# 42908

DIGGLES, Silvester (1817-1880)

The ornithology of Australia : being illustrations of 244 Australian birds, with descriptive letter-press.

$55,000.00 AUD

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[Brisbane : Printed for the author by T. P. Pugh, 1866-1868]. Folio (375 x 270 mm), bound in two volumes, recent half calf over marbled papered boards, spines in compartments with gilt lettering, edges stained red; as usual without the printed title and preface (which were not printed until 1874-75), and the last six plates (which were published as the twenty-first part in 1870); unpaginated; 120 plates in original state and richly coloured (lithographs by Henry Green Eaton, coloured by Diggles) each facing a letterpress leaf with description. Occasional light toning and markings, a couple of letterpress leaves with paper adhesion, a couple of short marginal stains, but overall an unusually clean and fine set.

One of the most important Australian ornithological publications of the nineteenth century, and the first substantial work on natural history published on a commercial scale in Australia.

English-born naturalist, artist and musician Sylvester Diggles arrrived in Sydney at the end of 1853 and settled in Brisbane in January 1855. In 1859 he became one of the founders of the Queensland Philosophical Society, and in 1861 he established the Brisbane Philharmonic Society. Diggles’ principal interests in the natural sciences were ornithology and entomology, and his The ornithology of Australia was first issued in Brisbane as 126 plates in 21 parts, without text, between 1866 and 1870. It is not known how many sets were issued, but unquestionably the number was small. These plates covered about one third of the known bird population of Australia. However, due to lack of funds, Diggles had to discontinue the project. Between 1870 and 1875, bound versions were issued which included descriptive text, and also a title-page either in manuscript or basically printed. There are a few copies known to have a title-page ornately printed in colour, but these all seem to have some variation, as “Diggles evidently used this title-page for copies which he regarded as important” (Pigott, The Bird man of Brisbane : Silvester Diggles and his Ornithology of Australia, 2010, p.110). The work was reissued under a separate title in 1877.

In his book, The Birdman of Brisbane. Louis Pigott concluded after examining many copies of Diggles’ Ornithology that there is no standard copy of the first edition. The present copy has richly coloured plates in the original (not re-drawn) form, suggesting this edition was bound from the original first twenty parts. The text for these parts was printed by Theophilus Parsons Pugh.

Diggles’ motivation in producing his Ornithology was to produce a simpler and far less expensive book on birds than John Gould’s series, one intended for a wider Australian readership (Pigott, p.104). However, he ran into financial difficulty and the project was never completed. By the time the twenty-first part was issued, two years after the twentieth, subscribers had already started to bind the first twenty parts. In his dream of finishing the project, Diggles had initially refused to issue an index and as a result bound copies are to be found with the plates in a variety of orders. They often lack a title page, preface and other preliminaries as well. As Pigott writes: “The early cancellation of many subscriptions and uncertainty about whether further parts would be issued after 1870 have contributed to the variability and incomplete state of copies found today. Most surviving copies lack at least the final twenty-first part, which was issued after a lapse of nearly two years” (ibid. p.71). Diggles said his edition number was 150 but it seems only 60 subscribers lasted the distance to Part 21 (ibid. p.98).

Rare; only three complete sets recorded at auction in the past 70 years.

Ferguson 9146, 9147, 9148; Nissen IVB, 247; Pigott, L. J. (2010), pp. 149 – 165