1839- 1840: First visit to Western Australia

4 February 1839

Gilbert left Launceston by the Comet (120 tons), for Swan River (Chisholm 1940, 162). 

20 February 1839

Splendid Fairy-wren Malurus s. splendens collected in Perth, Western Australia (LIV D607b); need to check the date on this.

6 March 1839

Gilbert reached the Swan River (Fremantle/Perth area) of Western Australia according to Chisholm 1940, 162, but see the date of 20th February on a Splendid Fairy-wren.

19 March 1839

A Yellow-footed Antechinus Antechinus flavipes leucogaster was collected on the banks of the Canning River, just below Perth (BMNH 1841.6.1244). A Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica rufiventris was collected at Perth (BMNH 1841.6.1413).

10 March 1839

Lesser Long-eared Bat Nyctophilus geoffroyi collected at Perth, Western Australia (BMNH 1841.6.1504). 

11 March 1839

Spotless Crake Porzana tabuensis immaculata and Shining Bronze-cuckoo Chalcites lucidus plagosus collected at Perth (LIV D3276 & D4105s). Western Thornbill Acanthiza inornata collected at Perth, Swan River (BMNH 1881.2.18.206).

12 March 1839

Southern Boobook Owl Ninox novaeseelandiae ocellata collected at Perth, Swan River (TMI 3557)

13 March 1839

White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus chloropsis collected near Perth. This specimen was found amongst the Canon H.B. Tristram material at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia and is one of the very few in that museum known still to have an original Gilbert field label (ANSP 53262).

14 March 1839

Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus  v. virescens (LIV D1003s) and Yellow-rumped Thornbill Acanthiza c.  chrysorrhoa  (BMNH 1881.5.1.276) collected at Mount Eliza, Swan River. 

15 March 1839 

Gilbert wrote from Swan River to Gould at Sydney (Mitchell Library, Sydney CY 461: 670-673). He had already collected 29 species of birds (in 9 days).

16 - 27 March 1839

Many specimens were collected from "Perth" or "near Perth":

  • 16 March: 2 Dusky Woodswallows Artamus cyanopterus perthi (LIV D2218s & BMNH 1841.6.1419)
  • 18 March: Western Spinebill Acanthorhynchus superciliosus (LIV D988s)
  • 19 March: Red-tailed Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii naso (LIV D778)
  • 21 March: Western Wattlebird Anthochaera lunulata (ANSP 53300)
  • 22 March: Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter c. cirrhocephalus (LIV D370e)
  • 23 March: Tree Martin Petrochelidon nigricans neglecta (LIV D523s).
  • 25 March: Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus macropus (LIV 340a)
  • 27 March: Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus leucopterus (BMNH 1841.6.1406), Western Yellow Robin Eopsaltria griseogularis (LIV D2149s), Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica rufiventris (BMNH 1881.2.18.107) and a Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa preissi (LIV D992h).

28 March - 5 April 1839

Is an unexplained gap of 8 days when Gilbert appears to have collected no specimens (unless they are ones which have lost their collecting dates).

6 April 1838 

Two Splendid Fairy-wrens Malurus s. splendens were collected near Perth (LIV D607f & ANSP 52700).

9 April 1839

Western Spinebill Acanthorhynchus superciliosus collected on the Banks of the Canning River (LIV D995s). "Phascogale" collected on "the Banks of the Canning River, below Perth" (BMNH Accessions Register). This is the holotype of Antechinus flavipes (BMNH 1841.6.1244).

10 April 1839

Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus collected at a lake near Perth (BMNH 1841.6.1272).

11 April 1839 

Gilbert wrote from Perth to Gould in Sydney (via Hobart) (Mitchell Library, Sydney CY 461: 674-677). He had collected 70 species (200 specimens, 25 skeletons; plus a few reptiles and small mammals). 

Varied Sitella Daphoenositta chrysoptera pileata (LIV D1691e), Grey Currawong Strepera versicolor plumbea (LIV D2561s) and Silver Gull Chroicocephalus n. novaehollandiae collected near Perth (LIV BMS).

15 - 24 April 1839

Many more specimens were collected from "Perth" or "near Perth", such as:

  • 15 April: Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus leucopterus (BMNH 1841.6.1407)
  • 16 April: Tawny-crowned Honeyeater Gliciphila m. melanops (LIV D1026s)
  • 17 April: Crested Shrike-tit  Falcunculus frontatus leucogaster (LIV D5478s)
  • 20 April: Baudin’s Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus baudinii (LIV D696a)
  • 24 April: Shingle-back (“Stump-tailed Guanas") Trachydosaurus rugosus (BMNH 1841.1.15.03, .04 & .05)

25 April 1839

Two sets of eggs of Pied Cormorants Phalacrocorax varius hypoleucos collected on Three Sisters Island (WFVZ no number; BMNH 1962.1.85)

29 April - 7 May 1839

Many more specimens were collected from "Perth" or "near Perth", such as:

  • 29 April: Yellow-plumed Honeyeater Lichenostomus ornatus (LIV D1053s) and a Painted Button-quail Turnix v. varius (BMNH 1881.2.18.79)
  • 1 May: Inland Thornbill Acanthiza apicalis (BMNH 1881.2.18.6), 2 White-cheeked Honeyeaters (LIV D5302 & D983s) and a Western Wattlebird Anthochaera lunulata (LIV D1050s).
  • 2 May: Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus virescens (LIV D920s) and a Baudin’s Black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus baudinii (LIV D696).
  • 3 May: Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera (BMNH 1841.6.1379) & Rufous Whistler Pachycephala r. rufiventris (LIV 1999.20.373).
  • 7 May: Magpie-lark Grallina c. cyanoleuca (TMI 3548).
  • 7 May: Water Rat Hydromys chrysogaster collected at Melville Water, near Perth (BMNH 1841.6.1235)

8 - 17 May 1839

Many more specimens were collected from "Perth" or "near Perth", such as:

  • 8 May: Restless Flycatcher Myiagra inquieta (LIV 1999.20.371).
  • 9 May: Crested Shrike-tit Falcunculus frontatus leucogaster (LIV D2156s)
  • 15 May: White-cheeked Honeyeater Phylidonyris niger gouldii (BMNH 1841.6.1093), Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica rufiventris (LIV D4511) and a Sunda Teal Anas gibberifrons gracilis (BMNH 1841.6. 1317).
  • 17 May: Silvereye Zosterops lateralis chloronotus (BMNH 1881.5.1.642, a type specimen) and what is probably a Chocolate Wattled Bat Chalinolobus morio (BMNH 1841.6.1595).

20 May 1839 

Gilbert wrote from Perth to Gould in Sydney (via Hobart) (Mitchell Library Sydney CY 461: 678-681). He had prepared 330 specimens of bird, 50 skeletons, a few reptiles and 2 mammals; all collected within ten miles of Perth. 

22 May 1839

Sunda Teal Anas gibberifrons gracilis collected on Perth flats (Hancock BO109.59).

30 May 1839

Crested Bellbird Oreoica g. gutturalis collected near Northam, inland from Perth (BMNH 1841.6.1414). Northam is well inland, about 60 miles from Perth, east along the Avon River on the way to York. 

5 June 1839

Magpie-lark Grallina c. cyanoleuca collected at Spring Hill, near Northam (TMI 3547).

6 June 1839

Crested Shrike-tit Falcunculus frontatus leucogaster collected near York (ANSP 15201)

8 June 1839

Two New Holland Honeyeaters Phylidonyris novaehollandiae longirostris collected at Fremantle (BMNH 1841.6. 1002 and .1003). These dates, or the locality, must be incorrect as Fremantle is on the coast. Should these have the collecting date June 28th?]

9 June 1839

Common Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula hypoleucus was collected near Northam, Interior of W.A. (BMNH 1841.6.1210).

10 June 1839

Black-tailed Native-hen Tribonyx ventralis collected near York (LIV D3233).

15 June 1839

Grey Currawong Strepera versicolor plumbea collected near York (BMNH 1841.6.1393).

17 June 1839

Two Black-fronted Dotterels Elseyornis melanops collected on the Avon River (BMNH 1841.6.1353 and [.1363]). A White-eared Honeyeater Lichenostomus leucotis novaenorciae was collected near York (TMI 3614)

20 June 1839

Woylie (Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby) Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi collected near York (BMNH 1841.6.1144).

Gilbert appears to have returned to the coast after this date.

16 July 1839

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformes collected near Perth (LIV 1999.20.209).

27 July 1839

Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus collected near Fremantle (BMNH 1841.6.1426).

1 August 1839

"Meliphaga" [Honeyeater] collected at Fremantle (BMNH Accessions Register). This specimen has not yet been found.

6 August 1839

Red-capped Plover Charadrius ruficapillus collected near Woodman’s Point, near Fremantle (Hancock BO93.73).

10 August 1839

Tammar Wallaby Macropus eugenii collected on Garden Island, in the mouth of the Swan River (BMNH 1841.6.1129). 

16 August 1839

Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii cristata collected near Woodman’s Point, near Fremantle (ANSP 5058).

18 - 22 August 1839

According to a letter from the botanist James Drummond to Sir John Hooker (see Whittell 1941: 123; 1949: 38), between these dates Gilbert went to Rottnest Island with Dr Walker (Surgeon in George Grey's 2nd Overland Expedition), James Drummond and the German collector Johann Priess. 

19 August 1839

Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus f. fuliginosus  (BMNH 1841.6.1336) and a Red-capped Plover Charadrius ruficapillus (BMNH 1841.6.1359) collected on Rottnest Island.

20 August 1839

Red-capped Plover Charadrius ruficapillus (BMNH 1841.6.1358) collected on Rottnest Island.

30 August 1839

Splendid Fairy-wren Malurus s. splendens collected near Perth (BMNH 1841.6.1087).

2 September 1839

Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis collected at Perth (LIV 1999.20.372).

3 September 1839

Gilbert wrote from Perth to Gould in Sydney on this date (Mitchell Library, Sydney). He had tried to get a passage on the Elizabeth for Sydney but her captain would not take passengers. He had increased his collection to 530 bird specimens from 150 species; he also had 13 species of mammals, 70 skeletons, 7 bottles reptiles, a few fish, 500 insects, 400 shells, a few crustacea, 3 or 400 plants and many nests and eggs. 

13 September 1839

Splendid Fairy-wren Malurus s. splendens collected on the banks of the Canning River (south-east of Perth) (BMNH 1841.6.1085).

17 September 1839

Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera pileata collected at Perth (RMNH Old Catalogue No.2).

Gilbert at this point must have started on a second expedition along the Avon River into the interior.

20 September 1839

Two Golden Whistlers  Pachycephala pectoralis fuliginosa were collected near Toodyay, inland Western Australia (BMNH 1841.6.1000 and .1001; both these are incorrectly recorded as having been collected on September 4th in the BMNH Accession Register).

28 September 1839

Rufous Songlark Cincloramphus mathewsi collected near Northam (TMI 3618)

30 September 1839

Rufous Songlark Cincloramphus mathewsi collected near Northam (LIV D5546s)

1 October 1839

Two Varied Sittellas Daphoenositta chrysoptera pileata collected near Northam (BMNH 1841.6.998 & .999).

3 October 1839

White-necked (or Pacific) Heron Ardea pacifica collected at Northam (BMNH 1841.6.1328).

5 October 1839

Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus v. virescens collected near York (LIV D1023s).

7 October 1839

Eggs of the Crested Shrike-tit Falcunculus frontatus leucogaster collected in south-west Western Australia (BMNH 1962.1.297) and a Rufous Songlark Cincloramphus mathewsi collected near Northam (TMI 3617). Eggs of Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica rufiventris collected in south-west Western Australia (1962.1.304)

9 October 1839

Fairy Martin Petrochelidon ariel (LIV D1616) and a clutch of five eggs of this species (BMNH 1841.6.1047-1051) collected at Northam.

17 October 1839

Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus (BMNH 1841.6.1470) and a Jacky Winter Microeca fascinans assimilis (BMNH 1855.11.5.18) collected near the Salt River. A Masked Woodswallow Artamus personatus was collected between the Salt and Avon Rivers (BMNH 1841.6.1421).

28 October 1839 

Gilbert wrote from Perth to Gould in Sydney (Mitchell Library, Sydney CY 461: 692-695); he reported that he had "... only returned from the Interior last Saturday", where he had gone 30 miles further than before. His collection now included 157 species of birds and he had many more nests and eggs. Gilbert was waiting for passage to Sydney, either on the Beagle or, if she should not arrive, then the Caledonia which would leave in about six weeks. He told Gould that he was sending a collection of specimens back to London on the Shepherd, which would soon be sailing. 

The next three entries are most interesting and justify the use of the information attached to museum specimens to date the movements of a particular individual. There is no other reference to the fact that Gilbert made a third trip inland in 1839, but at least three specimens prove that he did.

3 November 1839

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis  fulva collected near York (LIV D3042). Gilbert found a nest of this species on 10th November 1839, [a week] after this specimen was collected (see below).

5 November 1839

Eggs of Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis collected in inland Western Australia (WFVZ 178841)

7 November 1839

Square-tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura collected at Gwambyggne (LIV D329). Gwambygine (the modern spelling) is a few miles south of York, on the Avon River.

8 November 1839

Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus collected at Spring Hill, near Northam (TMI 3567).

9 November 1839

White-fronted Honeyeater Purnella albifrons collected at Gwambygne (MCZ 89099).

10 November 1839

According to Gould in "The birds of Australia" Gilbert found a nest of Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis  fulva on 10th November 1839, “three days” after a skin had been collected. It had two young ones "scarcely feathered" and was formed of sticks in a white gum, in dense forest about four miles east of the Avon River.

A Black Honeyeater Sugomel niger was collected at Gwambyggne (LIV T12782).

Two Western Ringtail Possums Pseudocheirus occidentalis were collected “near Perth” (BMNH 1841.6.1191, [.1196]). This may indicate the generalised use of the term “near Perth).

Therefore we arrive at the conclusion that Gilbert spent at least another week in the York area in early November. 

28 November 1839

Gilbert collected the nest of a Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris on the "Plains near the beach 4 miles S. of Fremantle" (Cambridge University Library, Gould Collection Box 5b).

2 December 1839

Fairy Tern Sterna n. nereis collected on Garden Island (LIV D3395). Garden and Rottnest Islands are just off the Fremantle coast. Gilbert wrote to Gould in January 1840, saying that "Since I last wrote you I have been visiting the Islands and added to my collection considerably, both as regards species of Birds and their Eggs...".

3 December 1839

Rock Parrot Neophema p. petrophila (LIV D785a) and a Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii cristata (BMNH 1841.6.1320) were collected on Rottnest Island. 

According to Whittell, H.M. 1942. The literature of Australian birds: footnote, page 221, Gilbert probably also visited Carnac Island and Three Sisters Island, which are about twenty miles south of the mouth of Swan River, during this period, but no specimens with either of those collecting localities have so far been found.

1 January 1840

The Shepherd sailed for London with the majority of Gilbert's collection on board. A list of this collection is in the Mitchell Library, Sydney (MS 587); it consisted of a total of 175 bird skins, 95 skeletons, 17 mammals, 9 reptiles, 1 fish and many boxes of insects, shells, eggs and nests. 

Painted Button-quails Turnix v. varius were collected on the Murray River, Western Australia (LIV D3719 & BMNH 1841.6.1376). The mouth of the Murray River is about 35 miles south of Perth.

14 January 1840

Gilbert wrote from Perth to Gould in Sydney (Mitchell Library, Sydney CY 461: 682-685. Note that Gilbert misdated the letter as 1839). He was preparing to leave on the Caledonia, which would give him a chance to collect at King George's Sound, in the south-west, as the ship was intending to stop there for a fortnight.

29 January 1840

Gilbert left Swan River in the barque Caledonia (189 tons) for Sydney. They called at King George's Sound, then Adelaide, South Australia (where they stayed 3 weeks) and then Port Phillip, Victoria (where they stayed for 4 days). Gilbert therefore visited every one of the present states of Australia (Chisholm 1940: 162-163).

February 1840

John Gilbert, William Nairne Clark (a lawyer in Albany, the township at King George's Sound), Captain Symers of the Caledonia, five other white men and three natives, spent two (?) weeks in expedition in Albany area while the Caledonia was at anchor. The party visited the Gordon Plains, according to a letter Gilbert wrote on his second visit to Western Australia. This is near Cranbrook, a considerable way inland - almost 100 kilometres. However, the party went much further, as is detailed in an account by Clark of this expedition (see report in archives of Chief Secretary's department by William Clark (C.S.O. 1842); also Chisholm 1973: 31 and Whittell 1949: 40-41). After the Gordon Plains the party crossed the Gordon River and camped on the headwaters of the Balgarup River. They explored part of the river and then proceeded to the township of Kojonup, where they were joined by Assistant Surveyor-General Hillman and 2 soldiers. The party split up to explore the next day, Gilbert going south-west to "Man-da-lup". After returning to Kojonup, the party returned to the Balgarup River and thence Albany.

The letter Gilbert wrote to Gould about visiting the Gordon Plains was dated March 27th 1843 (see Wagstaffe & Rutherford 1955: 13). Note that Lord Derby, who made the copy of the letter Wagstaffe & Rutherford used, read this as "Garden Plains". Interestingly Whittell seems to have known about this letter many years before Wagstaffe and Rutherford published it, as he mentions Gilbert's comment about the Gordon Plains in his article in Emu in 1942 (page 222). Possibly Whittell picked up this reference from a comment in Gould's Handbook, which does refer to the specific locality where Gilbert saw a large number of Western Grey Kangaroos.

N.B. John Gould, at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 9 February 1841, described a form of kangaroo which he stated had been collected by Gilbert at the Sound. This was Gilbert's Rat Kangaroo Potorous gilbertii. The animal was thought to be extinct in this area, but was rediscovered in the early 1990s. It had rarely been seen since Gilbert collected specimens on this trip to the Sound and on his subsequent visit in 1843 (Troughton 1965: 164-165).

According to Chisholm, the party were joined on leaving Albany by George Grey and his bride, who had married in Albany (Chisholm 1973: 31-32). However Sean Dawes, Gould's South Australian biographer, says this is not true (Dawes, pers. comm. 1989).

14 February 1840

Red-winged Fairy-wren Malurus elegans collected near Albany, King George's Sound (BMNH 1841.6.1491).

27 February 1840

Common Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula hypoleucus (BMNH 1841.6.1209) and two Western Ringtail Possums Pseudocheirus occidentalis (BMNH 1841.6.1189 & .1198) collected at King George’s Sound.

29 February 1840

A Southern Brown Bandicoot Isoodon obesulus fusciventer was collected at King George’s Sound (BMNH 1841.6.1175)

If these dates are correct, indicating that Gilbert was in this area for at least 15 days, then they agree with the fortnight estimated by Whittell (1942: 221) ...

5 March 1840

… but a Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia was collected by Gilbert in Princess Royal Harbour, King George’s Sound (BMNH 1881.5.1.5854). However, the original label was an unusual shape, is this really a Gilbert specimen? If so, as Gilbert was in the harbour, he was probably about to re-board the Caledonia, so this must have been his last day at the Sound.

4 April 1840

There is an entry in the specimen list for a Gould Collection “Acanthiza apicalis” in the Catalogue of the birds in the British Museum, vol.7: 296 (Sharpe 1883), for an adult male skin from "King George's Sound, April 4th". If this was a Gilbert specimen, it could only have been from 1840 and must mean he stayed longer at the Sound and spent less time in South Australia than was previously thought. This specimen could not be found for many years but eventually it was found to be Acanthiza apicalis BMNH 1881.5.1.279, which has an original label which is not Gilbert's: "No 21. J.L.[or E?]G.S. Male. April 1841". This may actually denote “KGS” [King George’s Sound] and be from the Antarctic Expedition or per Owen Stokes of H.M.S. "Beagle". Gilbert was not in the area in April 1841 but on his way home to England from Port Essington.  An Acanthorhynchus superciliosus in the Natural History Museum has similar data (BMNH 1881.05.01.4319).]

I can find no museum specimens from Gilbert's time in April in either South Australia or the Port Phillip (Melbourne) areas.