Large Melbourne Sepia or Cuttlefish, Sepia apama

John James Wild1889/1890

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria
Carlton, Australia

This lithographic print by John James Wild was commissioned by Sir Frederick McCoy, Director of Museum Victoria as part of the two-volume work The Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria which was Museum Victoria's first major publication beginning in 1878. At the time of publication McCoy noted "This is the largest and commonest species of Sepia on our coasts, and its internal dorsal shell or "Cuttle-fish Bone" is abundant on the shores everywhere in the Colony." However as with many of the animals represented this was the first time the species had been figured.The Prodromus project followed a popular formula of the time, seeking to identify and classify the natural wonders of the 'new world'. Such publications reached a peak in popularity with the work of John Gould in England and the earlier work of James Audubon in America. In Australia, many professional and amateur publications, including Aldine's systematic studies of the colonies and Louise Anne Meredith's Bush Friends From Tasmania, contributed to the genre.The publication of the Prodromus was an enormous undertaking, utilising the work of numerous artists, collectors, lithographers and publishers, over an extended period of time. Although costly in both financial and professional terms, it was met with critical acclaim and wide popular support. Financial battles were waged and lost by McCoy, but ultimately the Prodromus has stood the test of time and remains one of Museum Victoria's finest publications. McCoy died without completing his systematic study, but even at the time few believed that 'any of us will live to witness the completion of the work, if the entire Fauna of Victoria is to be illustrated.'


  • Title: Large Melbourne Sepia or Cuttlefish, Sepia apama
  • Creator: John James Wild
  • Date Created: 1889/1890
  • Physical Dimensions: w190 x h280 mm
  • Type: Image
  • Rights: Copyright Expired, Source: Museum Victoria / Artist: John James Wild
  • External Link: Museum Victoria
  • Medium: lithographic ink and paper
  • Subject: molluscs
  • Artist Information: Born Jean Jacques Wild in Zurich, Switzerland in 1824, John James Wild taught languages in Belfast, Ireland, where he met his wife, Elizabeth Ellen Mullin.Wild was appointed to the position of artist and secretary to the 1872-76 Challenger expedition. This first global investigation of the ocean's depths established the discipline of oceanography as a collaborative and interdisciplinary science. The most significant contribution by Wild to the many volumes associated with the expedition was Thalassa; an essay on the depth, temperature and currents of the Ocean, for which he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Zurich. He also published an illustrated popular account of his travels, At Anchor, in which he described Melbourne and produced engravings of Port Philip Heads and the Mountain Ash forests.Despite these impressive accomplishments, Wild was curiously unsuccessful in finding a position fitting his extraordinary range of expertise after emigrating to Melbourne in 1881. Having applied, again without success, for appropriate work in New Zealand, he patched together a living in Melbourne, lecturing in modern languages and literature at Trinity College, working as an examiner in French and German matriculation, and as a secretary and artist. Consequently, his most significant Australian legacy is the body of work he created for McCoy. However his observational skills via microscope and high fidelity lithography were also recognised by Walter Baldwin Spencer, the new Professor of Biology at Melbourne University. Spencer engaged Wild to illustrate dissections of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm for the Proceedings of the Philosophical Society in 1888. That same year Wild delivered the inaugural lecture on Anthropology at the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Sciences in Sydney, another interest he shared with the young Spencer, who became the next Director of the National Museum.At the end of the century Wild contributed to scientific societies in Melbourne, both as Assistant Secretary to R.L.J. Ellery at the Royal Society and as a contributor to the Royal Geographic Society of Australasia. He died, largely unrecognised, in Prahran Victoria, on 3 June 1900.

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