John Gould, the famous19th Century ornithologist, created one of the most enduring brands in natural history as ‘The Birdman’ and the ‘father’ of Australian ornithology.  He is renowned for creating the most sublime images of birds the world had ever seen. 


Few people know that his wife, Elizabeth Gould, was the artist who illustrated and designed more than 600 of the exquisite hand-coloured images he is famous for.  Yet her legacy has been overshadowed by his fame.  Almost two hundred years of analysis of John Gould, and his contributions to ornithology, and zoological illustration have created a colossal figure.


Conversely, time and time again, Elizabeth has been consigned to his shadow.  Elizabeth was viewed as either John Gould’s faithful and supportive wife, or his willing assistant and acolyte. Onto these interpretations were projected all kinds of stereotypical feminine qualities, that she was delicate, polite, elegant and deferent. Some critics even go so far as to suggest that she sacrificed her very life, for her husband’s pursuits.


The real Elizabeth was a woman of substance and a woman ahead of her time, juggling work as an artist with her role as wife, and mother to an ever-growing brood of children.  Yet her creative output was extraordinary.  She was a passionate and adventurous spirit, defying convention by embarking on a two-year expedition to the Australian colonies with her husband, to collect and illustrate our unique birds and plants.


At a time when the world was obsessed with discovering natural wonders, Elizabeth was at its epicentre, working alongside legends like Edward Lear and Charles Darwin.  Yet in many of the books about John Gould, it would be impossible to find this woman.  At last in The Birdman’s Wife, Melissa Ashley (Author) has been able to tell her amazing story and overturn some of the outdated misconceptions about her.


The Birdman’s Wife written by Melissa Ashley


Article by Melissa Ashley in


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Related Tag: Bird Prints



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