Land of Parrots
Photograph supplied by & courtesy of Adrian Freeman, Queensland Police Service, Brisbane.
A world map by Gerard Mercator issued in 1569, has upon it an area clearly designated as Psitacarum Regio (region of parrots), the existence of which was known to Portuguese mariners well over two centuries before the Endeavour put into Botany Bay. It is presumed that this area was the land mass of Terra Australis, or what we now call Australia.
The Land of Parrots (Australia) is truly a land of parrots. Although parrot-type birds occur in Central and South America, tropical Africa, Southern Asia, and throughout the Australasian region, over fifty-four species are to be found in Australia itself. The first recorded sighting of an Australian parrot by a European was of a Cockatoo. On the 22nd August 1699, William Dampier landed on a small island off the North-West coast of Australia, which is known as the Dampier Archipelago, where he saw a flock of Little Corellas.
One of the first known illustrations of an Australian parrot was a sketch of a female Banksian Cockatoo, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, drawn in 1770.This was a pencil sketch by Sydney Parkinson who was the botanical draughtsman on board Captain Cook's ship, the Endeavour. This historic pencil sketch passed into the keeping of the British Museum in 1827, together with most of the invaluable manuscripts, specimens, drawings and the library of Sir Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain Cook on his first voyage. (See footnote)
The second illustration of an Australian parrot was painted by the artist William Ellisin 1777, during Cook's third - and last voyage, and it illustrates the Tasmanian Rosella. This painting is also in the British Museum.
The earliest known published illustration of an Australian parrot was
of a Rainbow Lorikeet, and it appeared in Peter
Brown's "New Illustration of Zoology" (1774). Although a veritable
rainbow of colour, this bird was first called a 'Blue-Bellied Parrot'.
The Rainbow Lorikeet was also the first Australian
parrot to reach Britain in 1789, and this particular parrot was the special
pet of a Polynesian interpreter called Tupia, who travelled back to Britain
with Cook. Having survived the journey, this parrot was then given to
Marmaduke Turnstall, in whose possession it was when Peter Brown painted
White-tailed Black Cockatoo,
Calyptorhynchus funereus baudinii
Photograph supplied by & courtesy of Mr Adrian Freeman,
Queensland Police Service, Brisbane, Qld
The second proper painting recorded of an Australian parrot was made in 1777, during Cook's last voyage, and this was of a Green Rosella, killed by William Anderson, the ship's surgeon-naturalist, and was executed in water colours by William Ellis, his assistant.
Some of the first French explorers interested themselves in Australian parrots. The 'White-Eared' or 'White-Tailed' was named Baudinii, after Captain Nicolas Baudin, an early French navigator.
One of the earliest descriptions of the Ground Parrot, once plentiful but now rare, was written by La Billariere, naturalist and historian of d'Entre Casteaux's expedition, during the second visit to Tasmania on 11th February, 1793.
Most people would agree that the most delicately coloured pink cockatoo is known as Major Mitchell's; this lovely bird was named Leadbeater Cockatoo by Vigors in 1831, from a specimen in the hands of Benjamin Leadbeater, a London taxidermist.
A very lifelike coloured plate of this cockatoo appears in Mitchell's
"Three Expeditions into the interior of Eastern Australia"
Photograph by & courtesy of
Len Robinson, Melbourne Vic, Australia.
Another explorer into unknown parts of Australia who found his journeys
enlivened by parrots was Captain Charles Sturt -- his favourite was what
he called the 'Black-tailed Paroquest', known as the Regent or
Rock Pebbler, which figured in and was described by Edward Lear
in his "Illustration of the Family of Psittacide, or Parrots"
In the nineteenth century, two British artists did more to capture the colour and character in all their glory of Australian parrots -- Edward Lear, later to become famous for his Nonsense Books for children, and the famous illustrator, John Gould.
The Rosellas are among the best-known and most strikingly-coloured of Australia's parrots, these being confused with the 'Tropical Lories' by early explorers. Specimens of the Crimson Rosella were first secured by Dr. John Latham in 1781, as "the beautiful lory".
John Gould, who visited Australia in 1838, was charmed by the Rosellas. The name Rosella was first used in his great work The Birds of Australia (1840-1848). He named three Rosellas:-
Platycercus eximius cecilae
Photograph by & courtesy of
Glenys Johnson, Brisbane Qld.
The origin of the word Rosella is obscure and uncertain. It has long
been accepted that the name was derived from the old name of the Eastern
Rosella, which was Rose Hill Parakeet. It is suggested, however, that
the name became shortened to 'Rose-Hiller', and finally Rosella, but this
is just a supposition.
In old shooting lists of 1830 these parrots were called Rosetta Parrots. The word Rosella first appeared in the diaries of John Gilbert, who was one of Gould's collectors; this may have been a slip of the pen -- from Rosetta to Rosella, the latter being retained to this day.
In the parrots and cockatoos of Australia we have the highest development of this species. It is therefore not surprising that Australia is called Land of Parrots when it is realised that this great country has no less than fifty-four species, with possibly more yet to be discovered.
Footnote: I came across your web page regarding the history of parrots in Australia, and I thought you should be aware that the first painting of an Australian parrot was done in 1772 by Moses Griffiths (I do not regard the Parkinson sketch as a "painting"). I discovered this painting, of a Rainbow Lorikeet, in London some years ago. A colour illustration of the painting appeared in Australian Natural History, vol. 23 no. 6, p. 680 in 1991. A full account appeared in Archives of Natural History in 1988. I hope this information is useful to you. Information supplied by courtesy of Rick Willis via the Internet (March 1999).
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