A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby . George Kearsley SHAW, James Edward SMITH, Frederick Polydore NODDER.
A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby .
A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby .
A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby .
A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby .
A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby .

A volume combining "Zoology" and "Specimen of the Botany" of New Holland with two watercolours by Nodder and a letter from Shaw to Sowerby…
A volume combining "Zoology of New Holland", with "A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland. The figures by James Sowerby", two original watercolours by F.P. Nodder, and an original letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby .

London: respectively 1794; 1793-1795; 1789; the letter undated; evidently compiled as a volume no later than 1795.

Quarto, four works together:

1. The Shaw Zoology with ten engraved plates (of twelve, lacking v & vi), plate xi with a repaired tear; the plates beautifully handcoloured after James Sowerby;

2. The Smith Botany with nine finely handcoloured engraved plates (of sixteen, without plates i-vi and viii); text leaves for missing plates v & vi present, plate vii embothrium speciosissimum present without text leaf; lacking half-title, title, and preface;

3. F.P. Nodder's two original botanical watercolours of Banksia serrata, each signed "F.P.N '89", on Whatman paper corresponding to paper used in the Smith Botany, bound after the waratah plate in the Botany;

4. George Shaw manuscript letter to James Sowerby loosely enclosed, 2 pp, regarding drawing the opossum from a live specimen for inclusion in the Zoology (plate xi).

The four items a contemporary assembly in a handsome binding of the period of half green morocco, marbled boards and title-label.

Unique assembly of pioneering work on the natural history of New South Wales; including two original watercolours by Nodder

Assembled in the 1790s, this remarkable volume contains a deliberate selection of the groundbreaking earliest scientific and artistic work on the natural history of New South Wales from its first European settlement, and connects six figures each of individual importance to that remarkable story: George Shaw, James Edward Smith, F.P. Nodder, James Sowerby, Thomas Wilson and Surgeon John White. The four separate components, all of considerable individual interest, must have been gathered together by someone in or close to the immediate circle of figures involved in the earliest publications of Australian natural history.

Assembled in the 1790s, this remarkable volume contains a deliberate selection of the groundbreaking earliest scientific and artistic work on the natural history of New South Wales from its first European settlement, and connects six figures each of individual importance to that remarkable story: George Shaw, James Edward Smith, F.P. Nodder, James Sowerby, Thomas Wilson and Surgeon John White. The four separate components, all of considerable individual interest, must have been gathered together by someone in or close to the immediate circle of figures involved in the earliest publications of Australian natural history.

1. Shaw's Zoology and 2. Smith's Botany

Shaw's Zoology and Smith's Botany rank separately among the rarest of Australian colour-plate books; there is an uncertain history surrounding their initially joint publication. Originally Shaw and Smith had combined forces to produce a work in two parts containing just four plates each, with the undated title-page Zoology and Botany of New Holland. Both those parts appeared in 1793, each consisting of two zoology plates and two botany plates. This combination issue was quickly abandoned in favour of two separate works, with Shaw producing the Zoology of New Holland in 1794, and Smith A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland in four parts between 1793 and 1795.

Here, we have the Zoology all but complete, missing two plates, and the Botany with nine of the sixteen plates published, all but one of them being plates from the third and fourth of the four published parts (the extra plate here is the wonderful image of the waratah which, unlike the others, does not have its accompanying leaf of printed text), therefore dating from the later part of the publication period for the four parts of the Botany of 1793-1795. The Botany is also missing its title and preliminaries which in keeping with contemporary publication practices would be likely to have been the final piece of the completed publication to be set, providing a likely terminus ante quem for compilation of the volume. (Interestingly the dedication to Thomas Wilson as ultimately published is therefore not included).

3. Nodder watercolours

The two fine watercolours signed "F.P.N." by Nodder and dated "'89" are images of Banksia serrata that were not included in Smith's Botany, but perhaps based on their inclusion in this volume may have been originally considered for it. However, they were engraved from Nodder originals for John White's Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, published in 1790. The first watercolour, with the faint notation in graphite "Banksia serrata in fruit" and the second (untitled, but "Banksia serrata in bud") both show slight but clear differences to those published plates. Importantly both are dated 1789, the year preceding publication of White's Journal.

John White, First Fleet surgeon, was of course a botanical enthusiast and an assiduous collector for his London correspondents, the chief of whom was Thomas Wilson, who assisted in the preparation and publication of White's Journal of a Voyage which specifically notes (pp 222-223) that 'Mr. White has sent imperfect specimens and seeds of four species of Banksia, which we have endeavoured to settle...'.

Those four specimens were of Banksia serrata and Banksia conchifera, which were illustrated in five full page hand-coloured engravings in White's Journal. Banksia serrata in fruit and in bud were the only two of the five engravings to have been based on drawings by Nodder and unlike the other three have his signature at lower left; clearly Nodder's watercolours offered here are the original watercolours used in the preparation of White's Journal. Signed and dated 1789 these watercolours are therefore at the very forefront of the European recording of Australia's exotic flora.

4. Shaw's letter to Sowerby

The manuscript letter from George Shaw to James Sowerby adds remarkable immediacy and insight into the working production of Shaw's Zoology. Shaw informs Sowerby that a live specimen of the "quadruped" for inclusion in the "ensuing No." is available at "Mr Wilson's", that is Thomas Wilson mentioned above. The manuscript gives a beautiful description of the "Opossum with the aspect of a squirrel" and polite suggestions for the rendering of the illustration, as well as its dietary requirements:

"The quadruped intended for the ensuing No. of [?] New Holland Zoology is now at Mr. Wilson's & if Mr. S. will send a messenger for it he may have it at his own home for some days… to study its several attitudes, & to give as elegant a figure of it as possible. It is an Opossum with the aspect of a Squirrel & is a very beautiful animal. As soon as the drawing is made Dr. S.[haw] will be glad to see it. Mr. S. will take notice that the tail is strongly prehensile & may therefore be represented in such a manner as to shew that particular, unless it shd. be thought to interfere with the elegance of the plate… It is to be fed with bread & milk. It is nearly torpid by day, but very active by night…".

In addition, he informs Sowerby that he has "named the snake" Coluber porphyriacus (that is plate x in the Zoology).

Provenance and early ownership

The volume belonged to one Catherine Elizabeth Fowler, and has her signature on the front flyleaf. A pencil note below may be referring to that inscription with a date of 1861. There are few candidates with that precise pair of Christian names though an 1861 date would fit with an identification of the then owner as Catherine Elizabeth Pocock b. 1825, the daughter of naval officer and marine painter Lt. William Innes Pocock (1783-1836), who married career officer Lt. George Campbell Fowler. An earlier candidate might be Catherine Elizabeth Fowler, b. Westminster 1791, while there is also the interestingly coincidental Catherine Elizabeth Nodder (1798-1830). Further research will no doubt reveal an exact identity and we sense that it would be surprising if there were not a link backwards to the extraordinary group of figures of the 1790s.

Working from that other direction we have a strong candidate for early ownership in Thomas Wilson, dedicatee of both Smith's Botany and White's Journal, probable recipient of the Nodder watercolours for inclusion in White's Journal, and custodian of the lovely opossum to whom no doubt Sowerby might have handed Shaw's letter when claiming the animal to paint its portrait.

On the other hand, that same letter if kept by Sowerby might indicate his ownership of the volume.

In any interpretation of ownership all signs point to the remarkable milieu encompassed by George Shaw, James Edward Smith, James Sowerby, Frederick Nodder, Thomas Wilson and John White the Surgeon-General of New South Wales. These figures are entangled in a way that is not familiar to us today where our circles of acquaintance are vastly wider. All are connected with a golden period in the natural sciences, all have connections to the foundation of the Linnean Society in 1788, all were familiar with the Leverian Museum and its personnel and supporters, all handled the artefacts and specimens brought back on Cook's and other voyages, and with the Australian First Fleet; and all sat at the extremely distinguished feet of Sir Joseph Banks.

Transcript of Shaw letter:

Dr. Shaws compts to Mr. Sowerby/ & informs him that the quadruped/ intended for the ensuing No. of [?] New Holland Zoology is now at Mr. Wilson's/ & if Mr. S.[owerby] will send a messenger for/ it he may have it at his own home for some days, which will be necessary, in order to study its several attitudes, & to/ give as elegant a figure of it as possible./ It is an Opossum with the aspect of/ a Squirrel, & is a very beautiful animal./ As soon as the drawing is made Dr. S.[haw]/ will be glad to see it. Mr. S[owerby] will take/ notice that the tail is strongly prehensile,/ & may therefore be represented in such a/manner as to shew that particular, un-/ less it shd. be thought to interfere with/ the elegance of the plate; but the best/ way will be to make several sketches,/ in different attitudes.

It is to be fed with bread & milk./ It is nearly torpid by day, but very active/ by night. Care must be taken to/ express well & clearly the lateral mem-/ brane of the sides & feet, as in the/ flying squirrel.

Dr. Shaw has named the snake/ Coluber porphyriacus/ The crimson-sided Snake.

Brit[ish] Mus[eum]

Monday morn

Omitted plates from the Zoology:

V Columba Antarctica Antarctic pigeon

VI Chætodon Constrictus The Constricted Chætodon (fish)

Omitted plates from the Botany

I Billardiera scandens Climbing Apple-berry

II Tetratheca juncea Ruby tethratheca

III Ceratopetalum gummiferum Three-leaved Red-gum Tree (Christmas bush)

IV Banksia spinulosa Prickly-leaved Banksia

V Goodenia ramosissima Branching blue Goodenia (letterpress present but lacks plate)

VI Platylobium formosum Orange Flat-pea (letterpress but lacks plate)

VII Embothrium speciosissimum Great Embothrium, or Waratah (plate present, no letterpress)

VIII Embothrium silaifolium Cut-leaved Embothrium

Omitted text from the Botany

Half title, Title, dedication leaf (to Thomas Wilson), preface

Provenance: Catherine Elizabeth Fowler (signature on front flyleaf: probably Catherine Elizabeth Pocock, daughter of Lt. William Innes Pocock, naval officer and marine painter, b. 1825, m. Lt. George Campbell Fowler); Australian private collection.

Nissen, BBI 1861. See also K.A. Hindwood: 'Three early natural history books' in Australian Zoologist, Vol. 14, 1968; Nissen, ZBI 3838; Whittell, pp. 664-5; Wood, p. 566. 2: Ferguson, 170.

Price (AUD): $85,000.00  other currencies Ref: #4505093