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Across the curator's desk: Elizabeth Gould letters, 1828-1839

Crosshatched letters written in brown ink

Elizabeth Gould letters, 1828-1839

What are these items? 

Letters written by Elizabeth Gould to her mother Mrs Coxen 1828-1839 

Why are they important? 

Elizabeth Gould was the wife of ornithologist and artist, John Gould. The Goulds came to Australia in 1838 and spent two years collecting specimens in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. Whilst in the colony Elizabeth produced over 600 drawings for her husband’s projected publications on the birds of Australia. 

Elizabeth was a talented natural history artist, dedicated to her husband’s project. These letters and a short diary held in the Library’s collection are all that exist of Elizabeth’s thoughts and experiences. In her letters Elizabeth expresses sadness and frustration having left her youngest children at home with her mother in England. She describes conditions in the colony, poor quality goods and difficulties experienced with convicts for household help.  

Why are they on my desk? 

Elizabeth Gould’s letters were on display at a workshop held at the Library recently, Researching Your Bestseller. The day concluded with a session showcasing items from the Library’s collection that provided inspiration for Australian writers.   

The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley is a novelised story of Elizabeth Gould’s life.  The author was inspired by these letters that were previously owned by Gould’s great-grandson. 

How did they get here? 

The bound volume of correspondence was presented by Elizabeth Gould’s great-grandson, Dr Alan Edelsten of Dorset, England, to Alec H. Chisholm who then presented them to the Mitchell Library in March 1939. 

The unbound letters were also presented by Alec H. Chisholm in July 1963. 


Sarah Morley, Curator, Research & Discovery 

Visit the Library catalogue to view these collection items: first collection and second collection