Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria




Faithful Frog Observations

During the early 1860s Frederick McCoy's faithful assistant, Arthur Bartholomew, made a series of studies of Victorian frogs. His subjects were sometimes nurtured in aquaria as tadpoles, until their legs developed and they became adults. They were kept at the laboratory just a stone's throw from the lake where several specimens were collected.

While only three species were finally described in the Prodromus, several others were painstakingly illustrated. Specimens were depicted from the top, underneath and side.

Through successive applications of watercolour washes, Bartholomew gradually built up layers of colour that captured the knobbly, moist skin of these amphibians. The translucent effect achieved on the under-bellies of the Pobblebonk and Growling Grass Frog was particularly impressive.

Once naturalistic depictions were complete the frogs were euthanised. Bartholomew then did diagrams of the pads of the hands and feet, together with an image of the inside of the mouth, to provide diagnostic detail for identification of other individuals of the same species.

Bartholomew's images of frogs stand out as some of his finest images of living Victorian fauna. His depiction of the Growling Grass frog is as competent and compelling as the image of the same species by Ferdinand Bauer, the master of scientific illustration who travelled with Matthew Flinders on his 1802-3 circumnavigation of Australia.

Unaware of Bauer's earlier watercolour illustration, completed 50 years earlier and now in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London, McCoy declared in the Prodromus:

The species occurs in abundance over the whole colony, wherever stagnant water is to be found. It had not been figured of the correct colors of life before.


Growling Grass Frog, Litoria raniformis, by Arthur Bartholomew.
Ferdinand Bauer's earlier version of the Bell Frog.