Natural history study of a female Leadbeater’s Cockatoo, an exotic, colorful Australian tropical bird. Posed almost like a portrait with the head tilted at an angle and looking back at the viewer, the depiction shows only the head and shoulders to mid breast. This emphasizes the bird’s most striking feature — its tall crest with scarlet, yellow and white feathers. Diggles intended for the prints in Companion to Gould’s Handbook — illustrating about 240 Australian birds — to be a more affordable alternative to competitor John Gould’s Birds of Australia. Indeed, most of the bird specimens Diggles depicted were from the collections of Gould’s brother-in-law, Charles Coxen, and Eli Waler of Brisbane.
The accompanying text describes Leadbeater’s Cockatoo:
“Upper surface of the body, wings, and tail, white; forehead, front and sides of the neck, chest, down to the centre of the abdomen, light rose color; under surface of wing and basal portions of the inner webs of tail feathers, rich salmon color; crest of male, scarlet, tipped with white; crest of female, scarlet, blending into yellow in the centre; bill, horn color; feet, dark brown.
“This elegant bird is found over all the southern portions of the Continent, from the borders of New South Wales to Western Australia, and may be considered as confined to the interior. The river courses bordered by huge Eucalytpti are its favorite haunts; and the pine forests near Gawler Town are resorted to for the purpose of breeding. This species is much less noisy than the common white cockatoo, and also much more quiet in its disposition. It thrives well in a cage, and is by far the most ornamental of the genus to which it belongs.”
Silvester Diggles was a colorful character in 19th-century Australia — a pioneering naturalist of birds and insects, as well as an artist and musician. After emigrating from his native Britain in the 1850s, he eventually settled in the Brisbane area, where he worked as a teacher and piano tuner, and began studying Australian flora and fauna. He helped found Queensland’s first scientific institution, the Queensland Philosophical Society, in 1859, and published several papers in its scholarly journal Transactions. He also worked to establish the Queensland Museum, which the Society started in 1862. Diggles initially published lithographs of his bird paintings as The Ornithology of Australia, 325 plates illustrating some 600 Australian birds, produced between 1863 and 1875. His niece, Rowena Birkett, hand-colored the plates in that collection. In 1877, he produced a two-volume second edition, using 123 of the same plates, which he named Companion to Gould’s Handbook, or, Synopsis of the Birds of Australia. After his death in 1880, his manuscript and original plates, including unpublished ones, were acquired by the publishing firm Angus & Robertson and donated to the Mitchell Library in Sydney. A facsimile edition of The Ornithology of Australia was published by State Publishing South Australia in 1990.
Henry Green Eaton was an Australian lithographer who worked mainly in Queensland. Born in England, he arrived in Tasmania, Australia, at the age of 18 on a prison ship, having been convicted of larceny. By 1844 he was working as a lithographer. He seems to have left Tasmania for Queensland in the 1850s. He is best known for his natural history subjects, including the 22 plates in Frederick M. Bailey’s Handbook to the Ferns of Queensland (1874) and all of Silvester Diggles ‘s bird prints, which he did between 1866 and 1870. He also produced landscape and portrait lithographs, often working from photographs.
“Henry Green Eaton.” Design and Art Australia. 9 November 2012. https://www.daao.org.au/bio/henry-green-eaton/biography/ (19 August 2015).
“The Ornithology of Australia.” Wikipedia. 25 December 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ornithology_of_Australia (19 August 2015).