Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria


There are 14 species of snake illustrated in the Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria, four of which were described for the first time by Frederick McCoy.

The largest and most lethal of Victoria's snakes were included in the first few pages of the Prodromus. Perhaps these discoveries spurred him on, for he showed a particular fascination with snakes, particularly the more venomous species.

His text featured numerous anecdotes of fatal and near-fatal snakebites around Melbourne, and also included several descriptions of snakebite cures administered by Professor Halford of the School of Medicine at the University of Melbourne, who advocated the intravenous injection of liquor of ammonia to the patient. McCoy reported the efficacy of the cure in the case of a stationmaster at Elsternwick, who was bitten by a Copperhead.

Several of the species McCoy documented are now rare or extinct in the locales from which they were previously collected. For example, Ludwig Becker encountered the Death Adder toward the Murray River, while McCoy described observing a Little Whip Snake in the sand hills at Brighton Beach.

McCoy focused on the taxonomy of Australian venomous snakes, which to that point was not well understood. In a parallel project in Sydney, Gerard Krefft of the Australian Museum produced The Snakes of Australia (1865-69), which was illustrated by the talented sisters Helena and Henrietta Scott.

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