This is the entry for John Gould in the Dictionary of National Biography (1908). It has been formatted and illustrated for the Victorian Web by Jacqueline Banerjee, who has also added extra paragraphing, links and captions. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source (see bibliography), and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on all the images to enlarge them, and for more information about them.]

John Gould, by Thomas Herbert Maguire, printed by M & N Hanhart; lithograph, 1849. @copy; National Portrait Gallery, NPG D34651.

Gould, John(1804–1881), ornithologist, the son of a working gardener, was born at Lyme Regis 14 Sept. 1804. His father became a foreman gardener at Windsor Castle when Gould was about fourteen years old, and the youth at first worked under his father. He early gained much knowledge of birds in their wild state, and commenced stuffing them, soon attaining great skill. After some years he obtained a post as gardener at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. In 1827 N. A. Vigors [...] required a taxidermist for the collection of the newly formed Zoological Society of London, and Gould easily obtained the post. He married in 1829 Miss Coxen, whose skill in drawing and education as a governess were afterwards of the greatest service to her husband.

"Garrulus Bispecularis" (an Asian jay), from A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains: Tab. XXXVIII.

In 1830 Gould received a valuable collection of bird-skins from the Himalayas, then almost a terra incognita. These Mr. Vigors described, and Gould set about producing his first folio illustrated work, his own sketches being transferred to stone by his wife. The Century of Himalayan Birds was by far the most accurately illustrated work on foreign ornithology that had been issued up to that period [...]. The Birds of Europe and the other works mentioned below followed, and before he died Gould had produced forty-one folio volumes, illustrated by 2,999 plates, a wonderful achievement for one man; he had also written about three hundred memoirs and papers in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society and other scientific journals, lists of which are given in the Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers.

"Cacatua Leadbeateri" (pink cockatoos) from Birds of Australia, Vol. 5: 2.

Gould was unable to obtain a publisher for his first illustrated work, and reluctantly resolved to become his own publisher. His works soon became a pecuniary success, and realised for him a considerable fortune. The care he bestowed on the plates and their colouring was remarkable, his object being to render them artistic pictures of the birds and mammals in their natural haunts. The works on Australian birds and mammals were largely the result of a voyage which Mr. and Mrs. Gould undertook in 1838–40 with an assistant, John Gilbert. Gould visited and explored many parts of the continent and the adjacent islands, and acquired rich stores of novelties. The accounts which he gave of the habits of some of the species were of remarkable interest.

In 1841 his life was saddened by the loss of his wife, and afterwards most of his sketches were transferred to stone by Mr. W. Hart. About the same period his collectors in Australia lost their lives — Gilbert in Leichhardt's expedition of 1844, Drummond in Western Australia, and a third in one of the islands in Bass's Straits. In 1843 Gould was elected F.R.S. The monograph of the Humming birds, commenced in 1849, was another great achievement. Gould's remarkable collection of them was exhibited during the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the gardens of the Zoological Society, where he was allowed to erect a building. The majority of the Humming birds and of the birds of Asia were drawn upon stone by Richter from sketches by Gould.

Left: "Bubo Maximus" (an Eagle Owl) from The Birds of Great Britain, Vol. 1, Pl. xxx. Right: "Docimastes Ensiferus" (Sword-bills) from A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Family of Humming-birds, Vol. 4: 130.

The Birds of Great Britain, begun in 1862, exhibited the perfection of his work; the plates were executed with remarkable care, the birds being depicted in their natural haunts, with young, nests, &c. The drawings were placed on stone by Hart. His remaining works, all of value, are enumerated below. To the last Gould continued actively at work, though suffering for years from a painful disease. For the last few years of his life Mr. R. Bowdler Sharpe of the British Museum assisted him materially, having written the whole text of the Birds of New Guinea. Mr. Sharpe also completed Gould's unfinished works after his death, which took place at his house in Charlotte Street, Bedford Square, on 3 Feb. 1881. His son, Charles Gould, is author of Mythical Monsters, 1886.

Without any advantages of education and position Gould achieved a great success by perseverance and love of his subject. He united in himself the qualities of a good naturalist, artist, and man of business. He was stern and somewhat brusque in manner, straightforward and exact, but always kindly in word and act. His Australian mammals, containing more than five thousand skins, and his collection of Humming birds were secured for the British Museum of Natural History (South Kensington), the birds for 3,000l.; his Australian birds were previously sold to Dr. Wilson of Philadelphia (who gave them to the Academy of Natural Sciences of that city), though they had been offered to the British Museum for 1,000l., which was far below their value.

Related Material


Bettany, G. T. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. VIII, Glover - Harriot. Ed. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. New York: Macmillan / London: Smith, Elder, 1908: 287-88. Internet Archive, contributed by the University of California Libraries. Web. 3 April 2019.

Gould, John. Birds of Asia. Internet Archive. Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Web. 3 April 2019.

_____. Birds of Australia Vol V. London: Gould, 1848. Internet Archive. Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Web. 3 April 2019.

_____Gould, John. The Birds of Great Britain Vol. 1.. London: Gould, 1873. Internet Archive. Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Web. 3 April 2019.

_____. A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains. London: Gould, 1831. Internet Archive. Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Web. 3 April 2019.

_____. A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Family of Humming-birds, Vol. 4. Internet Archive. Contributed by Smithsonian Libraries. Web. 3 April 2019.

Created 3 April 2019; last modified 8 September 2023/p>