The industrial and scientific revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries saw dramatic changes in the way people thought about their world and the control they had over it. The British Empire was expanding and the natural world and its resources were there to be explored and exploited. Knowledge we take for granted today was in its infancy, particularly in medicine, hygiene, power generation, transport, education and basic human rights.
Discoveries about the natural world fuelled widespread fascination with science. Darwin's theory of evolution sparked science-based challenges to religious belief. Public scientific lectures and demonstrations were popular. This was a time of world exploration and thousands of exotic and unknown animals were arriving in London as those returning from expeditions brought collections home. These specimens, for the most part dead and preserved, though with the occasional live animal, were bought on arrival by taxidermists, collectors and dealers in skins. They were prepared and then sold on to museums and private collections. Victorian gentlemen were obsessed with collecting. Many had private collections filled with stuffed animals, natural history paintings and 'curios' from other cultures.
There was a craze for natural history and John Gould was in the perfect position to become an important player.
The surge of interest in natural history in the 19th century came at a time when book production exploded as a result of the harnessing of steam power to drive the printing presses. This wonderful combination sparked a light in Gould's entrepreneurial eye.
- 1804 John Gould born.
- 1804 Travel was by horsedrawn carriages.
- 1807 First successful steamboat which would replace sailing by windpower.
- 1807 The percussion gun using a detonating powder was invented. When the gun was fired, the shooter was enveloped in a cloud of smoke.
- 1820 William Swainson employs lithography for the first time in England in natural history illustration.
- 1826 Zoological Society of London formed.
- 1830 The first commercial railway line started operating.
- 1830 Arsenic soap becomes standard preservative for taxidermists.
- 1831 Darwin's Voyage on HMS Beagle commences.
- 1831 Faraday discovers electro-magnetic current, making generators and electric engines possible.
- 1839 Beginnings of photography.
- 1841 William Whewell coins the term 'scientist' to replace 'natural philosopher'.
- 1844 Factory Act reduces children's work hours to seven per day.
- 1844 Commercial use of Morse's telegraph.
- 1851 The Great Exhibition in London.
- 1854 Modern prism binoculars invented.
- 1859 Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species published.
- 1859 The first successful gasoline engine is demonstrated.
- 1860 London University offers science degrees for the first time.
- 1876 Bell invents the telephone.
- 1879 Edison invents the incandescent lamp.
- 1881 John Gould dies.