John Lewin. Birds of New South Wales with their natural history. Sydney: Printed by G. Howe, 1813. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

John Lewin. Birds of New South Wales with their natural history. Sydney: Printed by G. Howe, 1813. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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John Lewin. Birds of New South Wales with their natural history. Sydney: Printed by G. Howe, 1813. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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Birds of New South Wales with their natural history

Author: John Lewin
Ref No: IL:1813 LEW
Date Created: 1813

London-born artist John William Lewin (1770-1819) is said to have been a charming and personable man. He attracted the support of some wealthy and powerful patrons. Yet bad luck dogged his career and, though his work is highly esteemed today, he did not achieve, in his lifetime, the level of success that he had hoped for.

Lewin’s first attempt at producing a book, an expertly illustrated book on moths entitled Prodromus entomology, natural history of lepidopterous insects of New South Wales, was financially unsuccessful. For his next project, Lewin turned from moths (always of rather limited appeal) to birds. He followed the same procedure as before: preparation in Sydney, printing in London. Lewin secured enough subscribers within Australia to ensure a profit. Then disaster struck. The consignment of the freshly printed Birds of New Holland was lost at sea in 1808 on the journey to New South Wales. Only a few copies left back in England survived.

Five years later Lewin tried again with a second small edition, retitled Birds of New South Wales and printed in Sydney. Containing eighteen hand-coloured plates of warblers, thrushes and honeysuckers, it was the first illustrated book produced wholly within Australia. With only twelve copies known to exist, it has become one of the most prized of all Australian publications.

The Library’s copy of Birds of New South Wales was part of Sir George Grey’s founding gift of 1887. A note in his handwriting on the title-page says, ‘This is the only copy I have seen – I value it highly.’

Tags: 3llkh, 6vosf, 8q5u5, a8debr, Australia, birds, cy8yov, fxjs6, george grey, gnzpe, h3kixn, hand coloured, imgkm, itbwm, kbhbin, mvrmx, New South Wales, ornithology, prwf1n, singing bird, syenev, uhupflzbfesrw, uzplz, vkhlt8, vmxgi, wcwekw

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