William John Swainson


October 8, 2013 – Google UK celebrated the life and legacy of William John Swainson with a Google Doodle on their homepage. The William John Swainson Google Doodle showcased several bird, plant, and butterfly and snail species on the doodle.

William John Swainson

William John Swainson, born on 8 October 1789 at Dover Place, St Mary Newington, London, he first explored Europe where he studied mostly fish before travelling to 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.

William John Swainson 8 October 1789 – 6 December 1855, was a British ornithologist, malacologist, conchologist, entomologist and artist.

William John Swainson was at times quite critical of the works of others and, later in life, others in turn became quite critical of him.

Apart from the common and scientific names of many species, it is the quality of his illustrations that he is best remembered for. His friend William Elford Leach, head of zoology at the British Museum, encouraged him to experiment with lithography for his book Zoological Illustrations (1820–23).

William John Swainson became the first illustrator and naturalist to use lithography, which was a relatively cheap means of production and did not require an engraver. He began publishing many illustrated works, mostly serially. Subscribers received and paid for small sections of the books as they came out, so that the cash flow was constant and could be reinvested in the preparation of subsequent parts. As book orders arrived, the monochrome lithography prints were hand-coloured, according to colour reference images, known as ‘pattern plates’, which were produced by William John Swainson himself. It was his early adoption of this new technology and his natural skill of illustration that in large part led to his fame.

When Leach was forced to resign from the British Museum due to ill health, William John Swainson applied to replace him, but the post was given to John George Children. William John Swainson continued with his writing, the most influential of which was the second volume of Fauna Boreali-Americana (1831), which he wrote with John Richardson.

This series (1829–1837) was the first illustrated zoological study to be in-part funded by the British government. William John Swainson produced a second series of Zoological Illustrations (1832–33), three volumes of Jardine’s Naturalist’s Library, and eleven volumes of Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopedia; he had signed a contract with Longman to produce fourteen illustrated volumes of 300 pages in this series, one to be produced quarterly.

Today’s William John Swainson Google Doodle reminded me of science and biology classes, and looking at the Google Doodle closely I feel that I have seen some of William John Swainson work in these classes!