John Gould

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John Gould

John Gould (September 14, 1804 – February 3, 1881) was an English naturalist and ornithologist.

The Gould League in Australia bears his name in honor of his contributions to ornithology. His identification of Charles Darwin’s finches was basic to the development of the theory of the origin of species.

John_Gould’s Biography

Gould was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, and was the son of a gardener. Shortly after his birth his father obtained a position in a farm near Guildford, Surrey, and in 1818 he was appointed foreman of the royal gardens of Windsor. Gould started his training as a horticulturist and it was then that he became an expert in taxidermy.

In 1824 he started a taxidermy business in London and his skills led him to be the first museum curator of the Zoological Society of London in 1827.

His work put him in touch with the best naturalists in England, and also the opportunity to be the first to see the new bird collections that came to the Society.

In 1830 a collection of Himalayan birds arrived, many of which had not been described before. Gould published these birds in A Century of Birds from the Himalayas (1830-1832). The text was written by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and the illustrations were lithographs of Gould’s wife, Elizabeth. This work was followed by four more in the following seven years, with texts by Gould himself and edited by Edwin Prince. Some of the illustrations were by Edward Lear.

When Charles Darwin presented the specimens of birds and mammals collected during his trip on the Beagle to the Geological Society of London at his meeting on January 4, 1837, the birds were handed over to Gould for identification. After working on it, at the next meeting on January 10 he reported that the birds of the Galapagos Islands that Darwin thought were blackbirds, grosbeaks and finches, were actually “a series of finches so particular” as to “form a group entirely new, which would contain 12 species. ” The story reached the newspapers. In March Darwin and Gould met again, discovering that Darwin’s “Galápagos wren” was actually another species of finch and that his “mockingbirds” that he had collected on each island were actually separate species and not variations, with relatives in continental South America.

Gould later reported that the small southern rhea that had been saved from a Christmas dinner was a new species he called Rhea darwinii, with a territory that partially overlapped with that of the northern ñandus. Darwin had not bothered to label his finches indicating the island of origin, but other members of the expedition were more careful. Darwin looked for the specimens collected by Captain Robert FitzRoy and the crew. From them he was able to establish that each species was unique to certain islands, which was an important step in the development of the theory of evolution.


Platypus. Author: John Gould.

In 1838, the Gould couple embarked to Australia for the purpose of studying the birds of the country and being the first to publish a book on the subject. Along with them was the naturalist John Gilbert. They arrived in Tasmania in September, meeting Governor John Franklin and his wife. Gould and Gilbert collected specimens on the island.

In February 1839 Gould sailed to Sydney, leaving his wife pregnant with the Franklins. Gould traveled to his brother-in-law’s station in Yarrundi, spending time searching for Ptilonorhynchidae 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 for an expedition to the Murray River. Gould collected specimens in the mountains of Mount Lofty and Murray Scrubs, returning to Hobart in July. Later he traveled with his wife to Yarrundi. They returned to England in May 1840.

The result of the trip was The Birds of Australia (1840-1848) – it includes some selected images of the work. The book included 600 plates in seven volumes, 328 of the species were new to science and were baptized by Gould. He also published A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos (1841-1842) and The Mammals of Australia (1849-1861) – includes selected images of the work.


Hummingbird Stingray (lithography John Gould).

See also (in English): Digitized album held by the National Library of Australia

After the death of his wife in 1841, Gould’s books were illustrated by different artists including Henry Constantine Richter and Joseph Wolf.

During his professional career Gould felt a special interest in hummingbirds. He accumulated a collection of 320 species, which he exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite his interest Gould had never seen a live hummingbird.

In May 1857 he traveled to the United States with his second son Charles. He arrived in New York before the season to see hummingbirds in the city; and on May 21 at the Bartram Gardens in Philadelphia he could see his first live hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). He then continued his trip to Washington where he could see a large number of them in the gardens of the Capitol. Gould tried to arrive in England with living specimens but without knowing the necessary conditions to keep them alive as long as he could keep them was two months. Gould published his Monograph of Trochilidae in 1861.

The Gould League, founded in Australia in 1909, was named after him. This organization gives many Australians their first introduction to birds, along with ecological and environmental education. One of its most important sponsors is the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (now known as Birds Australia).

More Facts about John Gould

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