# 42702

DIGGLES, Silvester (1817-1880)

The ornithology of Australia : being illustrations of two hundred and forty-four Australian birds by Sylvester Diggles

  • Sold

Dedicated by permission to His Excellency Sir George Ferguson Bowen, G.C.M.G., First Governor of Queensland. [Brisbane] : Queensland : printed by Thorne & Greenwill (late T.P. Pugh), [1875]. First edition, second issue (preferred). Folio (text block 364 x 260mm), housed in contemporary green morocco gilt by Sapsford of Brisbane (expertly rebacked edges lightly rubbed), covers elaborately panelled in gilt with bevelled edges, inlaid circular sunken roundels at corners and large central rectangular sunken panel, spine in six compartments with raised bands, lettered in the second and fourth, the other compartments with repeat decoration in gilt centering on a small circular inlay of red morocco, gilt dentelles, marbled endpapers, elaborately gilt and gauffered edges with geometric design, repeating floral and Fleur-de-lis decoration, with the rare title page (usually never present) printed in green and gold, preface leaf (which is equally rare) dated ‘May 1875’, 126 hand-coloured lithographic plates after Diggles, drawn on stone by H. G. Eaton, printed by Eaton & Wilson of Brisbane, most leaves somewhat browned or spotted, some plates shaved into image area [as usual], the 33rd, 36th, 46th, 75th, 77th and 117th plates more shaved with loss to the birds, lower outer blank corner of text leaf to the 74th plate torn away. Overall a very fine copy of a book which due to its provincial nature is always found with condition issues.

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. An exceptional copy of this rare book, fully complete, in the original colonial presentation binding with the rare gilt title-page and preface. 

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’ 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. 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. The first twenty parts were published between 1866 – 1868, with the twenty-first part published in 1870, two years after the twentieth. By this time, subscribers had already started to bind the first twenty parts, therefore most bound sets of the first issue are found with only 120 of the 126 plates, having been compiled before the issue of the final part with final six plates.

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. Bound sets of the first issue usually lack a title page, although sometimes a manuscript title page has been added by the binder. 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). 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. This example is one of only a few copies known to have a title-page ornately printed in colour, and 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 then reissued under a separate title in 1877.


BM(NH) I, p.462 (2nd edition); Ferguson 9148; cf. Fine Bird Books (1990) p.91; Nissen IVB 247; cf. Sauer p.199; Whittell 201; cf. Wood p.319; cf. Zimmer p.171 (2nd edition). Pigott, L. J. (2010), pp. 149 – 165