• Mark Catesby


    Catesby was born in March 1683 in the village of Castle Hedingham in Essex. Not much is known about his early life. It is not known where he went to school or how he became a naturalist. We know early on that Catesby felt an "early and Inclination... to search after Plants, and other productions of Nature," Catesby acquired a sound scientific education that kindled a "passionate Desire" to see the native flora and fauna of the exotic American colonies first hand.

    One of my favorite images included the head of the Largest Crested Heron with insects and a lizard. Catesby wrote of the Cockroach:

    The Cockroach. Fig.5.

    "These are very troublefome and deftructive Vermin, and are fo numerous and voracius, that without clofe covering. They are flat, and fo thin that few chefts or boxes can exclude them. They eat not only leather, parchment, and wollen, but linen and paper. They difappear in winter, and appear moft numerous in the hottest days of summer. It is at night that they commit their depredations, and bite people in their beds, efpecially children’s fingers that are greafy. They lay innumerable eggs, creaping into the holes of old walls rubbifh, where they lie torpid all the winter. Some have wings, and others are without, perhaps of different fexes." 

    In April, 1712, Catesby was invited to join his sister, Elizabeth, and her husband Dr. William Cocke in Williamsburg, Virginia. While in the colonies he took part in expeditions to the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Bermuda and Jamaica, collecting and sketching as he went. At several points during his travels, Catesby shipped a small number of specimens to England and into the hands of interested naturalists, most notably Samuel Dale and the gardener, Thomas Fairchild.

    Catesby returned to England In 1719, hoping to secure financial support for a second American voyage. Through his relationship with Dale, Catesby gained the attention of in the encouragement of William Sherard, one of the most celebrated botanist of that age and Sir Hans Sloane

    Led by Sherard, members of the Royal Society began soliciting sponsors to finance Catesby for a botanical expedition to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Within three years he was able to chart a course back to the Colonies

    In of February 1722, he set sail on a three-month voyage to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. His return trip was taken under the patronage of London’s Royal Society. Catesby was to spend the next four years exploring the natural habitat of the southeast colonies and the Bahamas. Catesby spent four years here in the Carolina Lowcountry traveling thru swamps and marshes, the pedmont and foothills and into the lower hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    Finally, in 1726, he returned to England home. Catesby immediately began to write up his observations from this second expedition which was to be The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, the first natural history of the flora and fauna of the British colonies in America. The First volume was published in 1931 and it contained the birds. Volume I In 1743 the second volume was published containing containing the figures of beasts, fishes, serpents, insects & plants. Volume II The work was not finished in 1747 Two years before his death, Catesby published a supplement to The Natural History and 20 more plates were added.

    One of the outstanding accomplishments of this publication was that Catesby himself personally oversaw every aspect of the work’s production learning the difficult art of engraving on copper plates and over seeing the hand coloring of his first edition. To finance the printing of The Natural History, Catesby sought subscriptions, offering his book in sections of 20 plates to be published every four months. Each of the 160 subscribed copies of the work was individually hand colored and bound to the specifications of the subscriber. It is believed only 80 copies of the of the first edition are still in existence.

    A History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands 

    Catesby Commemorative Trust

    Alecto Historical Editions