Bennett's (Dwarf) Cassowary, Casuarius bennetti

Henry Constantine RichterCirca 1851

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria

Head of Dwarf Cassowary, from "Supplement to the Birds of Australia".

During the 19th century, John Gould (1804-81) brought to world attention the splendour of the planet's avian diversity. In an era infatuated with natural history, these gloriously modelled and coloured images satisfied the demands of passionate naturalists.

Gould was not a gifted draftsman, but he was a determined entrepreneur. He engaged a succession of superb illustrators to create 3000 sumptuous images of birds from Australasia, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Gould used print-making media for their ability to create multiple original impressions and the etchings is his publications demonstrated precision and delicacy of line. Applying colour remained the most time-consuming part of these processes, with images painstakingly hand-coloured either on the plate or on the print.

For Gould, the birds provided the most spectacular subjects; his images of Australian species have come to define those birds in the imagination of many bird-lovers.

John Gould first described this large flightless bird in 1857, naming it after the Australian naturalist George Bennett: Bennett's Dwarf Cassowary, Casuarius bennetti.

Gould referred to the Cassowary by its New Guinean name, Mooruk, and regarded its description as "one of the most important additions to ornithology that I have ever had the good fortune to bring before the notice of the scientific world".

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