CATESBY, Mark (1683-1749) Appendix Pl. 20, Buffalo
Painted and etched by Mark Catesby (1638 - 1749)
Etching with hand color, paper dimensions: approximately 19 x 14 inches
From the Appendix (Part 11) to Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands
London: 1747 - 1771
Currently known as the American buffalo, Bison bison and rose locust, Robinia hispida*, Catesby described these subjects as follows:
THIS beast I have already described in the Account of Beasts, p. 27. but having then by me only a sketch of the Animal, which I thought not sufficient to make a true figure from, I have since been enabled to exhibit a perfect likeness of this awful Creature.
The following is the author’s text relating to the Buffalo that appears in volume I, page 27:
THESE Creatures, tho' not so tall, weigh more than our largest Oxen; the Skin of one is too heavy for the strongest Man to lift from the Ground; their Limbs are short but very large, their heads are broad, their Horns are curved, big at their Basis, and turn inward; on their Shoulders is a large Prominence or Bunch, their Chests are broad, their hind Parts narrow, with a Tail a Foot long, bare of Hairs, except that at the End is a Tuft of long Hairs. In Winter their whole Body is covered with long shagged Hair, which in Summer falls off, and the Skin appears black, and wrinkled, except the Head which retains the Hair all the Year. On the Forehead of a Bull the Hair is a Foot long, thick, and frizled, of a dusky black Colour, the Length of this Hair hanging over their Eyes, impeeds their Flight, and is frequently the Cause of their Destruction. But this Obstruction of Sight is in some Measure supplied by their good Noses, which is no small Safeguard to them. A Bull in Summer with his Body bare, and his Head muffled with long Hair, makes a very Formidable Appearance. They frequent the remote Parts of the Country near the Mountains, and are rarely seen within the Settlements.
They range in Droves, feeding in open Savannas Morning and Evening, and in the sultry Time of the Day they retire to shady Rivulets and Streams of clear Water, gliding thro' Thickets of tall Canes, which tho' a hidden Retreat, yet their heavy Bodies, causing a deep impression of their Feet in moist Land, they are often trae'd, and shot by the artful Indians ; when wounded they are very furious, which cautions the Indians how they attack them in open Savannas, where no Trees are to skreen themselves from their Fury. Their Hoofs more than their Horns are their offensive Weapons, and whatever opposes them are in no small Danger of being trampled into the Earth. Their Flesh is very good, of a high Flavour, and differs from common Beef, as Venison from Mutton The Bunch on their Backs is esteemed the most delicate Part of them; they have been known to breed with tame Cattle, that were become wild, and the Calves being so too, were neglected; and tho' it is the general Opinion that if reclaiming these Animals is impracticable (of which no Tryal has been made) to mix the Breed with tame Cattle, would much improve the Breed, yet no Body has had the Curiosity, nor have given themselves any Trouble about it. Of the Skins of these Beasts the Indians make their Winter Moccasins, i.e. Shoes, but being too heavy for Cloathing, are not so often put to that Use ; they also work the long Hairs into Garters, Aprons, &c. dying them into various Colours.
Pseudo Acacia hispida floribus roseis
THE flowers and leaves differ little in their shape from the Pseudo Acasia flore albo. The stalks and larger branches are thick set with prickly hairs, and with sharp spines placed alternately. The flowers, which are papilionaceous are of a faint purple or rose-colour, and of a fragrant smell, I never saw any of these trees but at one place near the Apalatchian mountains, where Bufellos had left their dung; and some of the trees had their branches pulled down, from which I conjecture they had been browsing on the leave. What with the bright verdure of the leaves, and the beauty of its flowers, few trees make a more elegant appearance. I visited them again at the proper time to get some feeds, but the ravaging Indians had burn'd the woods many miles round, and totally destroyed them, to my great disappointment; so that all I was able to procure of this specious tree was some Specimens of it which remain in the Hortus siccus of Sir H. Sloane, and that of Professor Dillenius at Oxford. But since I am informed that a plant of this tree has been introduced from America by Sir John Colliton, Bart, to his Gardens at Exmouth in Devonshire.
I confess it is now time to conclude this extensive and laborious Work; yet I am conscious it has been no longer in hand than the nature of the thing required; nor indeed can it be thought my Interest to have protracted it. The greatest deliberation and caution were necessary in die whole progress, since errors must have been apparent to die judicious Reader, and would inevitably have been but too certain a consequence of a precipitate performance. However there are other reasons which might plead my excuse, should the length of time offend any who have encouraged this Work. The whole was done within my house, and by my own hands; for as my honour and credit were alone concerned, I was resolved not to hazard them by committing any part of the Work to another person; besides, should any of my original Paintings have been lost, they would have been irretrievable to me, without making another voyage to America, since a perpetual inspection of them was so necessary towards the exhibition of truth and accuracy in my descriptions.
I arrogate nothing to myself upon this performance, so much as the strong inclination I had to these kinds of subjects, join'd to the love of truth, that were my constant attendants and influencers. Nor can I ever cease to acknowledge the kind dispensation of Providence, in making me the happy instrument of composing a work of such labour and consequence, the materials of which were collected from the living subjects themselves, and in their native abodes; which circumstances, tho' so very essential to a Natural Historian, we know of no other History of Animals in which they are sufficiently apparent; for the Picture of an Animal, taken from its fluffed skin or cafe, can afford but a very imperfect idea of the creature, compared with what is done from the Life, not only as to what regards their Shape, Spirit, and Gesture, but also their beautiful colours. The charming plumage of Birds loses much of its lustre by death, or by their being removed from their native Climates; but of all others the inhabitants of the waters are subject to the greatest and most sudden changes, and the most brilliant fade the soonest, insomuch that some species of Fish, deprived but a few minutes of their element, like beauty in a human countenance extinguished with life, visibly degenerate from a pleasing variety of the most; glorious colours imaginable, to such as are extremely dull and sordid.
And as for Plants, it is easy to conceive how imperfect the Figures must be which are drawn from dried Specimens, in comparison of those taken from living Plants, as all those are which I have exhibited.
From these Observations it may be inferred, that however accurately human art may be exercised in the representation of Animals, it falls far more short of that inimitable perfe6lion so visible in Nature itself, than when attended with the circumspection and advantages I was blessed with in the compiling of my History, and which I flatter myself are in some measure conspicuous therein.
Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749)
Facts regarding Catesby’s early years are scant. It is known that he was born in the ancient market town of Sudbury, England to a father who was a legal practitioner and mayor of Sudbury and to a mother from an old Essex family. It seems that he received an understanding of Latin and French and was familiar with the eminent naturalist Reverend John Ray. Following his father’s death, he was endowed with the means to pursue his interest in the natural history of North America.
Catesby arrived in Virginia in 1712 as the guest of his sister and her husband, Dr. William Cocke, an aid the Governor of the colony. Soon he was acquainted with the well-connected William Byrd, a Fellow of the Royal Society whose diary contains passages discussing Catesby’s strong curiosity with all things relating to North America.
This included plants native to the fields and woods of Virginia through which Catesby traveled, collecting examples of botanical specimens unfamiliar in England, which he illustrated and sent back to his uncle, Nicholas Jekyll and the apothecary and botanist, Samuel Dale.
Catesby’s first trip to the New World was extensive and included a visit to Jamaica. Although he felt that his approach to a larger understanding of its natural history was lacking in structure, his experience would inform his future expeditions.
Following his return to London in 1719 Catesby resolved to return to the colonies and gather additional information for his illustrated Natural History... He gained the financial support of members of the local scientific community, many of who were members of the Royal Society keen to send a naturalist to Carolina who could provide an accurate account of its resources. Among those who belonged to the Royal Society was William Sherard, who after examining Catesby’s drawings, was key in advancing the project. With further backing by Sir Hans Sloane, court physician and naturalist whose collection would form the basis for The British Museum, Catesby sailed to Carolina in 1722.
Catesby’s four years of travels following his second arrival in North America brought him throughout South Carolina, parts of Georgia, and the Bahamas. He was
intent on visiting the same location at different times throughout the year in order to observe his subjects as they developed. In addition to gathering botanical specimens of potential horticultural importance, he also acquired birds and other creatures.
Catesby’s patrons in London were eager to receive examples of the varieties of plants and animals he encountered but collecting, packaging, and sending them back to England served as a distraction to his intended Natural History... Nevertheless, he continued to observe, paint, and write descriptions of the previously un-investigated wildlife he encountered on the shores and in the swamps, woods, and fields of the middle American colonies.
Catesby returned to England from his final voyage to America in 1726 and spent the next seventeen years preparing his Natural History... He envisioned his work containing colored plates reproducing his studies from nature in a substantial, folio-sized format, an achievement nearly unprecedented in earlier natural history publications. Catesby arranged for financing in the form of an interest-free loan from the Quaker Peter Collinson, a fellow of the Royal Society. Nevertheless, the cost of paying professionals to prepare his delineations on copper plates for printing was too great. To this end, with the assistance of Joseph Goupy (1689–1769), a French artist living in London, he taught himself to etch. In addition to producing nearly all of the plates for his publication, Catesby closely supervised the coloring of the engravings, either painting the impressions himself or closely overseeing the work to insure its fidelity to his preparatory work. To further finance the project Catesby sold subscriptions, offering his book in sections of 20 plates to be published every four months.
The first volume of Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands, containing one hundred plates, was completed in 1731 and no doubt facilitated his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in February, 1733. The second volume, also containing one hundred plates, was finished in 1743 and was supplemented with twenty plates based on information sent to Catesby by John Bartram and others in in America appeared in 1746–1747. Of the approximately 180 - 200 copies of the first edition produced, roughly 80 copies remain complete and accounted for and there are an unknown number in private collections. A second edition was issued by George Edwards in 1754 and a third edition, published by Benjamin White, in 1771 who continued to print examples of the plates until at least 1816. As early as 1749 editions were produced for the European market with translations of the text in German, Latin, and Dutch. In these the plates for the first volume and appendix were re-etched by Johann Michael Seligmann and the plates for the second volume re-etched by Nicolaus Friedrich Eisenberger and Georg Lichtensteger.
Catesby’s tenacity resulted in a sweeping and compelling study of American plants, animals, and marine life native to little documented lands in which he strove to assign scientific nomenclature to his subjects. Indeed, Linnaeus, in his 1758 Systema Naturae, made use of much information brought to light by Catesby using it as the foundation of his system of binomial nomenclature for American species.
Throughout the production of his Natural History…Catesby lived in London with his Elizabeth Rowland with whom he had four children and married in 1747, before his death in 1749.
*From James L. Reveal’s Identification of the plants and animals illustrated by Mark Catesby for The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands in the appendix of The Curious Mr. Catesby, University of Georgia Press.