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Google Doodle celebrates birthday of naturalist and illustrator William John Swainson

  • @steveanderson87

Google has marked the birthday of the ornithologist and renowned natural history artist William John Swainson with a Doodle featuring some of his intricate illustrations.

Swainson, born on 8 October 1789, first travelled to Europe to study fish before exploring South America, where he collected over 20,000 insects, 1,200 species of plants, drawings of 120 species of fish, and about 760 bird skins.

It was in 1820 that Swainson became the first illustrator and naturalist to use the technique of lithography, in his book Zoological Illustrations. The Google Doodle features an image of a Moluccan King Parrot from this book.

Despite his reputation for his illustrations and leaving behind a legacy of common and scientific names of species, Swainson, a fellow of both the Royal Society and Linnean Society, was not without his critics.

He moved to New Zealand after a biological classification system of which he was an avid proponent fell out of favour. An American visiting Australasia in the 1850s was surprised to find Swainson living there, imagining that he had been exiled "for the great crime of burdening zoology with a false though much laboured theory which has thrown so much confusion into the subject of its classification and philosophical study".

His following work in Australia in the field of botany, in which he was not an expert, was also much derided.

The botanist Sir William Jackson Hooker, wrote of this as: "In my life I think I never read such a series of trash and nonsense. There is a man who left this country with the character of a first rate naturalist (though with many eccentricities) and of a very first-rate Natural History artist and he goes to Australia and takes up the subject of Botany, of which he is as ignorant as a goose."