John Gould’s hummingbirds – a Victorian obsession

by bibliodeviant

Special Collections and Archives / Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau

John Gould (1804-1881) was a prolific bird artist and the most celebrated ornithologist of Victorian Britain. He published more than forty folio volumes on birds of the world, beautifully illustrated with nearly 3,000 hand-coloured lithographic plates.

Considered a pioneer of ornithology, Gould’s identification of the birds now known as “Darwin’s finches” helped Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution by natural selection and Gould’s work is referenced in On the Origin of Species. We are very lucky to have in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection complete sets of some of John Gould’s greatest works, including The Birds of Europe, The Birds of Great Britain, and Gould’s masterpiece, A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Humming-birds.

Hummingbirds were Gould’s great obsession and he accumulated a collection of 320 species, which he exhibited during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Victorians were greatly attracted to the fleeting beauty of the tiny creatures…

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