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Letters of John Gould

Call Number: MS 313


The Letters of John Gould contains manuscript letters written by the 18th century ornithologist John Gould. The collection also contains letters written to Gould and letters between Gould's contemporaries. There are also several print pieces including Gould's Monograph of the Ramphastidae Prospectus in German.


  • Creation: 1800-1922


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of John Gould

English ornithologist and bird artist John Gould was born September 14, 1804 to gardener John Gould and his wife Elizabeth in Lime Regis, Dorset. Shortly afterward, his father began working on an estate near Guildford, Surrey, and then in 1818 became foreman in the Royal Gardens of Windsor.

The young John Gould began training as a gardener, being employed under his father at Windsor from 1818 to 1824, and he was subsequently a gardener at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. He became an expert taxidermist, setting up his business in London in 1824. His skill led him to be the first Curator and Preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London in 1827. Gould's position brought him in contact with the country's leading naturalists, which often afforded him the opportunity to be the first to see new collections of birds given to the Zoological Society of London.

In 1830, a collection of birds from the Himalayas arrived, many not previously described. In 1831-1832 Gould published in twenty monthly parts A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830-1832), written by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and containing eighty color lithographic plates created by Elizabeth Coxen Gould. In 1832, John Gould began the publication of The Birds of Europe, a five volume work that was completed in 1837. The text was written by Gould and edited by his clerk, Edwin Prince. Some of the illustrations were made by Edward Lear as part of his Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae in 1832. On January 4, 1837, Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle at a meeting of the Geological Society of London. The specimens were given to Gould for identification. He discovered that the birds Darwin had thought to be blackbirds were actually a new group of Finches, containing 12 species. Gould made further discoveries in Darwin's specimens including additional species of finches. Gould's work on the birds was published between 1838 and 1842 as Part 3 of Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, edited by Charles Darwin.

Gould earned a considerable fortune through his ventures, and in 1838 moved with his wife to Australia to study the birds of that country and produce the first major work on the subject. They returned to England in May 1840. The new volume, The Birds of Australia, contained 600 lithographic plates in seven volumes. More than half of the images were new to science and named by Gould. He also published A Monograph of the Macropodidae, or Family of Kangaroos and the three volume work The Mammals of Australia. Throughout his professional career, Gould was fascinated by hummingbirds, although he had never seen a live hummingbird. He accumulated a collection of 320 species, which he exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. On a trip to the United States in May 1857, Gould saw a hummingbird for the first time in Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia. He attempted to return to England with live specimens, but was not aware of the conditions necessary to keep them alive, and as a result, the birds lived for no longer than two months. Gould published A Monograph of the Trochilidae or Humming Birds with 360 plates (1849-61). Gould set out to create the most comprehensive record of native birds in The Birds of Great Britain (1862-73). In preparation for the volume, Gould took an ornithological tour of Scandinavia in 1856 where he made rough sketches from nature and specimens. Gould then oversaw his artists as they worked his sketches up into the finished drawings, which were then made into colored lithographs by engraver William Hart. Each lithograph was then hand colored. Gould published the book in five volumes himself, printing 750 copies, which are still highly sought after today.

John Gould married Elizabeth Coxen (1804-1841) in January 1829. Elizabeth Coxen Gould was an artist and worked closely with her husband on his early works. The couple had eight children, John (1829), John Henry (1830-1855), Charles (1832), Charles (1834-1893), Eliza (1836-1918), Franklin (1839-1873), and Sarah (1841-1926). Elizabeth Gould died in 1841 after the birth of their daughter, Sarah. Although Gould was greatly grieved by the passing of his wife and was raising six children, he continued to work diligently on researching and publishing. John Gould died in London on January 8, 1881.


1 linear foot (3 boxes)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The John Gould Collection contains manuscript letters written by the 18th century ornithologist John Gould. The collection also contains letters written to Gould and letters between Gould's contemporaries. Letters are generally arranged in chronological order. There are also several print pieces including Gould's Monograph of the Ramphastidae Prospectus in German.

Physical Location

MS 313

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Royal Australian Historical Society

Ralph Ellis Collection

Gift, Gordon C. Sauer, 1996, 1997, 2003

Related Materials

The "Gould drawings" consist of 1300 sheets of working drawings for his later works; 12 lithographic stones bearing drawing for hummingbirds; the "Jardine Gould" drawings (327 drawings) for The Birds of Australia MS uncat Ellis Gould

Separated Materials

Gordon C. Sauer's Gouldiana Research (about John Gould) and other papers, 1800-2004 removed to MS 304

Guide to the John Gould Collection
Letters of John Gould
Finding aid prepared by skt, 2013; revised by mhr, 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in<language encodinganalog="language">English</language>
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
John Gould Collection, Department of Special Collections, MS 313, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States