John Gould. A Monograph of the Trochilidæ, or Family of Humming Birds. London: Taylor and Francis, 1851. Gift of Ethelinda Schaefer Castle ’08.

 

     
 

Hummingbird



 
 

John Gould (1804-1881) was England’s leading ornithologist in the nineteenth century, responsible for publishing more than forty large-format illustrated bird books, including comprehensive books on the birds of Great Britain, Australia and the Himalayas. He was appointed curator of the Zoological Society of London in 1827, and he used this critical position to correspond with natural history collectors throughout the world. When Charles Darwin presented the specimens he had collected on the Beagle to the Geological Society of London in 1837, Gould was chosen to examine the bird specimens for identification. He very quickly realized that these birds were not the blackbirds that Darwin had originally believed them to be, but rather a series of thirteen new species of finches from the Galápagos Islands, hitherto unknown to Europe. His discovery was important for the development of Darwin’s thinking about evolution, as it provided evidence that a new species could come into existence when individual members of a species are isolated from each other. 


 Gould is also known for his particular interest in hummingbirds, which he popularized for the general public. He studied hummingbirds for many years, and eventually amassed a collection which numbered 320 species. As a savvy entrepreneur, Gould determined to show his collection at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He built a home for it in Regent’s Park in London, where it was available to the public for an entry fee of sixpence. His collection was quite popular and resulted in many subscribers for his monograph on hummingbirds, including several members of European royalty.  The work was published between 1849 and 1861 as A Monograph of the Trochilidae.

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