840-48. 7 vols. 600 plates; Artists: J. Gould and E. Gould; Lithographer: E. Gould
  • John Gould [1804-81]; The birds of Australia; Supplement 1851-69. 1 vol. 81 plates; Artists: J. Gould and H. C. Richter; Lithographer: H. C. Richter
  • John Gould [1804-81]; The Birds of Great Britain; 1862-73. 5 vols. 367 plates; Artists: J. Gould, J. Wolf, H.C. Richter and W. Hart; Lithographers: H. C. Richter and W. Hart
  • John Gould [1804-81]; The Birds of Great Britain; 1862-73. 5 vols. 367 plates; Artist: J. Wolf; Lithographer: H. C. Richter
  • John Gould [1804-81]; Birds of Europe; 1832–37. 5 vols. Drawn from nature & on stone by J. & E. Gould. Printed by Hullmandel.
  • John Gould [1804-81]; The birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan Islands, including many new species recently discovered in Australia; 1875-88. 5 vols. 300 plates; Parts 13-25 completed after Gould's death by R. Bowdler Sharpe; Artists: J. Gould and W. Hart; Lithographer: W. Hart
  • John Gould [1804-81]; A monograph of the Odontophorinae, or partridges of America; 1844-50 1 vol. 32 plates; Artists: J. Gould and H. C. Richter; Lithographer: H. C. Richter
  • John Gould [1804-81]; A monograph of the Ramphastidae, or family of toucans; 1833-35. 1 vol. 34 plates; Artists: J. Gould, E. Gould, E. Lear and G. Scharf; Lithographers: E. Gould and E. Lear;
  • John Gould [1804-81]; A monograph of the Trochilidae, or family of humming-birds Supplement, completed after Gould's death by R. Bowdler Sharpe; 1880-87. 5 parts. 58 plates; Artists: J. Gould and W. Hart; Lithographer: W. Hart
  • John Gould [1804-81]; A synopsis of the birds of Australia, and the adjacent islands; 1837-38 1 vol. 73 plates; Artist and lithographer: E. Gould


John Gould also happened to live next to the famous broad street pump during 1854. John Snow mentions Gould and his assistance Prince in his famous On the mode of communication of cholera.[1]

  1. ^ Snow J. On the mode of communication of cholera. 2011:1–217.


  • Chisholm, A. H., 1938 Out of the past: Gould material discovered. Victoria Naturalist 55:95-102.
  • John Gould. The Birds of Australia: in seven volumes - all volumes fully digitised.
  • T. H. Maguire. Portraits of the Honorary Members of the Ipswich Museum (George Ransome, Ipswich, 1846–1852).
  • Sidney Lee. Dictionary of national biography, Volume 22 (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1890) pp. 287–8.
  • Sauer, G. C, 1948 Bird art and artists; John Gould. American Antiques Journal 3:6-9.
  • Sauer, G. C, 1983 John Gould in America. In Contributions to the History of North American Natural History. London, Society for the Bibliography of Natural History Special Publication No. 2:51-58.
  • Adrian Desmond and James Moore. Charles Darwin (Penguin Group, 1991)
  • Sauer, G. C, 1982 John Gould the bird man: a chronology and bibliography. Melbourne, Landsdowne Editions.
  • Tree, Isabella. The Ruling Passion of John Gould (Grove Weidefeld, 1991)
  • Isabella Tree. The Bird Man - The Extraordinary Story of John Gould (Ebury Press, 2003)
  • Template:Dictionary of Australian Biography

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