National Library of Australia

George Perry’s Arcana

George Perry (fl.1810–1811)Koalo

Arcana, or, The Museum of Natural History: Containing the Most Recent Discovered Objects Embellished with Coloured Plates

London: Printed by George Smeeton for James Stratford, 1811

bound volume of hand-coloured engravings; 24.0 x 15.5cm

Gift of the Friends of the State Library of South Australia Inc.

Rare Book Collection, State Library of South Australia

This early 19th-century collection of wonders of natural history introduced the koala to the world. More correctly, the koalo.

George Perry’s Arcana, published in monthly instalments from 1810 to 1811, contains details of several Australian plants and animals, and the first published illustration of a koala.

Not all of the animals, however, were accurately described or drawn. As well as the koala, the book depicts the platypus, black swan, kangaroo and wombat (spelled wombach and shown climbing a tree).

Little was known of the animals at the time. Perrydepicts the platypus as if it were a cartoon creature and describes the koala, or New Holland Sloth, as a ‘torpid, senseless’ animal.

Despite the book’s obvious inaccuracies, there was a ready audience among European audiences for such works.

The Arcana is an extremely rare work: there are only five copies in Australian libraries.