Distributed Proofreaders celebrates the 38,000th title it has posted to Project Gutenberg, The Birds of Australia, Volume III, by John Gould. Congratulations and thanks to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who worked on it.
John Gould (1804-1881) began work as a gardener under his father. He later set himself up as a taxidermist and eventually became the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London. This provided the opportunity for him to be the first to view new specimens donated to the Society.
Gould began to publish books on birds illustrated by his wife Elizabeth and other artists. After a string of successful works, John and Elizabeth moved to Australia to work on The Birds of Australia, published between 1840 and 1848. Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1841, soon after returning to England, and other artists completed the illustrations.
The bird specimens collected by Charles Darwin in his second voyage on the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836 were presented to the Zoological Society. Gould began identifying them and noticed that birds that were identified by Darwin as blackbirds, gross-bills, and finches were “a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar” as to form “an entirely new group, containing 12 species.” Gould met with Darwin and informed him that several of the birds Darwin had identified but supposed to be just varieties of the same species were actually distinct species on different islands. Darwin was then able to establish that the species were unique to the islands, leading to the inception of his theory of evolution. Gould’s research, with his wife’s illustrations, was published in 1838-1841 as Part 3 of The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Darwin.
The Birds of Australia was the first comprehensive survey of the birds of Australia. It is a seven-volume set that includes descriptions of 681 species, of which 328 were first described by Gould. Elizabeth Gould made hundreds of drawings and 84 color plates before her death. H.C. Richter produced 595 plates from her drawings. As Gould noted in the introduction to Volume I, there was no doubt a great deal more work to be done in the Australian wilderness:
If we compare the ornithology of Australia with that of any other country in similar latitudes and of the same extent, we shall find that it fully equals, if it does not exceed them all, in the number of species it comprises; and those parts of the country that are still unexplored doubtless contain many yet to be added to the list of its Fauna.
The Birds of Australia, Volume II, was previously posted to Project Gutenberg. Volumes I and IV through VII are in progress at Distributed Proofreaders.
This post was contributed by Richard Tonsing, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.