Rainbow lorikeet, 1772
(Trichoglossus moluccunus)
Moses Griffith (1731-1791)
Goauche on vellum
National Library of Australia, Canberra

Keith Vincent Smith

The earliest known painting in colour of an Australian bird, dated to 1772, also depicts the first live Australian bird to reach England.

It is a portrait of a blue-bellied parrot known as the rainbow lorikeet or Blue Mountain Lorry, painted by Moses Griffith, a Welsh artist who was a servant to the naturalist and traveller Thomas Pennant.

Captured at Botany Bay in 1770, the bird was the pet of Tupaia, the Polynesian high priest from Raiatea in the mid-Pacific Ocean, who sailed with James Cook and the naturalist Joseph Banks aboard HM Bark Endeavour.

We don’t have a portrait of Tupaia, but we know that he learned the skill of painting from the European artists aboard the ship. For further information, see Keith Vincent Smith,  Tupaia’s Sketchbook, online in the Electronic British Library Journal, 2005.

At Kamay (Botany Bay) Tupaia carried a musket and shot parrots and other birds to eat. While there on 1 May 1770 Banks wrote in his journal:

The trees over our heads abounded very much with Loryquets and Cocatoos of which we shot several; both these sorts flew in flocks of several scores together.

The following day Banks noted:

Tupaia who strayd from us in pursuit of Parrots, of which he shot several, told us on return that he had seen nine Indians [Aboriginal people] who ran from him as soon as they perceived him.

The young Scots artist Sydney Parkinson, author of A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas in HMS Endeavour (1773, page 136), who died in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia), mentioned a ‘beautiful loriquet’ among

… a great number of birds of a beautiful plumage; among them were two sorts of parroquets, and a beautiful loriquet; we shot a few of them, which we made into a pie, and they ate very well.

When Tupaia died, also in Batavia, on 20 December 1770, his lorikeet was taken to England by Banks, who gave it to Marmaduke Tunstall, who said it had belonged to the ‘unfortunate Tupaia’. 

Tunstall, a Fellow of the Royal Society in London and a friend of Sir Joseph Banks, its President, added Tupaia’s pet to his private museum in London, where he kept both live and preserved birds. He later presented it to the Newcastle Museum, now called the Great North Museum, in Hancock, Newcastle, UK.

Blue-headed and bellied Parrot, 1776
(Rainbow lorikeet)
Peter Brown
Hand-coloured engraving
Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

A second image of Tupaia’s pet bird was painted in England by Peter Brown, an artist of Danish descent who was botanical artist for the Prince of Wales in 1774. The coloured engraving appeared in New Illustrations of Zoology, printed in London. 

The accompanying caption reads:

November 3 1774
A native of New South Wales, in New Holland, very numerous in Botany Bay. This bird was brought over by Sir Joseph Banks, esq.

Moowatin Creek and the Cataract of Carrung-gurring, 1 January 1814
Plate V111, Atlas
Matthew Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis, London 1814
Mitchell Library, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

George Caley, the self-taught botanist sent to New South Wales by Sir Joseph Banks, took his Aboriginal bird and plant collector Daniel Moowattin with him when  they sailed from Sydney to England in May 1810. Caley also took his pet white cockatoo called Jack with them on the frigate Hindostan.

There are no images of either Caley or Moowattin, but the name of his guide and specimen collector ‘Dan’ Moowattin was given by Caley to Moowattin Creek, flowing into the ‘Cataract of Carrung Gurring’ (now called the Cataract River and Appin Falls) on a map published by the explorer Matthew Flinders in London in 1814.

Caley told Sir Joseph Banks that he had named the river ‘to commemorate the memory of the native to whom I am indebted for the discovery of the cataract’.

In ‘Daniel Moowattin in Regency London’, Chapter 11 in MARI NAWI: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, 2010, page 129) I wrote:

A droll trio could be seen walking through the streets of London on the fine, warm morning of Thursday 4 April 1811, the day of Caley’s departure for his native Yorkshire. Caley first saw Sir Joseph Banks at Soho Square and then went to the canal office in Paddington accompanied by George Suttor and Dan, who carried Jack the cockatoo, caged in a hamper ‘which he pecked all to pieces’. Jack was troublesome on the journey, but was very quiet when released.


While in London, Caley gave ‘a Rose Hill and a Blue Mountain Parrot’ to William Townsend Aiton, a botanist and director of Kew Gardens, who laid out the gardens at Buckingham Palace, London.  I would guess that these were stuffed birds from Caley’s collection.

Caley said the rosella was first called the ‘Rose Hill parrot’ after the first name given by Governor Arthur Phillip to Parramatta, where it was commonly seen. In time it was abbreviated to ‘Rosehiller’ and finally ‘rosella’.

In October 1811 Moowattin and Suttor, a nurseryman previously employed by Banks, boarded the convict vessel Mary at Portsmouth, to return to Sydney, which they reached on 12 May 1812.

Jack outlived Daniel Moowattin, who was hanged for rape in Sydney on 1 November 1816. ‘The cockatoo I have still’, Caley told Suttor, in a letter sent from Yorkshire on 12 July 1825.
[George Suttor, Letters, ML MSS 2417/4:233, Mitchell Library, Sydney]

Caley made provision for Jack to be looked after in his will, made in London on  16 May 1829. He wrote:

I do desire that Maria [his servant] … shall take care of my cockatoo which I caught in the woods in New South Wales and which I have deprived of liberty for twenty years.

George Caley died a few days later, on 23 May 1829.

See also: Keith Vincent Smith, Moowattin, Daniel (1791-1816) on the Australian Dictionary of Biography, online at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moowattin-daniel-13107

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020