A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes]. John LATHAM.
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].
A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].

A General Synopsis of Birds [six volumes, with:] Supplement to the General Synopsis of Birds [two volumes, and:] Index ornithologicus… [two volumes].

London: Leigh and Sotheby, 1781-, 1781-1801.

Together ten volumes, quarto (249 x 195 mm.); with altogether 142 very fine hand coloured etched plates, a few heightened with gold, eight hand coloured etched title-page vignettes after and by Latham, a very fine set in contemporary tree calf, gilt, highly decorated gilt spines.

The earliest major study of Australian Birds

One of the finest sets we have seen, in outstanding original condition.

One of the finest sets we have seen, in outstanding original condition.

This was the first major ornithological collection to take serious notice of the birds collected on all three of Cook's voyages, including the famous illustration of the glorious Red-Tailed Black (or "Banksian") Cockatoo. This is also the earliest major study to include any significant number of Australian birds, almost 200 of which are noted in the famous 1801 supplement volume - all post First Fleet ornithological discoveries. This set is further enhanced by containing the two rare index volumes, not often seen.

John Latham (1740-1837) was the pre-eminent ornithologist of his day and a close friend of leading scientific figures including Sir Joseph Banks, Thomas Pennant and Sir Ashton Lever, with whom he swapped specimens and reports of the latest ornithological discoveries: 'known as the Grandfather of Australian ornithology, he was the first to describe, and to name scientifically, a large number of Australian birds…' (Whittell, The Literature of Australian Birds).

Many of the illustrations in the General Synopsis were done by Latham with the assistance of his daughter Ann. Born in 1772 Ann was an amateur artist and several of her watercolours were engraved in 1789 for Govenor Phillip's The Voyage… to Botany Bay. It is thought that Ann was the first female artist to publish illustrations of Australian species as her work published in Phillip's Voyage predates Sarah Stone's work in White's Journal by several months (Christine Jackson, Sarah Stone, p.146).

Latham had unfettered access to the collections of the British Museum, that of Banks, the Leverian Museum, and the field notes of second voyage veteran Johann Forster. As a result, this is not only a major early work of ornithology, it includes early notice and many beautiful illustrations of birds from every corner of the Pacific: Kamchatka, Nootka, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia, the vast majority collected by Cook and his scientists (the Third Voyage birds invariably noted as having been collected by "our late voyagers" or "our circumnavigators"). What is immediately noticeable is how many of the birds illustrated on Latham's plates are actually from the Pacific, testament to his desire to make available the newest specimens; in fact, it was his aim to record all known bird species discovered in the late eighteenth century.

Any number of birds are described from specimens in the Leverian Museum (the small note "Lev. Mus." is probably the most commonly used throughout, and countless notes refer to the collection in some way). In a similar vein, an enormous number of more exotic species (the Pacific, South-East Asia, North America, the Indies, Newfoundland, the Antarctic waters, etc.) are from the Banks collection. Latham was the right man at the right place and time to work on the newly-discovered Australian species. He was later largely responsible for the natural history specimens in Phillip's Voyage of 1789.

Because Latham's work dates from what might be called the pre-scientific era, the field notes and descriptions are often chatty and interesting (and not infrequently rather interested in how the different birds tasted). There are occasional lapses in his knowledge of the place of origin of different birds, but by our count the number collected on Cook's voyages exceeds 177, of which 33 are illustrated. Included in that number are the Australian birds, all of which date from the three voyages of Cook, notably the fine plate of the Banksian Cockatoo, one of the very few Australian birds actually bought back by Banks, and perhaps only the second Endeavour-voyage bird to be illustrated (after the Rainbow Lorikeet depicted in Peter Brown's 1776 work.

The pursuit of Australian natural history is neatly summarised by the additions of the second supplement volume of 1801. The entire preceding seven volumes include notice of 12 Australian birds, while this single volume adds an incredible 198 more, of which 17 are illustrated, including the Radiated Falcon ("probably a scarce species, only one having been met with, which was found nailed to the side of a barn"); the Variegated Bee-Eater; the Lyrebird (Superb Menura); and the Crimson-Bellied Flycatcher. One point of interest throughout is Latham's frequent references to being able to consult the Aylmer Bourke Lambert drawings (now part of the collection of the SLNSW) and indeed to have conversations with Lambert and other peers: of the Jabiru, for example, Latham writes that he has seen the drawing by his "friend and relation" George Shaw, and that "Mr. Lambert informs me, that only two have yet been met with, but are now and then seen on the muddy banks of the harbour of Port Jackson, searching for fish…".

Provenance: Howard Radclyffe Ornithological collection, U.K.

Ayer/Zimmer, 371; Copenhagen/Anker, 277-79; Lowndes, 3:1314; Mathews, 74; McGill/Wood, 427; Nissen, IVB, 532; Nissen, SVB, 290.

Price (AUD): $42,500.00  other currencies     Ref: #4504494

Condition Report