TAL & Dai-ichi Life (Earl of Derby) collection of natural history watercolours
In 2011, the State Library of New South Wales acquired a beautiful and significant new item: six volumes of exquisite Australian natural history drawings dating from the first days of settlement. The watercolours, now collectively known as the TAL & Dai-ichi Life (Earl of Derby) collection, were collected and copied by Aylmer Bourke Lambert and later acquired by the 13th Earl of Derby.
Like Joseph Banks (1742 – 1820), Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761 – 1842) was born into wealth and privilege. This good fortune allowed him to pursue his boyhood interests in botany and botanical collecting throughout his long life.
Lambert was well connected in the world of natural history and enthusiastically amassed a huge personal collection of botanical specimens and drawings from all over the world. His extensive Australian collections included First Fleet era drawings and specimens received from Surgeon John White (1756 – 1832), Governor Arthur Phillip (1738 – 1814), Colonel William Paterson (1755 – 1810), Major Robert Ross (1740 – 1794), Philip Gidley King (1758 – 1808), and Major Francis Grose (1758 – 1814).
Lambert made or kept copies of many of the drawings of Australian birds, plants, mammals and fishes which were bound into six albums. In 1799, three of the bird volumes were lent to leading ornithologist, Dr John Latham (1740 – 1837), who used them to describe new Australian birds in supplements to his groundbreaking books, General Synopsis of Birds (1801) and Index Ornithologicus (1801).
After Aylmer Bourke Lambert’s death in 1842, the six volumes of Australian drawings were bought by his friend, Edward Stanley, the 13th Earl of Derby, himself keenly interested in natural history. They were kept at the family seat, Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool, until 2011, when the State Library of New South Wales acquired them from the 19th Earl of Derby, with the assistance of TAL & Dai-ichi Life and the New South Wales Government.
The fishes illustrated in the albums have recently been examined by specialists at the Australian Museum. Some were identifiable, but others were described as 'fanciful' - probably because they were drawn from long-dead specimens, necessitating a considerable amount of artistic licence.