From the collection: Richard Browne watercolours

Illustration of lyrebird with tail outspread.

The mountain pheasant, Richard Browne, 1820. Caroline Simpson Collection, Sydney Living Museums

Richard Browne (1776–1824) was a Dublin-born convict artist who was transported to NSW in 1811 and spent most of his seven-year sentence at the secondary penal settlement of Newcastle. In 1812–13 he was commissioned by Lieutenant Thomas Skottowe, the commandant at Newcastle, to make a series of drawings to illustrate Skottowe’s planned natural history publication Select specimens from nature of the birds, animals &c &c of New South Wales. Browne produced 32 drawings for the project. 

When Browne returned to Sydney at the end of his sentence he produced for sale a number of near identical watercolours of specimens that he had originally drawn for Skottowe, including the Australian lyrebird, Menura superba, and the Regent bowerbird, Sericulus chrysocephalus, reproduced here. Browne’s first depiction of the lyrebird had too many feathers – two large lyre-shaped outer feathers, two wire-like inner ones and 16 filamentary feathers instead of 12 – but this later drawing has the correct number of filamentary feathers. In his manuscript, Skottowe gave the lyrebird’s local Aboriginal name as Gongol. Browne favoured the lyrebird’s English common name, mountain pheasant. 

Skottowe thought that he was the first European to procure a specimen of Sericulus chrysocephalus and bestowed the name Regent in recognition of the fact that the Prince of Wales had recently become Prince Regent. As it happened, the artist J W Lewin had in 1808 already published a drawing of this bird, which he called the golden-crowned honeysucker. Although Skottowe’s manuscript wasn’t published in his lifetime, the name Regent remained in currency, perhaps due to the number of copies Browne made and sold of this drawing in Sydney between 1819 and 1821. 

Illustration of black bird with golden crown and shoulders.

The Regent, Richard Browne, 1819. Caroline Simpson Collection, Sydney Living Museums 

This story originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums’ Gazette, our quarterly members’ magazine.

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About the author

Head and shoulders photo of woman holding up card to face with conservator's white glove on hand.

Megan Martin

Former Head, Collections & Access

Megan is the former head of Collections & Access at Sydney Living Museums. She has a particular interest in the working of the historical imagination, in teasing out the meanings of objects in museums collections and in crafting the stories that can be recovered/discovered through a close reading of those items of material culture.

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