John Gould and James Audubon were the great entrepreneurs of 19th Century natural history illustration. While Audobon did all his own illustrations, Gould relied heavily on others, however both published on a prodigious scale and for the most part they are remembered for their images of birds.
With Audobon focussed on North America, Gould saw great potential for the discovery of new species in Australia. Travelling to Hobart in 1838 then on to Sydney, the Hunter Valley and SA, berfore returning to NSW, Gould assembled an impressive collection of birds, nests and eggs.
Returning to London, together with his wife and illustrator Elizabeth he began work on the eight-volume The Birds of Australia, a series that would dominate Australian ornithology for the next century.
Frederick McCoy corresponded regularly with John Gould, with the first consignment of bird specimens purchased from the London naturalist arriving in Melbourne in 1858. From then until the mid 1870s approximately 5000 bird specimens from around the globe were sent to the National Museum, each carefully packed in tin-lined cases. Arriving with the specimens were Gould's illustrated publications1.
The modest format of McCoy's publications could never match the Gould folios. As John Gould had already described many Australian birds and mammals, McCoy wisely did not attempt to cover the same ground. Instead he concentrated his efforts on other, less documented animal classes.
There were many points of intersection between Gould and McCoy, however there was also considerable tension concerning McCoy's chronic late payment for specimens, and also over naming rights for the Helmeted Honeyeater.