Saturday, January 30, 2016

False Trail

I hoped to be able to find a Western Ground Parrot specimen that could definitely be traced back to the Perth area.

When looking through the papers relating to John Gould in the National Library of Australia, Canberra, I came across an undated consignment list for shipment on the 'Madras', together with an envelope dated 28 Ju 1839 (MS 587/57). The letter was addressed to Mr Prince, John Gould's secretary. Amongst the specimens on the list were 2 Pezoporus formosus (Ground Parrots). 

Thanks to Clemency Fisher's paper* I knew that collector John Gilbert was in Western Australia in June 1839, and in fact had for most of the three months he had been there, collected in the vicinity of Perth. He had sent some specimens on the 'Herald' in May. Perhaps he had got another consignment away in June. However a search in the 'Shipping Intelligence' section of the newspaper of the day for a visit from the 'Madras' to Cockburn Sound in 1839, yielded nothing. Then I perused the species list more closely. First there was a list of 82 eggs. Gilbert had complained of finding no eggs in Western Australia - wrong season. Some of the skins also pointed away from Western Australia: Platycercus eximius (Eastern Rosella), Wattled plover (Masked Lapwing), and Pardalotus affinis (Tasmanian version of Striated Pardalote), for example.

So it was necessary to conclude that these specimens were sent from Tasmania, after Gilbert and Gould returned to Lauceston following their Bass Strait Islands collecting trip which ended in mid-January 1839. Gould set off for Hobart. John Gilbert left Launceston on the 'Comet' bound for the Swan River Colony on 4 February 1839. 

However in the two short weeks before departure he was able to pack a box of specimens and have it placed on the 'Madras' which was loading at the time. Below is an extract (OCR copy) from the 'Ship News' of The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston's weekly paper, concerning the arrival of the 'Madras' on 24 November 1838. On 26th January, a note in the Chronicle said 'Madras' is fast completing her cargo and is expected to leave about mid-February. 

The date on the envelope was more to do with arrival in England than time of departure from Australia. The Ground Parrots in that consignment were undoubtably not from Western Australia.

*See previous posting

Nov. 24. --- Madras (barque), 321 tons, W.
Henalker, master, from London— 1 cask British
goods, 1 crate ditto, 1 case silver plate, 88 cases
haberdashery, 41 bales ditto, 6 packages car.
riage, 3 packages British Roods, {packs ditto,
16 trunks ditto, 1 butt sherry, 1 butt pork, 84
eetkxbottled potter, SO hhds. stout, 17 casks
ale— 3. & D. Jlobertson; 8 bags nails, 2 cases
ironmongery, S7 packages British goods, 1 rase
ditto, 3 cases stationery, 4 cases books — F.
Palmer ; COO deals, 70 bhdn stout, 50 barrels
ale, 30 cash* vinegar, 10 torn iron tern-ing, 124
barrels pork, £6 cases British goods, IB bales
ditto,' 67 packages ditto, 20 buds, ale— Kerr,
Alexander. 4 Co. ; 40 packages a deal house, 7
packages British goods, I barrels ale — R. Spark ;
90 barrels port. 10 caws British goods £) hhfe.
ttout— Connolly & Co. ; 3 caws cigars 10 cases
wine, S pipes ditto, 10 obds. ditto, 10 quarter
casks ditto ? Order; 5 packages sundries — J.
Down i 1 caw British goods, 7 packages ditto,
S cask- ditto— J. Cameron ; 4 packages ditto— '
Smith, 'Revel), & Co. ; 12,000 staves — Willis,
Keogfci 4 Cd.j $8 packages wines 4 brandy;
SS quarter carts Tcnerifft— Order.

Passengers per Madrat, from London,
Mr. and Mrs. D. Robertson, 8 children and
servant ; Mr. and Mrs. Spark, 2 children and
servant ; Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, .Miss Palmer,
Miss E. Palmer, Mr. F. Palmer, Mr. W.
Palmer, Mr. C Palmer, Mr. A. Palmer and 4
children, Mr. and Mrs. Fairwcather. Mr. W.
Wood, Mr. Uncll, Mr. Greenhill, Mr. Canning,
Mr. Howard, Mr. H Howard.

Friday, January 22, 2016

When were the Wongan Hills ground parrot chicks collected?

HMS 'Beagle' on her second voyage. Accessed from Wikipedia.

If John Gilbert or one of his party did collect the Western Ground Parrot chicks on the sandplains near Wongan Hills, and it seems likely that he did (see previous posting), the question arises as to when, as the label is undated.

On 28 September 1842, John Gilbert collected a Western Grey kangaroo, a doe with a pouched young, on the 'sandplain near Wongan Hills', the same location as the chicks. Gilbert was keen to get to the Wongan Hills and the slow-moving party did get there the following day. The Western Grey kangaroos are housed in the Natural History Museum (NHM) with the numbers, 1844.2.15.5 and 7 (Fisher 2008). The ground parrot chicks are also in the NHM with the numbers 1844.2.15.96 and 97. This shows that they were part of the same batch of Gould specimens, registered on the same day.

It is known that a consignment of Gilbert's specimens was sent to England on the 'Beagle' though the accompanying list was lost. The 'Beagle' was on the last leg of her third voyage which had been an exploring and mapping trip around Australia. She sailed from Fremantle for England on 6 May 1843. (The 'Beagle's second voyage was the famous one bearing the naturalist Charles Darwin.)

Gilbert was in the Wongan Hills area a second time a year later, and the specimens from that visit as well as other expeditions were sent to Gould on the ship 'Napoleon' which left for England in January 1844. The trip to England took at least 4 months in those times so the specimens could not have been registered in the NHM by January 1844. Also the list of specimens sent via the 'Napoleon' has been found and does not include the chicks.

Although the specimen list was lost, it is known how many specimens were on the  'Beagle' as Gilbert compiled the totals for the two shipments (only mammals and birds shown here):

Totals   318 mammals   432 birds 
             232 mammals   200 birds 'Napoleon' (Whittell 1942)
              86 mammals    232 birds 'Beagle'


Fisher, Clemency (2008). A man of Great Zeal and Assiduity: the Pioneering Naturalist John Gilbert in Australia 1838-1845. In Contributions to the history of Australasian ornithology. Nuttall Ornithological Club, USA.

Whittell, H.C. (1942). A review of the work of John Gilbert in Western Australia Part 3. In Emu, 1942. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Australia.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Evidence that Gilbert collected the Wongan Hills WGP chicks

Below is a photo of a Black Honeyeater collected by John Gilbert, John Gould's collector in Australia, on October 29, 1843. The label written by John Gilbert shows clearly in the second photo. This specimen is held in the Liverpool Museum. The third photo is of the oldest label on the Western Ground Parrot nestlings that are housed in the Museum of Natural History.

John Gilbert usually documented his specimens, if not in a diary, in the consignment list when the specimens were shipped but no record has been found of the Wongan Hills chicks. Although there have been sight records of WGPs north of Perth, these are the only specimens collected north of Perth. When Liverpool Museum's Clemency Fisher (an eminent specialist in the collections of John Gilbert), saw the Wongan Hill chick label, she was confident it was written by John Gilbert. The label itself is the same type, and there are many points of similarity in the handwriting. The spelling of Wongan Hills is different. Gilbert was in the Wongan Hills area twice - in September and October 1842, and again the following spring when the Black Honeyeater was collected. A future posting will show that the WGPs would have been collected in 1842. Back then, on the first visit, it is not surprising that the spelling was different, as the area was being explored and spelling of the indigenous name had not been finalised.

Copyright Liverpool Museum

Copyright Liverpool Museum

Copyright British Museum