Casey Albert Wood (1856-1942)

"The death of Casey Albert Wood on January 26, 1942, at the great age of 85 is announced. He was born in Canada in 1856 and took his M.D. from Bishop's College, Montreal, in 1877. In those far off days he was one of Osler's clinical clerks at McGill, and the friendship between them lasted until Osler's death.

Casey Wood started practice in Montreal as a physician, but he was always interested in ophthalmology and in 1886 he left Montreal and spent some years in postgraduate work in England and on the Continent. In 1890 he settled in Chicago and rapidly developed a large ophthalmic practice. He was professor of ophthalmology at Northwestern University in 1900, and from 1904-1925 at the University of Illinois. Casey Wood was a prolific author. Besides a great many papers of clinical interest he was an editor of the American Encyclopaedia of Ophthalmology and also of a system of ophthalmic operations. But probably his best known work was done in comparative ophthalmology; the "Fundus Oculi of Birds" came out in 1917 and later he issued a large quarto "Introduction to the Literature of Vertebrate Zoology," a copy of which, a present from the author, is one of the writer's treasured possessions. He was a generous benefactor to McGill, and the "Introduction," referred to above, is practically a list of all the works on this subject there, many of them donated by himself.

After retirement from active practice Casey Wood spent much of his time abroad and worked in Rome at the Vatican Library, as well as at the British Museum (Natural History). His scholarly translation of Benevenutus Grassus on the eye, and the memorandum book of Jesus Hali are well known. His knowledge of the history of ophthalmology was most extensive, while the Blacker Library of Zoology and the Emma Shearer Wood Library of Ornithology at McGill are a lasting memorial of his generosity and ability. His ophthalmological collections also went to McGill Medical Library, and he was the donor of some valuable oriental manuscripts to the Osler Library. McGill gave him the degree of M.D. in 1906 and LL.D. in 1922.

An obituary notice of Casey Wood appeared in the March number of the Canadian Medical Association Journal and to it we are indebted for most of the facts recorded here. At the same time we may state that the writer has been acquainted with Casey Wood for certainly the past 15 years, and has been indebted to him for much friendly correspondence, reprints and books."

The obituary is unsigned but was almost certainly written by one of either the Editor or Assistant Editor of the Journal: R. R. JAMES/ A. WILLIAMSON-NOBLE/L.H.B. STALLARD. The British journal of ophthalmology 26 (6) June 1942 (287).

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Original drawings and manuscripts and published works

George Shaw (1751-1813)

Originally educated at Oxford as a deacon, he was so enamored of natural history that he left the Church as a profession to take a degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh, which was a centre for natural history education. He eventually practiced in London where he was a founding member of the Linnean Society. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1789. In 1791 he was appointed assistant keeper of the natural history section of the British Museum, and was promoted to keeper in 1807 and retained the post until his death. He was responsible for organizing its collections at a time when budgetary limitations and lack of space led to their continuing deterioration. His annual burnings of those which time, insects, and rot were destroying became part of the folklore of the museum's early history. In publications such as the Museum Leverianum, he described many of the new species being brought back from expeditions such as those to South America and the recently settled Australia.

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John Gerrard Keulemans (1842-1912)

Born in Rotterdam of Dutch parents, Johannes Gerardus Keulemans began his career as a taxidermist providing stuffed birds to the State Museum of Natural History at Leiden. The director of that museum, where he eventually obtained a scientific appointment after an expedition to West Africa in 1865 and 1866, encouraged Keulemans to pursue his love of natural history. His accomplishments in illustration came to the notice of Richard Bowdler Sharpe, later a director of the British Museum, who persuaded him to move to England.

From 1870 to 1900 there was hardly a work of any importance on ornithology with coloured illustrations in English, French, German or Italian - but particularly in the first named language - to which his pencil and brain did not contribute. Ibis and The Proceedings of the Zoological Society contain hundreds of his pictured birds and mammals. Keuleman’s work is characterised by its consistency, on which the nature of scientific illustration places a premium, showing little change over the course of his career, and focused to an extraordinary degree on the rendering of fine detail. Most of his illustrations were produced through traditional lithography, allowing for a finished product that depicts a vivid, life-like figure through depth and tone.

A number of critics have rightly placed Keulemans above his contemporaries as his ability to create colourful and accurate representations of birds gave him prominence in his field. He was easily the best and most popular animal painter of his day. In addition, Keulemans was prodigious in his output. A calculation of his total production yields between 4,000 and 5,000 published illustrations. His output had to be extensive as he had a family of 9 children to support and was only paid about £ 2 per illustration.

Keulemans had illustrated the first edition of A History of the Birds of New Zealand. When Buller decided to do a 2nd edition, he had to redo all 36 drawings plus an additional 12 representing newly discovered species. Several of these sketches demonstrate his ordinary working methods and include such comments as he thought desirable to provide guidance in completing the finished painting or, more frequently, the resulting hand-coloured lithograph.

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John Burroughs (1837-1921)

John Burroughs was an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S. conservation movement. He was the most important practitioner after Thoreau of that American literary genre, the nature essay and by 1900 was a virtual cultural institution in his own right: the Grand Old Man of Nature at a time when the American romance with the idea of nature, and the American conservation movement, had come fully into their own. He is best-known for his observations on birds, flowers and rural scenes. His extraordinary popularity and popular visibility were sustained by a prolific stream of essay collections.

In the words of his biographer Edward Renehan, Burroughs's was less a scientific naturalist than "a literary naturalist with a duty to record his own unique perceptions of the natural world." The result was a body of work whose perfect resonance with the tone of its cultural moment perhaps explains both its enormous popularity at that time, and its relative obscurity since. Burroughs was born in the Catskill Mountains and left school at 17 to become a teacher. From 1864 until the 1880s he worked as a federal bank examiner. In 1860 the Atlantic Monthly, then a fairly new publication, accepted his essay Expression. He met Walt Whitman during the Civil War in Washington, and they became friends. In 1867, Burroughs published Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person, the first biography and critical work on the poet, which was extensively (and anonymously) revised and edited by Whitman himself before publication. In 1871, with Whitman’s encouragement, Burroughs published his first collection of nature essays, Wake-Robin. Burroughs wrote more than 30 books and hundreds of essays and poems and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His Catskill essays told, with both wry humor and awestruck reverence, of fly fishing for trout, of hikes over the Mountains and of rafting down the Delaware River. It is for these that he is still celebrated and chiefly known today.

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Harry Kirke Swann (1871-1926)

Born in Surrey, England, Swann founded the Naturalists' Journal in 1892, and edited it for two years. Swann produced a number of publications, including the reports of a visit to Eastern Canada in a brochure entitled Nature in Acadie in 1895 and co-authored A bibliography of British ornithology from the earliest times to the end of 1912, including biographical accounts of the principal writers and bibliographies of their published works. He was a corresponding Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union from 1919 until his death. After World War I, he became one of the partners of the publishing firm of Wheldon and Wesley, Ltd. The firm remained in his family until 2004 when, after 164 years, it was tragically forced to close after the treasurer and the wife of the owner, Swann’s grandson, embezzled the company’s funds and drove it into bankruptcy. From the early 1920s, when Casey Wood was the primary selector for the Blacker-Wood collection until its demise, Wheldon and Wesley was one of the principal sources from which we acquired our rarer materials. In addition to the original manuscript, there are various proofs of plates, drawings, and original correspondence, ca 1925-1934.

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Original Drawings

Charles Collins (1680-1744)

"Collins was a bird and mammal painter who lived and worked in London. He used watercolour when making records of single species of birds and mammals for patrons, and he painted still life and composite pictures in oil. A set of twelve oil paintings of landscapes with British birds was published under the title Icones avium cum nominibus anglicis: designed by Charles Collins in 1736. The set included 114 figures of birds flying, preening, and perching, in landscapes with cottages or river landscapes. Collins's bird figures are more lively and better drawn than those of his contemporaries Eleazar Albin, George Edwards, and Peter Paillou, though they are not as natural and convincing as those of the Flemish artist Pieter Casteels.

Many of Collins's watercolour studies were made for Taylor White of Wallingwells, Nottinghamshire, a judge on the north Wales circuit and an enthusiastic, wealthy collector of curios and natural history specimens. He commissioned Collins, Peter Paillou, and others to paint records of the live and stuffed birds and mammals in his collection, resulting in a long series of 938 watercolours which included 201 signed bird paintings by Collins (including a dodo) and some unsigned mammal paintings. Each bird drawing had one figure subject in a conventional composition with a grassy mound or stump but a few are remarkable attempts to show the birds swimming or in flight. Collins shows great virtuosity in painting plumage, with the addition of delicate highlights on the soft feathering. Most of the signed drawings are dated 1737–9, but many others in his style are neither signed nor dated. Charles Collins died in London in 1744. This, the largest collection of his work, is in the Blacker Wood Library at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec." Christine Jackson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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de Rabié (d. 1785)

de Rabie was a "Marechal du camp, ingénieur-en-chef de la partie du nord de St. Dominigue, mort à Paris en 1785." As such, one of his duties was to describe and illustrate the local flora and fauna. He painted from life hundreds of Haitian animals and plants. Most of his subjects did not become known to binomial taxonomy until two generations later. He is unpublished, except that some of his drawings may have been used by Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, 1707-1788 his Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière. He not only painted more than 50 Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) but he reared them from larva, depicting their early stages and named several of them for their food plants. There are 4 volumes of his drawings of birds, fish, reptiles, crustaceans, insects and fruits of the island in the collection.

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Sydenham Edwards (1768-1819)

Primarily a botanical artist, Edwards was also a noted animal painter. While still a teenager his drawings were brought to the attention of William Curtis who immediately sent for young man to go to London to be trained by and to work for him. Within two years, Edwards's work began to appear in Curtis's prestigious Botanical Magazine. His signature is noted first in 1788 on the drawing of a carnation. For the next twenty-seven years nearly all the plates in the journal were Edwards's work. Edwards continued in the employ of the Botanical Magazine after William Curtis's death in 1799 and his work there is considered among the best scientific illustrations of the day. He also contributed to the Flora Londinensis and the New Botanic Garden; as well as executing the drawings, he sometimes also engraved the plates. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1804. His memorial within Chelsea Old Church (unfortunately his gravestone was lost in the blitz) reads, 'As a faithful delineator of nature, few equalled, none excelled'.

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Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862)

Reinagle completed his first picture when only six and studied with his father, the painter Philip Reinagle. He spent several years in Holland and Italy where he learned landscape painting - his own landscapes were influential in the development of British Romantic art. In 1799, Reinagle became a friend of John Constable, who was dazzled by his exhaustive knowledge of the London art scene, facility with brush and pencil, and globe-trotter's sophistication. The two men soon shared lodgings; Reinagle meanwhile painting a portrait of Constable and probably tutoring him in landscape work, as he did in drawing. Within a year Constable became disillusioned with Reinagle's use of art merely as a means of income and of self-glorification. In 1805 he joined the Society of Painters in Water Colours, and served as its president from 1808 to 1812. In 1823 Reinagle was elected a Royal Academician, and helped to restore Leonardo da Vinci's cartoon The Virgin and Child. He had a secondary career speculating in old paintings which failed in 1833 and in 1835 he was declared bankrupt.

Reinagle's reputation plummeted in 1848 when he exhibited at the Royal Academy as his own work (after retouching) a sea picture by J. W. Yarnold. After a full investigation by fellow academicians, he was forced to resign. In 1850 he published two letters of excuse in the Literary Gazette, untruthfully boasting that Constable (by then safely dead) had been his pupil and that he had inserted some cattle into one of Constable's paintings. Reinagle continued to submit works to the Royal Academy until 1857; by then he was so hard up that he had to seek (and received) a pension from the academy's funds

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Elizabeth Gwillim (1763-1807)

"The search for literary material in zoology has narrowed itself to rare desiderata. This quest has led into out-of-the-way localities and into shops not generally regarded as harbouring works of zoological interest. While following this plan I enquired of a small but select London whether he had any old drawings or paintings of birds or other animals. After a search in his cellar, he brought out a parcel containing about thirty small mounted and coloured drawings of Indian Fishes. Each mat bore an auctioneer's (or dealer's) printed number; a few were signed "E. G.," and upon still more were written legends in Urdu of the native names of the subjects portrayed. I was also shown a portfolio containing paintings of a few Indian flowers. On one of the front pages was written "Elizabeth Gwillim, Madras, 1800–1806." While I examined these and asked for more, a salesman happened along and said to the proprietor, "I think that before I went to France in 1914 I saw a collection of bird paintings down stairs." This clerk reappeared bearing an immense, dust-laden, but extremely well made portfolio about five feet broad and four high. On it were painted barely decipherable initials and a date—"E. G. K. 1800." The contents amazed and delighted me. I do not claim to be an art expert, but I realized at once that the paintings of Indian birds in the pockets of that giant container were by the hand of no mean draughtsman." (Casey Wood, Ibis 67, 1925, 594)

Elizabeth Symonds was the daughter of a stonemason whose widow very successfully continued his business. Elizabeth and her sister Mary Symonds accompanied her husband Sir Henry Gwillim when he was sent to India as Chief Justice of Madras in 1801. Elizabeth was not particularly interested in the local British society. She was far happier learning the local history and languages, getting to know the Indian population and painting the birds of the region. Unfortunately they were never published but she preceded Audubon in painting life-sized birds with accurate plumage, posture and background. Many of the bird paintings contain descriptive notes on the back. In spite of the initials on the fish paintings, letters written by the sisters to their family in England and now in the British Library indicate that the fish paintings were in fact done by Mary. Elizabeth died in 1804 and was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Fort St. George, Madras. When Sir Henry was recalled after a dispute with the Governor of India in 1807, Mary returned to England where she married the Captain of the ship on which she had sailed home.

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William Swainson (1789-1855)

Swainson was a naturalist and artist. His father was a keen amateur zoologist and a founder member of the Linnean Society of London. Although he was of delicate health and nervous temperament, his father's collections and the natural world absorbed him utterly—at the cost of a disciplined attitude to spelling and grammar. His father established him in the office of the army's commissary-general and sent to General Fox's Mediterranean army (1808–15). His official duties in the Mediterranean left him with ample time to botanize and zoologize. He spent the majority of his time in Sicily, but also visited Greece, Malta and Italy. Single-minded absorption in natural history blinded him to the risks he took in the matter of health and (more than once) life itself. His next venture (1817–18) was a collecting foray into Brazil, where he witnessed horrifying scenes of revolution and violence. However, he returned with rewarding collections, and wrote an account of his travels for the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. On his return he was elected, on the nomination of Sir Joseph Banks, to fellowship of the Royal Society.

During the 1820s, Swainson displayed his rich collection of shells, insects, and birds to many visitors. He used his lithographic skills and zoological knowledge in a series of encyclopaedic works which occupied his time until 1840. In 1841 he and his family emigrated to New Zealand then to Australia. In both cases, expectation outran reality. He made some excellent drawings of eucalypts and casuarina species, but Australia already had its botanists, and he returned disappointed to New Zealand, where he died in December 1855. The drawings shown here were used for his The natural arrangement and relations of the family of flycatchers, or Musciapidae, Edinburgh, 1838.

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Henry Leonard Meyer (1797-1865)

Meyer was of Dutch extraction, son of an Amsterdam banker. In 1830 Henry married Mary Anne Moore and they had three sons and three daughters. According to a letter written by Meyer's daughter Constance on June 8, 1916, those of the original drawings which were not done by her father were actually executed by Mary Anne Meyer (1906-1880), who also prepared many of the stones for the lithographs. She confirms that the four volumes in the McGill collection containing over 600 water-colour drawings and sketches are the only originals existing by her father and mother from which the plates were prepared for the published Illustrations of British Birds. She also states that all the handcolouring was done by five of their children. However, because they were still children when the first edition began to be published, they probably only did the colouring for the last 2 volumes and the second and third editions. From at least the early 1850s, Henry Meyer suffered from severe mental illness and his wife seems to have dealt with the publication of the book, which Casey Wood considered to be "With the possible exception of Lord Lilford's Birds this is the finest and most complete atlas of British avifauna (with their eggs) ever published." Casey Wood Introduction, 462.

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Edward Lear (1812-1888)

Lear was an artist, illustrator, author, and poet, renowned today primarily for his literary nonsense, in poetry and prose, and especially his limericks, a form that he popularised. He published his first book Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots when he was only 19. He also published a book on tortoises; the animals kept at the Earl of Derby's menagerie at Knowsley Manor, and provided many illustrations for John Gould's Birds of Europe and 1 for his Birds of Australia. He was considered one of the best lithographers and colourists of his day and his work was noted for its artistic value combined with accuracy of portrayal. Unfortunately his eyesight deteriorated when he was still quite young and he turned to landscapes, poetry and travel writing instead.

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John Gould (1804-1881)

The son of a gardener, with whom he apprenticed, Gould taught himself taxidermy and eventually became the Curator and Preservator at the Museum of the Zoological Society of London. As such, he was acquainted with most of the prominent naturalists of his day and was often the first person to receive the specimens given to the Museum. Eventually he became so knowledgeable an ornithologist that he published the original descriptions of hundreds of birds. Indeed, it was he who originally realized that the collection of twelve birds Charles Darwin had brought back from the Galapagos were, in fact, all one family of finches with variations in their beaks and size dependent on the food sources available on the different islands where they had been collected. This was a crucial piece of evidence used by Darwin in formulating his theory of natural selection.

Gould was not an artist himself but he was a superb draftsman and he usually did the initial sketch of the over 3300 plates used to illustrate his books and articles and then had them finished by other artists – initially his wife Elizabeth and, after her early death at the age of 37, by Edward Lear, Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart, and Joseph Wolf.

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Joseph Wolf (1820-1899)

Born in Germany and educated at Koblenz and Antwerp and worked as a lithographer for a Darmstadt publisher before fleeing the revolutionary fervor of Germany in 1848 to move to London. Edwin Landseer, himself a celebrated wildlife artist considered Wolf to be 'without exception, the best all-round animal painter that ever lived'. He studied both captive and wild animals carefully and is noted for both his liveliness and his great trueness to nature.

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Karl T. Plath (1886-1970)

A Chicago native who made his life work the delineation of bird forms, Plath was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts and frequent exhibitor and alumnus of the Art Institute of Chicago throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Plath also exhibited with the Chicago Galleries, the Cliff Dwellers, the Chicago Woman’s Club and had a well-received solo exhibition at Knoedler Galleries in 1932. Plath was the Curator of Birds at the Brookfield Zoo and would often travel the world in search of rare and beautiful specimens. His own household aviary held hundreds of bird species and in all respects he was an exceptional and highly regarded ornithologist and painter of birds.

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Winifred Marie Louis Austen (1876-1964)

Born in Kent, even as a child she beat her four older brothers in drawing competitions. She attended the London County Council School of Arts and Crafts and sketched at the Regent's Park zoo. In 1899 she showed a picture of a lion at the Royal Academy; and exhibited more than seventy pictures there, the last in 1961 when she was eighty-five. Austen is most highly regarded as an etcher with particular feeling for birds and small mammals. Her finest work combines accuracy of observation with delicacy of line and her images are arranged with a natural sensitivity and poise. She was a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society. Although reclusive in nature, Austen was keenly involved with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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Allan Brooks (1869-1946)

Born in India of British parents, Brooks emigrated to Canada in the 1880s, and became one of the most important North American bird illustrators during the first half of the twentieth century. Brooks was one of the leading ornithologists and wildlife collectors of the time; he corresponded extensively with other ornithologists and supplied specimens to many major North American museums. From the 1890s on he hoped to support himself by painting birds and mammals, but this was not possible in Canada at that time and he was forced to turn to American sources for illustration commissions. He became a distinguished bird artist and illustrated Taverner's Birds of Western Canada (1926) and Birds of Canada (1934).

During World War I he served with the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry as brigade observing officer at Arras. He showed great daring and initiative, pushing forward at all times with the most advanced troops under the heaviest fire. Taking a wire with him, he kept brigade headquarters well informed of the situation, and enabled the commander to make decisions that saved many lives. When the enemy was retiring he pushed forward over 500 yards in front of the infantry and telephoned back information from a long distance in front of our advance. During the two days he personally killed twenty of the enemy by sniping shots.

As a young man he began his lifelong career of trapping fur-bearing animals in winter and collecting specimens, mainly birds and small mammals in the summer for museums including, in time, the Provincial Museum in Victoria, the British Museum and the Geological Survey Museum in Ottawa. The collected skins served as studio models for Allan from which he drew and painted his well-known illustrations that were published throughout North America. He believed that he was able to give his birds a much more natural and lifelike appearance because he supplemented his work from dead skins with careful field observation through binoculars.

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George Edward Lodge (1860-1954)

An accomplished taxidermist and naturalist, Lodge was the first artist to be elected an officer of the British Ornithologists’ Union. According to his obituary in The Times, he was: "A man of most exceptional charm and distinction, recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the finest bird-artists this country has ever produced. His wide experience in falconry doubtless gave him special knowledge of the hawk family, for he was a keen falconer from his earliest days. In the painting of birds of prey he had no rival in any country. He was primarily an artist but, being a good naturalist as well, he was able to depict his subjects among their natural surroundings and to make them look alive."

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George Morrison Henry (1891-1983)

In 1923, Casey Wood met George Henry while travelling in Ceylon and commissioned him to paint a series on the birds of the country to go with the newly published - but unillustrated - Manual of the birds of Ceylon by W. E. Wait. Wood was so impressed with the results that he persuaded the Government of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to publish the works as the 4-volume Coloured Plates of the Birds of Ceylon. In later years, Henry came to feel that Wood had seriously underpaid him and that the works were not as successful as they might have been had he used gouache rather than water-colours for the paintings. The rest of the bird world made a fairer assessment. The publication established Henry's reputation as an ornithological artist and led to numerous other commissions. The entire collection of 64 original drawings is part of the Blacker-Wood collection.

Born in Ceylon in 1891, where his Father managed a tea plantation, George Henry developed an early interest in wildlife. By his mid-teens, his talent as an artist earned him a post as draughtsman and laboratory assistant to the Ceylon Company of Pearl Fisherman. In 1910, he was hired as draughtsman for the Colombo Museum and in 1913, at the age of 22 and in spite of a total lack of academic qualifications, he was appointed to the post of Assistant in Systematic Entomology. He retained this position until his retirement in 1946. In 1917 he married Olive Hobday, who had come from England as a missionary. In 1920, Henry made his first trip to England where he received his only formal art training - a few months at the Leyton School of Art. In 1946, the Henrys moved to England where they remained active in church work and he was finally able to spend more than his spare time on his bird paintings. Their elder son Bruce served for many years as a missionary in India and continued in the family tradition of part-time bird artist. Their younger son, David M. Reid Henry was able to make being a bird artist his full-time career.

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William J. Belcher (1883-1949)

Belcher was a New Zealand road inspector who was working in Fiji in the 1920s when Casey Wood, commissioned him to paint the birds of that island. His paintings were used to illustrate the article by Casey Wood and Alexander Wetmore 'A collection of birds from the Fiji Islands' in The Ibis 1925 (12) 1:814-55 and 1926 (12) 2:91-136 with figures. Belcher's drawings were done 'ad naturam' in 1923 at Suva. Casey Wood wrote, 'In my quests I was greatly assisted by the artist Mr W J Belcher who accompanied me on several excursions to various islands of the group, and not only took many specimens but was able to prepare numerous sketches for his paintings of Fijian birds'. 127 original paintings by Belcher, C Bulling, E Cherverlange and A E Ward are at McGill. Wood continued, "These he depicted, to the number of ninety, with great fidelity, with their favourite food – insects, fruit, nuts – their usual roosting – or nesting places, and their proper surroundings, all skilfully drawn. In this way he truly pictured the colonial avifauna. In addition, he proved to be an excellent and industrious taxidermist."

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Classic Publications

Francis Willughby (1635-1672) and John Ray (1627-1705)

John Ray, a blacksmith's son, was a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and published many important works on plants, animals, and natural theology. He was successively lecturer in Greek, mathematics, and humanity, junior dean, and college steward. Even before he took holy orders in 1660, he had preached famous discourses on The Wisdom of God in the Creation, and on Deluge and Dissolution of the World. His classification of plants in Historia Plantarum was an important step towards modern taxonomy. He coined the term species. Ray had a reputation as a passionate tutor of natural history with the well-to-do nobleman Francis Willughby his most famous pupil. "Finding the History of Nature very imperfect ... [they] had agreed between themselves to reduce the several Tribes of Things to a Method; and to give accurate Descriptions of the several Species, from a strict View of them. And forasmuch as Mr. Willughby's Genius lay chiefly to animals, therefore he undertook the Birds, Beasts, Fishes, and Insects, as Mr. Ray did the Vegetables." (W. Derham, Selected remains of the learned John Ray, with his life (1760) 48)

From 1663 to 1666 they toured the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy before Ray returned home and Willughby visited Spain. Willughby died while preparing their studies for publication. In 1676, Ray published Willughby's Ornithologia libri tres, with an English edition two years later. This is considered the beginning of scientific ornithology in Europe, revolutionizing taxonomy by organizing species according to their physical characteristics. Willughby and Ray were among the first to dismiss older inaccuracies such as Aristotle’s claim that swallows hibernated when they wrote: "To us it seems more probable that they fly away into hot countries, viz. Egypt, etc." (212). Ray published Willughby's De Historia piscium in 1686.

Ray tried to complete Willughby's 'History of Insects' but did not live to do so. It was published in 1710 as Historia insectorum by the Royal Society, edited by William Derham. Willughby's publications owed a great deal to their editors. He was not in the same class as Ray as a naturalist but there is no doubt that as both Ray's main financial patron and frequent companion, Willughby's efforts were essential. Charles Raven concluded, "Willughby not only made possible the common task by his generosity and enthusiasm, but stimulated the older man by his alertness, fertility of ideas and boldness of visio." (Raven, John Ray, naturalist: his life and works, 2nd edn (1950) 336).

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Thomas Pennant (1726-1798)

A Welsh naturalist, geologist and antiquarian, Pennant became interested in natural history at the age of 12 when he was presented with a copy of Willughby's Ornithology. Although he left Oxford without completing his studies – as did many other wealthy students - he was awarded an honorary degree for his work in zoology in 1771.

He wrote a number of very popular books describing tours of Wales and Scotland which have preserved invaluable records of antiquities that have since vanished. His major works include several editions each of British Zoology, The Genera of Birds, History of Quadrupeds and Indian Zoology. "The first edition of Arctic Zoology was to have had a title indicating it was a study of the fauna of King George's dominions in North America. However, it was at about this time the American colonies separated from the mother country, and the author adopted the rather misleading alternate caption." (Wood's Introduction 516) The revised title is not entirely misleading since Pennant did expand the coverage to include Scandinavia and northern Russia.

The 3 volumes of the second edition of Arctic Zoology exhibited here "are a unique copy of an edition de luxe, printed on large paper with the plates in two states. The volumes are further enriched by a series of over 170 original water-colour drawings of natural history specimens and scenes in the arctic regions. These drawings are on separate leaves or they decorate the wide margins to the text and are by Moses Griffiths (1747-1819) and Mercatti, in many cases from sketches by Pennant himself. Volume I contains the quadrupeds and part of the birds, volume II the remainder of the birds, reptiles, fish and insects, while vol. III is devoted to the Introduction to the Arctic Zoology. They form three remarkable volumes on Natural History." (Wood’s Introduction 516)

While nothing is known about Mercatti, Moses Griffiths was a member of Pennant’s household, serving as his personal artist and travelling companion.

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Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793)

Gilbert White was born in his grandfather's vicarage at Selborne in Hampshire and is regarded as one of England's greatest naturalists and earliest ecologists. He served 4 times as the curate of Selborne – the last time from 1784 until his death in 1793. He was, however, ineligible to be considered for a permanent post at the parish because he had been educated at Oriel College, Oxford and the living was in the gift of Magdalen College. The letters he wrote to naturalists Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington (1727-1800) formed the basis for his Natural History of Selborne. This great work has been continuously in print since its original publication in 1789 with over 100 editions even before this sumptuous version of 1900. These letters contained White's discoveries about local birds, animals and plants. He believed in distinguishing birds by observation rather than by collecting specimens, and was one of the first people to separate the similar-looking Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler by means of their song. Between 1768 and 1793, White and William Markwick of Sussex collected records of the dates of emergence of more than 400 plant and animal species. These data, summarized in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne as the earliest and latest dates for each event over the 25-year period, are among the earliest examples of modern phenology – the study of the impact of climate change on the annual life cycle of plants and animals.

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Original Manuscripts

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)

Sir Joseph Banks was a naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences. In 1766 Banks participated in an expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador with a view of studying their natural history and made his name by publishing the first Linnean descriptions of the plants and animals found there. He took part in Captain James Cook's first great voyage (1768–1771) and is credited with the introduction to the Western world of eucalyptus, acacia, mimosa and Banksia. Approximately 80 species of plants are named after him.

Banks intended to go on Cook’s second voyage in 1772 but plans fell through because his demands for the number of scientists and the type of accommodations needed threatened to sink the ship. Instead he and Daniel Solander visited the Isle of Wight, the western islands of Scotland and Iceland and returned with many botanical specimens. In November 1778 he was elected President of the Royal Society, a position he was to hold with great distinction for over 41 years.

During much of this time Banks was an adviser to King George III on the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Banks dispatched explorers and botanists to many parts of the world, and through these efforts Kew became arguably the pre-eminent botanical gardens in the world. Banks was directly responsible for several famous voyages, including that of George Vancouver to the northeastern Pacific and William Bligh's voyages to transplant breadfruit from the South Pacific to the Caribbean Sea islands (the latter brought about the famous Mutiny on the Bounty).

Banks was greatest proponent of settlement in Australia and for over 20 years he was in fact the general adviser to the government on all Australian matters. Somehow he found time to serve as a trustee of the British Museum for 42 years and his house became the office of the Zoological Society of London.

Banks's health began to fail early in the 19th century and after 1805 he had to be wheeled to his meetings in a chair. His mind remained as vigorous as ever. In May 1820, only a month before his death, he forwarded his resignation as president of the Royal Society, but withdrew it at the request of the council.

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