John Latham (ornithologist)

John Latham (ornithologist)

John Latham (June 27, 1740 - February 4, 1837) was an English physician, naturalist and author.Latham has been called the "grandfather" of Australian ornithology. He was able to examine specimens of Australian birds which reached England in the last twenty years of the 18th century, and was responsible for naming many of them. These included the Emu, White Cockatoo, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Superb Lyrebird and Australian Magpie. He was also the first to describe the Hyacinth Macaw.

Latham practised as a physician at Dartford in Kent, where he collected the Dartford Warbler. He retired in 1796 and settled in Hampshire. His main works were "A General Synopsis of Birds" (1781-1801) and "General History of Birds" (1821-28).

"A General Synopsis of Birds" was Latham's first ornithological work and contained 106 illustrations by the author. It described many new species which Latham had discovered in various museums and collections. In this work, like Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, he did not attach importance to the names of the species which he described. Later, Latham realised that only the use of the Linnean binomial system would give him the honour of originating the species' scientific names. Thus he published in 1790, a "Index Ornithologicus" where he specified a binomial name for all the species which he had previously described. Unfortunately it was too late, as Johann Friedrich Gmelin had already published his own version of Linnaeus' "Systema Naturæ" in which he gave a scientific name to Latham's species; taking into account the rules of nomenclature, Gmelin has priority.

Latham maintained a regular correspondence with Thomas Pennant, Joseph Banks, Ashton Lever and others. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1775, and also took part in the creation of the Linnean Society.


*Christine E. Jackson - Bird Etchings: The Illustrators and Their Books, 1655-1855 ISBN 0801496845

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