Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Collection Snapshot: Is a Picture Worth More Than a Thousand Words?

January 3rd, 2020
Illustration for the Rose-breasted cockatoo or Cacutua Eos (Plate IV, Vol. 5) from John Gould's Birds of Australia (1848), consisting of two birds in greenery.
Rose-breasted cockatoo or Cacutua Eos (Plate IV, Vol. 5) from John Gould’s Birds of Australia. London: Printed by R. and J.E. Taylor: Published by the author, 1848. Call Number: Ellis Aves H141. Click image to enlarge.

This Rose-breasted Cockatoo or Cacatua Eos from John Gould’s Birds of Australia (1848) can be seen online as part of KU Libraries’ larger John Gould Ornithological Collection. The digital collection includes all of Gould’s large-format natural-history books and nearly 2000 preliminary drawings for his books. It is a natural temptation to focus on the beautiful hand-colored lithographs of birds illustrating these books and pay less attention to the text. However, John Gould was a keen observer of the birds of numerous countries, including Australia, and his first-hand descriptions of their behavior enliven the pictures:

The Rose-breasted Cockatoo possess considerable power of wing, and like the house-pigeon of this country [England], frequently passes in flocks over the plains with a long sweeping flight, the group at one minute displaying their beautiful silvery grey backs to the gaze of the spectator, and at the next by a simultaneous change of position bringing their rich rosy breasts into view, the effect of which is so beautiful to be hold, that it is a source of regret to me that my readers cannot participate in the pleasure I have derived from the sight.

–John Gould. Birds of Australia. London: Printed by R. and J.E. Taylor: Published by the author, 1848. (Text for plate IV, vol. 5). Call #: Ellis Aves H141

Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian