This text is written by George Shaw, Keeper of the Natural History at the British Museum, and the illustrations are hand-coloured engravings by English naturalist and illustrator James Sowerby. It was originally intended to form part of a larger work on the botany and zoology of Australia, then called New Holland in Europe, however only one volume in each discipline was published. Initially, a smaller joint title with a total of 8 plates was issued, followed by separate botany and zoology volumes. Sometimes the two works are found bound together as 'Zoology and botany of New Holland and the isles adjacent'.

Neither Shaw nor Sowerby had ever visited Australia, and the descriptions and illustrations were based on pickled specimens or dried skins shipped back to London. The work was printed by J. Davis and published by James Sowerby in London in 1794. The title page states "Published by J. Sowerby, no. 2, Mead Place, Lambeth; to be had / at no. 42 Paternoster Row, and of the town / and country booksellers."

Physical Description

33 numbered pages of letterpress, 12 plates : hand coloured engravings ; 28 cm. English language. Twentieth century cloth binding.


This is the first book on Australian fauna, the first to use the unqualified term "Australia" and the first to describe two animal species in Western science: the red-bellied black snake Pseudechis porphyriacus and the feathertail glider Acrobates pygmaeus.

George Shaw was a doctor, Fellow of the Royal Society of London, co-founder of the Linnean Society of London, and was also the Keeper of Natural History at the British Museum, where he came into contact with many animal specimens sent back from British colonies, such as Australia. He was the first to describe a number of Australian animals in Western science, including the platypus, echidna, and wombat.

'Zoology of New Holland' is one of the rarest Australian colour-plate books - the author of the facsimile edition (2011) estimates that fewer than 20 copies are extant. Trove and Worldcat indicate 15 copies of this edition held in public collections worldwide, including eight libraries in Australia. This was one of the early purchases made by Professor McCoy for the National Museum of Victoria.

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