Full title: 'The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants; particularly, those not hitherto described, or incorrectly figured by former author by the late Mark Catesby; revised by Mr. Edwards; to the whole is now added a Linnaean index of the animals and plants.'

Mark Catesby was an English naturalist who travelled to the North American colonies 1712-1719 and 1722-1726 to study the flora and fauna of this region. Trained in botany, he observed, painted and described many plant and animal species. This research formed the basis of his book 'The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands', which he published after his return to England.

To save money on publishing, Catesby wrote the text, etched the copper plates and initially hand coloured every print. To fund this operation, Catesby issued the book in parts via subscription, which was a common way to fund the printing of expensive books at the time.

As the first colour plate publication on the natural history of North America, it remained influential for a long period, and was reproduced in a number of editions. This is a third edition, printed by Benjamin White in 1771. This edition brought the study up to date with a Linnaean index. With text in both English and French, the third edition also has reset text and the appendix has been renumbered 101 to120.

The third edition is rare in Australian public collections, with one copy held by Museums Victoria, one held by the State Library of Victoria and another held by the State Library of New South Wales.

The first volume has 100 numbered pages which feature images of birds, often paired with the plants on which they fed or nested in. It also features a double-page hand-coloured engraved map.

Physical Description

Hardcover volume of 57cm with brown leather on the casing and the fore-corners of the boards. The spine has seven compartments, seven raised bands, and gold tooling. Volume one consists of the first five parts of the publication. The volume features marbled end pages, and the title page is printed in black and red ink. Some pages are uncut. There are a total of 220 hand-coloured etched plates across the two volumes by and after Catesby. These are mostly signed with his cipher, except for a few of the plates, such as plates 61 and 96 in volume two which have been signed by G.D. Ehret.


As the first colour plate publication on the natural history of North America, 'The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands' remained influential for a long period.

This work is known for its ornithological artwork, which Catesby took a novel approach to producing. He pioneered the depiction of bird species with the plants that they fed on or nested in, and also abandoned the technique of cross-hatching in favour of following the natural line of bird feathers. This technique was time-consuming but yielded more realistic results. The first volume of 'The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands' features the ornithological plates.

Some of the birds that Catesby observed in the 18th century are now extinct, such as the Carolina Parakeet and Passenger Pigeon and the the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, thought to be extinct until 2005, when there was a possible sighting in Arkansas.

More Information

  • Collecting Areas

    Rare Books

  • Author

    Mark Catesby, London, England, 1771
    Having already made a round trip to Jamacia and Bermuda in 1714, The Royal Society endorsed Catesby's venture to South Carolina in 1720. Arriving in 1722 Catesby explored South Carolina and the Bahamas until 1725. Mark Catesby released 'The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands' in parts between 1729 and 1743. The third edition was printed in 1771.

  • Publisher

    B. White, London, England, 1771
    London: B. White listed as the publisher.

  • Inscriptions

    Both volumes contain the bookplate of English botanist Henry Barron Fielding.

  • Category


  • Discipline

    Rare Books

  • Type of item


  • References

    McBurney, H. (2021) Illuminating natural history: The art and science of Mark Catesby. London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The Natural History Museum and Pethers , H. (2013) NaturePlus: Library & Archives: Item of the month (June 2013) Mark Catesby 1683-1749, The Natural History Museum - Recent Posts. Available at: [Link 1] Nelson, E.C. (2015) The curious mister Catesby: A 'truly ingenious' Naturalist explores New worlds. Athens, Ga: Univ. of Georgia Press. The Smithsonian Institute (1997) Mark Catesby, Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: [Link 2]

  • Keywords

    Animal species, Flora, Plants, Birds, Fish, Insects, Natural History, Pictorial works