In the early days of British settlement in Australia, Europeans were alternately fascinated and overwhelmed by the new world around them, including the astonishing animals they encountered. The naive images they created of the Platypus and parrots convey both their enchantment with this strange land and the challenges they faced understanding it.
France also harboured a desire to explore and colonise the Pacific. Successive French convoys were commissioned to assess the land, meet its indigenous inhabitants and collect samples of flora and fauna. On expeditions led by Baudin, Freycinet and Dumont d’Urville, artists and scientists created some of the most exquisite images of the European Enlightenment.
Louis Claude Desaulses de FREYCINET (1779–1841)
P. OUDART & A. TAUNAY, illustrators
Voyage autour du monde
Voyage around the world
1st edition, Paris, 1824
Louis Claude Desaulses de Freycinet (1779–1841)
In 1817, Louis de Freycinet captained the Uranie on a journey to study the Earth’s magnetism and to collect specimens from the South Seas. The resulting 17-volume report, filled with images of the flora, fauna and peoples of Australia, Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and islands of the Pacific, introduced many new plant and animal species to Europe.
Voyage autour du monde is particularly remarkable for the images of marine invertebrates, drawn from life aboard the Uranie before being preserved for study at the natural history museum in Paris. The plates are meticulously produced and employ a range of brilliant coloured inks that characterise the best of French publishing of the first half of the nineteenth century.
David COLLINS (1754–1810)
An account of the English colony in New South Wales
2nd edition, London, 1804
David Collins (1754–1810)
David Collins arrived at Botany Bay on 20 January 1788, aboard HMS Sirius. As deputy judge advocate, he proved to be one of the most perceptive chroniclers of the penal colony. Collins returned to England in 1796 with a rich hoard of observations that became the basis of An account of the English colony in New South Wales.
Collins’ book provided a wide-ranging history of the colony’s first years, including descriptions of the unique animals encountered. He called the Platypus an ‘Amphibious Animal of the Mole Kind’ and was first to publish a description of the Superb Lyrebird, noting its capacity to mimic ‘every known bird in the country’.
Some of the plates in Collins’ account were based on sketches by Thomas Watling, a trained artist convicted and transported for forgery; the engravings were hand-coloured by artists in England. Many of the images were awkwardly executed, demonstrating just how foreign Australia’s marsupials and monotremes appeared to Europeans.
George SHAW (1751–1813)
James SOWERBY, illustrator
Zoology of New Holland, volume 1
1st edition, London, 1794
George Shaw (1751–1813)
In the early days of British settlement in Australia, Europeans were alternately fascinated and overwhelmed by the new world around them, including the astonishing animals they encountered. The images they created convey both their enchantment with this strange land and the challenges they faced in understanding it.
Despite its modest size, Zoology of New Holland was a landmark publication. Produced by the keeper of natural history at the British Museum, this was the earliest volume dedicated to Australia’s unique fauna and it marked the first extensive use of the term ‘Australia’.
The book contained 12 dramatically composed, hand-coloured plates. The images were all the more impressive as the engraver, James Sowerby, had not visited Australia and was working from dried skins and preserved specimens.