In early nineteenth century Britain, middle class women were taught drawing and botany as part of their at-home educations, the study of natural history thought to contribute to the development of a virtuous and self-reliant femininity (Shtier). The popular and professional interest in natural history during this period, featuring specimens from both local and foreign places, led to a flourishing in the production of illustrated manuals about animals and plants. Usually produced at home, it was not unusual for the wife or daughter of an amateur male scientist compiling a publication to do the fine work of illustrating the botanical and zoological specimens. However, long-standing gender biases regarding women‘s involvement in the emerging disciplines of the life sciences (Gates, Outram, Pycior), coupled with historians of science reluctance to analyse scientific illustrations, believing it to be the work of art history (Kemp, Knight), have resulted in the important contributions of many of these women being neglected and overlooked.
While today John Gould (1804-1881) is regarded as the father of Australian ornithology, both for his taxonomical work and for his luxury publication, the Birds of Australia (1840-1848, 7 volumes), his wife Elizabeth Gould, who worked as his principal artist until her death in 1841, is less well remembered. Gould, a taxidermist who became curator of birds at the Zoological Society, embarked upon his first publication of hand-coloured lithographic plates with accompanying text in 1830, A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains. Gould lacked both fine drawing skills and spare time and had Elizabeth design, draw and lithograph the eighty plates, signing her name in the bottom left hand corner of each plate. The publication was a huge success and the husband and wife collaborative team went on to produce seven more collections and monographs, including the description and illustration of Charles Darwin‘s infamous finches. However, a major change occurred in all of the Goulds‘s subsequent publications, in that the signature at the bottom of each lithographed plate transformed from ‗E Gould‘ into ‗J&E Gould‘. The paper discusses the impact of the radical change in plate authorship with regard to the critical and historical reputations of John and Elizabeth Gould, the former enjoying almost two centuries of fame, the latter, until recently, largely unrecognised.