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Gallery 20 will be closed until Friday 24th March for an event

Red-backed kingfisher

Red-backed kingfisher collected by John Gilbert

John Gilbert (c1810-1845)

John Gilbert (c1810-1845) was an English naturalist and explorer. Whilst working as a taxidermist for the Zoological Society of London he met the bird expert John Gould. Gould was planning a collecting trip to Australia to gather material for a publication entitled Birds of Australia and in 1838 he employed Gilbert to accompany him. They travelled extensively in Australia and also to Singapore and Timor. In 1844 Gilbert joined Ludwig Leichhardt’s expedition at Port Essington in Australia’s Northern Territory, an expedition that resulted in his death when he was killed by a flying spear near the Gulf of Carpentaria.

RAMM is lucky enough to have some of the birds Gilbert obtained during the Leichhardt Expedition in its collections. In 1944, one hundred years after they were collected, a Mrs Fox donated 20 birds to the Museum, though how she came by them remains a mystery. Sadly the original labels are missing. However, Clemency Fisher (Curator of vertebrate zoology at World Museum Liverpool) has undertaken considerable research on the travels of Gilbert and Gould and was able to reunite the specimens with the data regarding their collection. She used Gilbert’s manuscript diary from the expedition that contained notes on localities, dates and even the weather on the day they were collected.

The specimen pictured was collected in Port Essington and is a red-backed kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius), a species first described by Gould himself in 1841.

View the specimens and a summary of Clemency’s research is available on Collections Explorer.

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