Parrots and lorikeets swoop down, vivid, bright and colourful. Black swans glide through the air. Owls stare out from pages, wide-eyed.
A sense of awe swept through natural history circles in eighteenth-century London when the first ships returned from Sydney with their cargo of exotic animals, birds and plants – and striking watercolour illustrations.
The sudden emergence, in 2011, of a large number of these watercolour illustrations has revealed much about the early years of the colony. In Natural Curiosity, Louise Anemaat uncovers never-before-published works from the artists of the First Fleet, including convicts-turned-watercolourists Thomas Watling and John Doody, and the anonymous 'Port Jackson Painter'. She unravels the complex network of natural history collectors who spanned the globe – eagerly acquiring, copying and exchanging these artworks – from New South Wales Surgeon-General John White to passionate British collector Aylmer Bourke Lambert.