John Gould was born in Lyme Regis, the first son of a gardener. Both father and son probably had little education. The father obtained a position on an estate near Guildford, Surrey, and then in 1818 Gould Snr became foreman in the Royal Gardens of Windsor. He was for some time under the care of J. T. Aiton, of the Royal Gardens of Windsor. The young Gould started training as a gardener, being employed under his father at Windsor from 1818 to 1824, and he was subsequently a gardener at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. He became an expert in the art of taxidermy. In 1824 he set himself up in business in London as a taxidermist, and his skill helped him to become the first curator and preserver at the museum of the Zoological Society of London in 1827.
Gould’s position brought him into contact with the country’s leading naturalists. This meant that he was often the first to see new collections of birds given to the Zoological Society of London. In 1830 a collection of birds arrived from the Himalayas, many not previously described. Gould published these birds in A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains (1830–1832). The text was by Nicholas Aylward Vigors and the illustrations were drawn and lithographed by Gould’s wife Elizabeth Coxen Gould. Most of Gould’s work were rough sketches on paper from which other artists created the lithographic plates.
Work with Darwin
When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the second voyage of HMS Beagle to the Zoological Society of London on 4 January 1837, the bird specimens were given to Gould for identification. He set aside his paying work and at the next meeting on 10 January reported that birds from the Galápagos Islands which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, “gross-bills” and finches were in fact “a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar” as to form “an entirely new group, containing 12 species.” This story made the newspapers. In March, Darwin met Gould again, learning that his Galápagos “wren” was another species of finch and the mockingbirds he had labelled by island were separate species rather than just varieties, with relatives on the South American mainland. Subsequently, Gould advised that the….