William Swainson (1789–1855)
Shown here is a collection of the proof or ‘pattern plates’ for William Swainson’s best known work, Zoological Illustrations (1820–23). As can be seen, it spanned entomology, conchology and ornithology, all areas of Swainson’s scientific expertise. Plates like these were often vital to scientific works as they were placed to support and further validate the accompanying scientific description; they would be included as much as budget would allow.
It was in this particular title that Swainson, a gifted artist, was apparently the first naturalist to use the process of lithographic printing. After plates had been printed, the black and white images would then be hand-coloured using the ‘pattern plates’ as a point of reference. Swainson himself was responsible for these reference plates.
Swainson became an avid supporter of the Quinarian system of classification, which resolved that all taxa can be catergorised into five subgroups. This system soon fell out of favour and Swainson later emigrated to New Zealand where he eventually died. The Linnean Society holds William Swainson’s correspondence.