Special Collections

Travel and Exploration

The great voyages of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made Europeans aware of the vast variety of animal life in the world. Explorers brought back not only tales of exotic animals but actual specimens. While artists were unable to see these animals as they lived in the wild, they could study their skins or stuffed and preserved bodies.

The explorers of the eighteenth century solved this problem by taking artists with them to sketch and paint from life. The result was realistic works showing animals interacting with their natural environments, but this was a difficult and dangerous job for artists, and many did not survive. These included Sydney Parkinson, the artist who traveled with Captain Cook on his first voyage to the South Seas, who died of a disease contacted in Batavia, Indonesia on the trip back to England.

Thomas Pennant, 1726-1798.
Arctic Zoology. London: Printed by H. Hughs, 1784-85.

The title is somewhat misleading as the book covers Norway, Scotland, Alaska, Canada, California, Greenland and Nova Scotia, concentrating particularly on new species of birds. Illustrations include an image of a moose after paintings by George Stubbs. For this work Pennant brought together information from George Low, Sir Joseph Banks, Samuel Hearne and other naturalists who visited Canada.


William Beresford, fl. 1788.
A Voyage Round the World; but More Particularly to the North-west Coast of America; by Captain George Dixon. London: G. Goulding, 1789.

Captain Dixon's voyages were intended to establish a fur trade in the Northwest region of North America. Dixon also sailed on the third voyage of Captain James Cook, and this later trip was, in part, an attempt to map the area more accurately. The appendix on natural history includes several beautifully drawn engravings.

François Le Vaillant, 1753-1824.
Second voyage dans l'intérieur de l'Afrique, par le cap de Bonne-Espérance: dans les années 1783, 84 et 85. Paris: Chez H.J. Jansen et Compe, an 3 [1794 or 1795].

Le Vaillant's published accounts of his journeys into the interior of South Africa were the most popular and influential books Europeans read on southern Africa prior to the nineteenth century. An amateur artist, Le Vaillant painted a series of watercolors of the nature and peoples of the area. These became the basis for the engraved plates that were published in the book.

John Gabriel Stedman, 1744-1797.
Narrative, of a Five Years' Expedition, Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, in Guiana, on the Wild Coast of South America, from the Year 1772, to 1777. London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1796.

Captain John Gabriel Stedman, an Englishman, spent five years during the 1770s in the Dutch colony of Surinam in Guiana documenting agricultural enterprises dependent on slave labor. The artist William Blake was hired by the publisher Joseph Johnson as one of the engravers for the publication. Blake not only engraved the images from Stedman's drawings, he improved them, adding a sense of motion to Stedman's stilted style.



James Grant, 1771-1833.
The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery: Performed in His Majesty's Vessel the Lady Nelson . . . to New South Wales. London: Printed by C. Roworth for T. Egerton, 1803.

Captain Grant commanded the ship Lady Nelson on several voyages of discovery around Australia. The crew was the first to survey much of the western and southern coasts of the continent discovered many species of animals and plants.

Gift of C. Porter Schutt

Francis Lyon, 1795-1832.
A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa, in the Years 1818, 19, and 20. London: John Murray, 1821.

A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa chronicles an expedition to document the course of the River Niger and to find the location of Timbuktu. Lyon, a naval officer, did not find what he was looking for. However, his personal interest in the customs of the indigenous peoples of the region makes the book and illustrations more interesting than many similar works.

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