Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

John Lewin's Book, Birds of New Holland, 1808

This book, by John Lewin (1770-1819), is extremely rare and is one of only six copies known to exist. It was one of the first books published on Australian birds. Also in this volume are six plates from Lewin's Natural history of lepidopterous insects.

Lewins Birds 02

Birds of New Holland was published in London in 1808 using copper plates prepared by the author in Sydney several years before. The book includes 18 beautiful hand-coloured etched plates of birds and the text or letterpress is thought to have been written by his brother Thomas.

John Lewin started making etchings of birds as early as 1803 and had sent three to London to see what interest there may be in a book on Australian birds.

He also advertised in the Sydney Gazette in September 1806 for subscribers for The Birds of New South Wales and Their Natural History -

"The first Volume will contain Eighteen Plates, and will be published in the most elegant manner".

He obtained 67 subscribers locally and a small number in England but unfortunately the volumes headed for Australia were either lost at sea or destroyed in a warehouse fire. None reached their destination. Six copies survived -those of George III and Sir Joseph Banks are in the British Museum, two are in the National Library of Australia, one in the Mitchell Library Sydney, and one in the library of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia.

The title page reads as follows "Birds of New Holland with Their Natural History, Collected, Engraved and Faithfully Painted after Nature by John William Lewin, of Paramatta,, New South Wales, A. L. S."  In addition, bound in the rear, are six plates from Lewin's Natural history of lepidopterous insects of New South Wales .

RGSSA 598.0994 L672 SLSA Rare Book Room

Before coming to Australia John and Thomas Lewin had worked for their father William, who was a member of the Linnaean Society, and had published the Birds of Great Britain (1789-1794) - the brothers' initials appear on some of the plates. John had therefore been trained in the art of etching and the production of high quality coloured pictures of birds.

John Lewin arrived in Sydney on 11th January 1800 on board the Minerva having missed the Buffalo on which his wife waited in vain for him to board before the ship set sail. He was the first professional artist to settle in Australia.

His first book was Prodomus Entomology, Natural History of Lepidppterous Insects of New South Wales which was published in London in 1805. He was able to do this because he had a wealthy patron, namely the entomologist Dru Drury (1724-1803) who was an avid collector.