John Gilbert - A collector extraordinaire

John Gilbert (1812-1845) was Gould's principal collector in Australia and was a talented observer who endured considerable hardship while travelling in the Australian bush collecting for his employer.

John Gilbert's Memorial

Australian Museum Photography © Australian Museum

Gilbert started his career as a taxidermist a year after Gould at the Zoological Society of London, and later accompanied the Goulds to Australia. Gilbert visited Australia twice and, over a period of six years, collected thousands of specimens from all over the country.

Gilbert accompanied Gould on his trip to Australia in May 1838 to collect specimens. Gilbert made the most of Gould's Australian network and is fondly remembered by those who met him on his collecting trips. His relationship with Gould was more difficult, however, and Gould seemed less than careful with Gilbert on a personal level, though speaking highly of his collecting and scientific expertise.

Gilbert was killed by an Aboriginal spear in the neck while travelling on Ludwig Leichhardt's overland expedition to Port Essington. Both Gilbert's field notebooks and diaries have survived and we have a detailed account of his life and travels in Australia. These notes were used extensively by Gould in the text for The Birds of Australia.

Gilbert's Diary 28th June 1845

This is Gilbert's last entry before he was killed:

"[the aborigines] appear to have been engaged in cooking their food and pieces of bark or boughs showing that it has been a regular camping ground, but what the ring is for would be very interesting to know, perhaps in some way connected with their superstitions."

Spectacled Hare-wallaby

'The Lagorchestes Leichardti I hope will be taken great care of as they are not only the typical but the only specimens yet discovered and moreover the species is a very fine one.'

John Gould to the Australian Museum (1861)

A hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes Leichardti) specimen, is believed to be one of the last specimens collected by John Gilbert before his death on Ludwig Leichhardt's expedition to Port Essington. While sending Gilbert's bird specimens on to Gould, Leichhardt appears to have given the hare-wallaby to the Australian Museum. When the Museum later forwarded the wallaby to Gould, he believed Leichhardt had collected the specimen and named the unknown species after the explorer. The wallaby was returned to the Museum in 1861 and has since been renamed the Spectacled Hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes conspicillatus).


Ms Leone Lemmer
Matthew Stephens
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