DIGGLES, Silvester (1817-1880)
The ornithology of Australia, by Silvester Diggles. Four original parts, 24 plates, in publisher’s wrappers.
Brisbane : Printed for the author by T.P. Pugh, [circa 1865 – 66]. Four parts (out of a total of twenty-one, these are numbers 2; 3; 7; 8, numbered in pen), folio, publisher’s wrappers (edges chipped, dusty, a couple of blind stamps) each containing 6 hand-coloured lithographed plates, heightened with gum arabic, each with an accompanying leaf of descriptive letterpress, occasional foxing; a very good copy. On the lower wrappers of numbers 2 and 3 is a printed descriptive prospectus of the projected publication, while on the lower wrappers of numbers 7 and 8 is a list of subscribers.
A rarely offered collection of 24 plates in the original publisher’s wrappers of one of the most important Australian ornithological publications of the nineteenth century.
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, between November 1865 and 1870. Part 1 was issued in 1865, parts 2 to 10 were issued in 1866, parts 11 to 15 were issued in 1867, parts 16 to 20 were issued in 1868 and part 21 in 1870 (Pigott, p. 98).
In the preface to the second edition of the work, published in 1877, Diggles notes that he originally printed only 100 copies of the plates, increasing this to 150 copies after publication of the sixth part. 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, 2010, p.110). The work was reissued under a separate title in 1877.
The complete publication is rare, and due to the tropical nature of the imprint and location of subscribers, typically found in poor condition. A set in wrappers was offered by Lowe Brothers in Birmingham in 1938 (catalogue 1108, no. 49), and as noted in Ferguson ‘Mathews stated he had never seen a set of this work in the 21 parts as originally issued to subscribers until he bought the abovementioned copy’. This set is now in the collection of the National Library of Australia.
Ferguson 9146, 9147, 9148; Nissen IVB, 247