Great Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Plyctolophus galeritus

James Whitley Sayer1870

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria
Carlton, Australia

This chromolithographic print was made after an original watercolour by James Whitley Sayer for Rev. J.J. Halley's A Monograph of the Psittacidae or Parrot Family of Australia (1871). The lithographer of this plate is unknown, although the colour printing is known to have been done by Hamel & Ferguson of Melbourne. The domestic setting and use of strong colour in the work suggests an artistic rather than scientific interpretation of the cockatoo by Sayer. Rev. Halley envisioned his monograph on Australian parrots as a multi-part volume, however only one part, including the three plates reproduced here, was published due to a lack of subscribers. Halley was not the only naturalist working in Australia at this time to suffer similar financial constraints. Organisations such as the Field Naturalist Club of Victoria (established in 1880) existed partially to stimulate wider public interest in natural history. Halley himself was President of this club between 1885 and 1887, and commented on a growing interest in science and natural history in his presidential address of 1885. At the time that he was working on his monograph, however, Halley was possibly less impressed by the public's enthusiasm for natural history. Only a small number of copies of this work were ever printed due to financial constraints. Of these only four are known to exist today, making it a work of great rarity.


  • Title: Great Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Plyctolophus galeritus
  • Creator: James Whitley Sayer
  • Creator Lifespan: 1847 - 1914
  • Creator Nationality: English
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Geelong, Victoria, Australia
  • Creator Birth Place: Cornwall, England
  • Date Created: 1870
  • Physical Dimensions: 268 mm x 372 mm
  • Type: Image
  • Rights: Copyright expired: Source: Museum Victoria, Artist: James W. Sayer
  • Medium: Chromolithograph; Ink on Paper
  • Themes: Artistic Practices, Scientific Research, Natural History, Printing, Birds, Sciences, Illustrations, Cockatoos
  • Artist biography: James Whitley Sayer was born in 1847 in Cornwall, England. His father, Rev. James Sayer, was a Congregational minister who migrated to Australia with his family in 1857 when the young James Whitley Sayer was ten years old. Rev. Sayer became the minister at Dunolly, near Ballarat in Victoria, and this was where James Whitley Sayer began his career in banking. Sayer was still a resident of Dunolly when reverend and naturalist. J.J. Halley was living in Ballarat and working on A Monograph of the Psittacidae or Parrot Family of Australia (published in 1871.) Little is known about the relationship between Halley and Sayer, or how Sayer came to create the illustrations for his monograph. It is worth noting, however, that Rev. Halley was a Congregational minister like Sayer’s father. At the time that Sayer drew the illustrations for this publication he was yet to embark on any formal artistic training, although he had already displayed three pastel drawings at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866. When Sayer moved to New South Wales in 1876 he enrolled in the New South Wales Academy of Art and began a more formal artistic career, though it never became his full-time occupation. Aside from the parrot illustrations, Sayer’s early work mostly consists of copies in pastels of European works with religious themes. Later he in life he moved on to plein air landscapes in oil which depicted the Australian landscape. Sayer was the treasurer and later secretary of the Art Society of New South Wales (1883-1887) and exhibited works in the society’s annual exhibitions. He also exhibited work in the Intercolonial Exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne in 1879-1880. In 1888 Sayer returned to Victoria to work as Manager of the Chartered Bank of Australia in Geelong. He was an active participant and leader of Geelong’s cultural activities throughout the 1890s. Sayer campaigned for many years for the establishment of the Geelong Art Gallery, an undertaking which eventually met with success. He retired from his position in the Chartered Bank of Australia in 1908, and remained in Geelong until his death in 1914.
  • Artist: James Whitley Sayer

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