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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: natural history (4)

John Abbot’s Lepidoptera

by Hayley
Publish date
8 March 2013
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The MV Library holds an important collection of 18th and 19th century scientific literature. Many of these books began as working tools for early museum curators studying the local fauna. Now, they form part of our rare book collection and are prized for their beauty and rarity.

The library's collection has an interesting history, forming from the amalgamation of two specialist collections from the National Museum of Victoria and Science Museum. Books have been purchased since the earliest days of the National Museum of Victoria, when the first director, Frederick McCoy, acquired important titles such as the entomological works of Maria Sybilla Merian.

While the library collection at MV is relatively small, it is also surprisingly unique. Library staff are currently working to identify titles unique to Australian libraries, a project which has exposed some real gems in the collection, such as John Abbot’s The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia (1797).

Tab V, ‘American Brimstone Butterfly’ Tab V, ‘American Brimstone Butterfly’ via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Abbot left his native England in 1773 for the colony of Virginia in North America, in order to procure specimens and make drawings of the local insects. Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, Abbot moved to Georgia, where he spent the rest of his life recording the local insects and birds.

Tab XLIX, ‘Corn Emperor Moth’ Tab XLIX, ‘Corn Emperor Moth’ via the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Although he was a prolific natural history artist and well regarded in his lifetime, Abbot is not as well remembered as some of his contemporaries, who included famous naturalists such as John James Audubon. While he is thought to have created four to five thousand watercolours, most of them were unpublished or uncredited during his lifetime.

The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia includes 104 hand-coloured plates by John Harris, after original artwork by John Abbot. It's an important early work to depict North American butterflies and moths, and has been appreciated by scientists and collectors alike for its accuracy as well as its beauty. The introduction was written by James Edward Smith, a founder of The Linnean Society of London.

While it is exciting to encounter rare material in our collection, it is also nice to be able to share it. Luckily, the work has been digitised and is now freely accessible through the Biodiversity Heritage Library, so have a browse online or download your own copy of this rare work!


Gilbert, P. & Hamilton, C., Entomology: A Guide to Information Sources, London & New York: Mansell, 1990.

Gilbert, P., John Abbot: Birds, Butterflies and Other Wonders, London: Merrell Holberton and Natural History Museum, 1998.

Job, Frank, “The Library of Museum Victoria” in Rasmussen, C. (ed.), A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and its Predecessors, 1854-2000, Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe Publications, 2001.

Rogers-Price, Vivian & Griffin, William W., "John Abbot: Pioneer-Naturalist of Georgia," Magazine Antiques (October 1983): 768-75.

Creatures that rule the dusk and dawn

by Kate C
Publish date
16 May 2011
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The City Gallery at the Melbourne Town Hall is crawling with possums, owls, moths and other twilight creatures in the new exhibition, Crepuscular. Here you can observe the animals that often escape our notice as we rush home from work or retreat from winter to cosier climates indoors.

Curated by honorary Museum Victoria associate, John Kean, the exhibition includes specimens and Prodromus illustrations on loan from MV, and specially-commissioned taxidermy by Dean Smith (who also works as a senior museum preparator). There are also new artworks by local artists Alexis Beckett, Mali Moir, and John Pastoiza-Pinol,and I couldn't tear my eyes away from the exquisite portraits of invertebrates by botanical artist Dianne Emery.

Emperor Gum Moth Emperor Gum Moth eggs, caterpillar, adult, cocoon and imago, Opodiphthera eucalypti 2011. Watercolour on Kelmscott vellum 25x 20 cm
Image: Dianne Emery
Source: Dianne Emery

Crepuscular presents a fascinating picture of the life in urban Melbourne that exists and persists despite – but sometimes because of – human activity. For every loser there's a winner: clearing habitat has caused the loss of many species (such as quolls, which remained in remnant populations at Kew's Studley Park until just a few decades ago) but plantings of exotic trees have been a boon for others. An abundance of fruit trees drew in the Grey-headed Flying Foxes for the first time, while Powerful Owls have emerged from the forests to take up residence in city parks and grow fat on the possums.

Crepuscular is on at the City Gallery until 6 July 2011. Be sure to find the spot in the room where all eyes are upon you...


City Gallery at Melbourne Town Hall

Question of the Week: Emperor Gum Moth

Emperor Gum Moth on Caught and Coloured

The Age: 'Critters of the night shift'

Publishing possums

by Kate C
Publish date
9 May 2011
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Nick Alexander from CSIRO Publishing visited the MV Library last week in search of gliding mammals. He’s working on the production of an upcoming book by Stephen Jackson called Gliding Mammals of the World.

The book will cover certain groups of mammals - squirrels, possums and lemurs - that have evolved traits for soaring between trees, such as extra folds of skin along the sides of their bodies. Victorian gliding mammals include Squirrel Gliders, Sugar Gliders and Yellow-bellied Gliders.

Nick Alexander Nick Alexander taking photos of natural history illustrations in the MV Library.
Source: Museum Victoria

In Gliding Mammals of the World, 19th century artworks from our rare books will accompany an introduction to the historical context of gliding mammal studies. Some of the early European natural history illustrations are, in Nick’s words, 'rather fanciful' but the new book will be beautifully illustrated by Peter Schouten who is renowned for his accurate and naturalistic wildlife illustrations.

You can look forward to the publication of Gliding Mammals of the World later this year.


CSIRO Publishing

Stephen Jackson

Peter Schouten's site 

Artists and animals

by Leonie
Publish date
20 April 2011
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This post comes from Leonie Cash, a librarian at the Museum Victoria library.

Thanks to the network of arts libraries, ARLIS, a trio of RMIT art academics visited the MV Library’s rare books collection recently to view examples of eighteenth and nineteenth century scientific illustration. Facsimiles of Albertus Seba and Maria Merian’s work were also on display.

Facsimilies Facsimiles of famous works by Albertus Seba and Maria Merian.
Source: Museum Victoria

The three visitors are associated with RMIT’s School of Art and all are practising artists with a keen interest in natural history, particularly natural history illustration.

Artists studying rare books Greg Moncrieff, work experience student Max and Louise Weaver examine the exquisite illustrations in MV's rare books.
Source: Museum Victoria

Greg Moncrieff was very pleased with the diversity of material available from the old books on display.

While looking at Gould’s humming birds, Louise Weaver was fascinated by the methods of layering of paint that reproduce the beautiful colours of these small birds.

Peter Ellis, Associate Professor and Studio Coordinator of Painting at RMIT, has written that the “experience of travel has had a profound impression on my work” and his visit to Museum Victoria’s rare books, though a short distance, has left him wanting to return again soon.

Rare book with fish illustration Fish illustration from 19th century America.
Source: Museum Victoria

The MV Library is happy to host visiting scholars by appointment; please contact us via email.


X Marks the Spot exhibition, 2006

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.