Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Considerable Achievements

Wild was an accomplished lithographer. From drawings, transfers and proofs taken at successive states of the same image, we can see that he set out with a powerful concept of the desired end result.

In contrast to Becker and Bartholomew, he rarely worked up pencil images in colour, instead waiting for a proof of the line work to complete a precise hand-coloured image, which would then act as a guide or 'pattern plate' for the master printer to finish. It is clear from instructions to the printer from his proofs that he possessed an unerring capacity to plan for the colour separations that made his images the most technically sophisticated in the Prodromus.

Despite his considerable achievements across a range of disciplines Wild never gained a permanent post in Australia. Consequently, his most significant Australian legacy is the body of work he created for McCoy.

However his observational skills via microscope and high fidelity lithography were also recognised by Walter Baldwin Spencer, the new Professor of Biology at Melbourne University. Spencer engaged Wild to illustrate dissections of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm for the Proceedings of the Philosophical Society in 1888.

That same year Wild delivered the inaugural lecture on Anthropology at the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Sciences in Sydney, another interest he shared with the young Spencer, who became the next Director of the National Museum.

At the end of the century Wild contributed to scientific societies in Melbourne, both as Assistant Secretary to R.L.J. Ellery at the Royal Society and as a contributor to the Royal Geographic Society of Australasia. He died largely unrecognised, in Prahran Victoria, on 3 June 1900.

Sea Urchin, mixed media on paper, by John James Wild.
Green-lipped Abalone, mixed media on paper, by John James Wild, 1887.