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John Kirk Townsend: Collector of Audubon's Western Birds and Mammals

Biography / Memoir

By: Barbara Mearns and Richard Mearns

389 pages, 350 illus, 10 maps, 4 flow charts

Mearns Books

Hardback | Sep 2007 | #170469 | ISBN-13: 9780955673900
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £47.99 $61/€54 approx

About this book

The first in-depth biography of J.K.Townsend (1809-1851), an ornithologist from Philadelphia who crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River in 1834 and made two visits to the Hawaiian Islands. He returned home with a great haul of bird and mammal specimens: Townsend's Warbler, Townsend's Chipmunk, Townsend's Ground Squirrel, Townsend's Mole etc. that were used by John James Audubon in the preparation of his Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds.

The heart of this book is an exciting new presentation of Townsend's Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains, to the Columbia River, and a visit to the Sandwich Islands, Chili &c (1839). Although there have been several editions of the Narrative this version includes new material from Townsend's original journal, is the first to be fully illustrated and the first to include Audubon paintings of the very specimens that Townsend collected.

Barbara and Richard Mearns also examine Townsend's Quaker upbringing, track him on his journey westwards, provide a modern zoological commentary on his discoveries, trace his troubled career, and discuss his association with Audubon and the major contribution that Townsend made to his famous works.

'a fascinating read from beginning to end' Leni Martin, BIRDWATCH. 'If you want to see how to bring to life the activities of an ornithological pioneer, then look no further.' Mike Pennington, BRITISH BIRDS. 'This grand and comprehensive biography of John Townsend is a marvellous contribution to the history of American ornithology.' Paul A. Johnsgard, NEBRASKA BIRD REVIEW. 'The photographs and the skilful design of the book are among its greatest virtues. They clearly pursued the topic with passion and complete dedication.' Daniel Lewis, THE IBIS. 'it will be consulted by those who have an interest in the natural history dimensions of this famous classic of Western travel.' Paul Lawrence Farber OREGON HISTORICAL QUARTERLY. 'Never in my wildest dreams could I have come up with anything so beautiful, so resourceful, so scholarly and well referenced & source cited. It is truly magnificent. How fortunate our family is that someone as talented as you two would be so interested in John Kirk Townsend and his life's work!' Dana Dunbar King (descended from JK Townsend's sister). 'What a marvellous job! Both the writing and the illustrations are superb (including Townsend's writing which no modern person of his age could possibly duplicate). I had, of course, read his Narrative before but it really came to life in your book. Thank you both for your dedication to ornithological history and so many sterling contributions to it.' Storrs Olson, Division of Birds, Smithsonian Institution.


Chronology. PART 1: John Kirk Townsend. Ch1: Townsend and Audubon - two very different characters. Ch 2: Townsend's early life in Philadelphia. Ch 3: Townsend and Nuttall set off westwards. PART 2: 'Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains, to the Columbia River, and a visit to the Sandwich Islands, Chili, &c.' by J.K. Townsend. Ch: 1 First steps to Independence. Ch 2: Independence to Laramie's Fork. Ch 3: Laramie's Fork to Green River. Ch 4: Green River to Fort Hall. Ch 5: Fort Hall to Boise River. Ch 6: Across the Blue Mountains to Fort Walla Walla. Ch 7: Fort Walla Walla to Fort Vancouver. Ch 8: Fort Vancouver and the lower Columbia River. Ch 9: First visit to the Hawaiian Islands, 1835. Ch 10: Return to the Columbia River. Ch 11: The Columbia River, 1836. Ch 12: Second visit to the Hawaiian Islands, 1837. Ch 13: Homeward bound. PART 3: Townsend's later life. Ch 1: Audubon paints Townsend's birds. Ch 2: Townsend in Philadelphia. Ch 3: At the National Institute. Ch 4: Philadelphia once more. Appendices (18). Bibliography. Index of Birds and Mammals. General Index.

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Barbara and Richard Mearns are British birdwatchers who have pursued their life-long interest in many parts of North America and Europe. For 25 years they have been writing about the history of ornithology and the lives of hundreds of naturalists in BIOGRAPHIES FOR BIRDWATCHERS (1988), AUDUBON TO XANTUS (1992) and THE BIRD COLLECTORS (1998). Their previous research on both sides of the Atlantic led them to their first full length biography, JOHN KIRK TOWNSEND: COLLECTOR OF AUDUBON'S WESTERN BIRDS AND MAMMALS (2007). Barbara is the Editor for A Rocha International, a Christian conservation organization. Richard has studied Peregrines in Scotland and Greenland, and Corn Crakes in the Outer Hebrides. After twenty years as a countryside ranger he is now working as a freelance ecologist, writer and photographer from their home near Dumfries.

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