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.

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