The Naturalist’s Repository

This week we would like to share the illustrations of Irish born writer, naturalist and amateur zoologist Edward Donovan (1768-1837).

Donovan was born in Cork, Ireland. At the age of 21 he settled in London and he began to illustrate natural history specimens. While he never traveled from London, his interest in exotic animal species lead him to avidly collect specimens obtained from the voyages of explorers. In 1807 he opened the London Museum and Institute of Natural History, a public museum that showcased his extensive collection. He published many, MANY books which he illustrated, etched, engraved and hand-colored himself or with a few employees. His precise and beautiful illustrations appealed to both serious naturalists and a general public.

The focus of this post is a set of 5 volumes he published between 1823-1827 with an incredibly long title.

The Naturalist’s Repository, or Monthly Miscellany of Exotic Natural History: Consisting of Elegantly Coloured Plates With Appropriate Scientific and General Descriptions of the Most Curious, Scarce, and Beautiful Productions of Nature That Have Been Recently Discovered in Various Parts of the World; and More Especially Such Novelties As From Their Extreme Rarity Remain Entirely Undescribed, or Which Have Not Been Not Been Duly Noted by Any Preceding Naturalists.

And it continues…

The Whole Composed According to the Latest Improvements in The Various Departments of the Science, and Forming Collectively a Truly Valuable Compendium of the Most Important Discoveries of Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Insects, Shells, Marine Productions, and Every Other Interesting Object of Natural History, the Produce of Foreign Climates.

116 Words!

(To be fair, many old books have lengthy titles, but this one is a real whooper!)

Each of the 5 volumes contains 36 illustrations. We have highlighted 3 images from each volume, but you may view the books in their entirety on the Biodiversity Heritage Library website by clicking the titles. It is interesting to note that even though the pages have yellowed, the objects depicted still display brilliant white. This is because Donovan painted the whites on top of the prints.

Spot-the-difference fans, there is a title spelling mistake in the first two editions. Can you spot it?

Volume 1 (1823)

Volume 2 (1824)

Volume 3 (1825)

Volume 4 (1826)

Volume 5 (1827)

We have been working on removing the discolored backgrounds from the shell drawings. We should have several dozen complete very soon!

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