A recent acquisition: Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s natural history studies, 1834–1835

Rare Books, Baillieu Library is fortunate to have recently acquired a copy of the 1834–1835 published studies of the distinguished French naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772–1844). Titled Etudes progressives d’un naturaliste pendant les années 1834 et 1835, the volume includes two detailed papers on the platypus and echidna, and a skilfully rendered fold-out illustration of pair of wombats placed in a naturalistic setting.

As director of the Natural History Museum in Paris, Geoffroy was also administrator of the former Royal Menagerie, which had been relocated to the Jardin des Plantes after the French Revolution. Here he could observe at first hand exotic animals which had been collected from a variety of sources, many of them previously held in private hands.

One of the more grisly directives following the 1789 revolution was that all exotic pets had to be turned over live to the former royal collection, or otherwise killed and given to the Jardin des Plantes for scientific studies, such as Geoffroy’s. It seems that our two ‘French’ wombats were amongst the lucky survivors.

To find out more about the early scientific ‘trafficking’ of marsupalia to Europe see Rare Books Curator Susan Thomas' recent Library blog post Wombat, wombach, whom-batt wonder.

Detail of wombat illustration from Etienne Geoffroy Sain-Hilaire's natural history studies, 1834

Image: Detail of wombat illustration from Etienne Geoffroy Sain-Hilaire's natural history studies, 1834