SMITH, Sir James Edward (1759-1828). A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland, by James Edward Smith... President of the Linnean Society. The figures by James Sowerby. London: printed by J. Davis, published by J. Sowerby, to be had at no.42, Paternoster Row, and of the town and country booksellers, 1793[-1795].
Volume I (all published) in four original parts, 4° (310 x 235mm). Uncut, half-title. 16 hand-coloured engraved plates by James Sowerby, extra-illustrated with a loosely inserted 3pp. letter from Smith to Thomas Pennant, dated 17 May 1795. Original purple (parts I-II) or blue/grey (parts III-IV) paper wrappers, part I with small paper letterpress title label on upper cover, parts III and IV with letterpress title printed on upper wrappers (stitching of part I lacking). Modern purple cloth portfolio, titled in gilt on upper cover.
A FINE LARGE UNSOPHISTICATED COPY OF THIS RARE WORK: THE FIRST TO CONTAIN COLOURED PLATES OF AUSTRALIAN FLORA, with an autograph letter from the author to Thomas Pennant, the foremost British zoologist of his day. As is clear from the title on the wrapper to the first part, this work was originally planned with George Shaw's Zoology of New Holland (see lot 609), but the works soon split into two separate publications. The first part includes a dedication to Thomas Wilson, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, who made the work possible by making his collections of original botanical drawings and dried specimens available to Smith and Sowerby. As Smith notes in the preface, Sowerby's plates were engraved from 'coloured drawings, made on the spot, and communicated to Mr. [Thomas] Wilson by John White Esq. Surgeon General to the Colony, along with a most copious and finely-preserved collection of dried specimens, with which the drawings have in every case been carefully compared'. How much of Sowerby's work was from specimens and how much from drawings sent back by Wilson is not known, but "some drawings by Thomas Watling at the Natural History Museum [in London] can be identified as probably assisting Sowerby in his interpretation of the plants' colour and form" (Helen Hewson Australia. 300 years of botanical illustration, 1999, p. 36). The Scottish-born Watling (1762-c.1814) trained as a professional artist but was sentenced to 14 years for forgery and was in Australia from October 1792 until receiving a pardon in 1797 when he left the colony.
The autograph letter starts with Smith in his capacity as Honorary Member of the Linnean Society, inviting Pennant to an anniversary dinner. Smith continues with comments on his poor health, Lord Macartney's natural history acquisitions in China and Java, and ending with a plea for copies of Pennant's work 'I had liked to have forgotten another part of my business as a member of the Linn. Soc. - which is, to signify to you & our other grandees that We have a Library all raised by our own contributions hitherto - Ld. Gainsborough gave us Flora Danica col'd. - I need not say whose works as a British Zoologist are most wanted.' BM(NH) IV, p.1946; Ferguson I, 170; Henrey III, 1356; Nissen BBI 1861; Stafleu & Cowan V, 12.229. (4)