National Library of Australia

John Lewin’s Birds of New Holland

John William Lewin (1770–1819)Birds of New Holland with Their Natural History

London: Printed for the author and published by J. White and S. Bagster, 1808

illustrated book, with hand-coloured etchings; 39.0 x 28.7cm

Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Birds of New Holland with Their Natural History

John Lewin (1770–1819) was Australia’s first free-settler professional artist, and one of the first to depict Australia without using English painting conventions.

Lewin produced the first book of Australian birds, the exceedingly rare Birds of New Holland with Their Natural History. Published in 1808, it is a significant record of 18 species of birds common to Sydney at the time. Only six copies are known to exist.

His first book was an illustrated volume of moths, Prodromus Entymology, Natural History of Lepidopterous Insects of New South Wales. It was published in 1805 in London in order to have English naturalists correctly describe the specimens, and due to a lack of suitable paper in the colony. It was the first to contain Australian engraved plates.

Lewin successfully attracted 61 subscribers to buy 73 copies of his book of birds at £220 per book—a large sum. However, the consignment was lost en route to Australia, only a few books surviving back in England.

This effectively marked the end of Lewin’s career as a printmaker, although he published Birds of New South Wales in 1813—the first illustrated book and first natural history book to be published in Australia, and the country’s first private publication.