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Biographical entry Latham, John (1740 - 1837)


27 June 1740
Eltham, Kent, England
4 February 1837


John Letham was the first to describe, and to name scientifically, a large number of Australian birds. He has been called the "grandfather" of Australian ornithology.


Born Eltham, Kent, England 27 June 1740. Died 4 February 1837. Educated in medicine at London hospitals. MD, Erlangen, Germany, 1796. Medical practitioner, Dartford until he retired in 1796. Fellow, Royal Society 1775. Played a leading role in the formation of the Linnean Society of London 1788. Wrote several books on birds, including A General History of Birds, 1-10, 1821-28. He contributed the descriptions of birds in The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay ... 1789. He knew all the important English naturalists and collectors so was able to examine practically all specimens and drawings of Australian birds which reached England. In his later books he provided the first published descriptions and scientific names of many Australian birds, including the emu, white cockatoo, wedge-tailed eagle, lyre-bird and magpie.

Published resources

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Journal Articles

  • Allen, E. G., 'History of American Ornithology Before Audubon', American Philosophical Society, Transactions, 41 (1951). Details
  • Sawyer, F. C., 'Notes on Some Original Drawings of Birds Used by Dr John Latham', Society for Bibliography of Natural History Journal, 2 (1949). Details


McCarthy, G.J. & Rosanne Walker