Papers of William Swainson

Scope and Content

The collection consists of original manuscripts of Swainson's books and some miscellaneous papers.

  • Swainson 01-03. Original manuscript for 'A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural History' published in 1835. It includes additional and suppressed passages.
  • Swainson 04-06. Original manuscript for 'On the Natural History and Classification of Quadrupeds' published in 1835, including additions and alterations.
  • Swainson 07-09. Original manuscript for 'A Treatise on the Natural History and Classification of Birds' published in 1836.
  • Swainson 10. Original manuscript for a work entitled 'On the classification of Animals', said to be parts 3 and 4 of the printed book.
  • Swainson 11. An imperfect original manuscripot for 'Geography of Animals', probably published as 'A Treatise on the Geography and Classification of Animals' in 1835.
  • Swainson 12. Manuscript for articles on Geographic Zoology written for 'An Encyclopaedia of Geography' edited by High Murray.
  • Swainson 13-14. Original manuscript for 'A Treatise upon Animals in Menageries' (Quadrupeds and Birds) published in 1838.
  • Swainson 15. Original manuscript entitled 'Descriptions of Two Centenaries and a Quarter of New and Little known Birds', which was printed in the Menageries volume of the Cabinet Cyclopedia of Natural History by Dionysius Lardner, published in 1830.
  • Swainson 16. Original manuscript of a volume 'On the Rise and Progress of Systematic Zoology' published as part of D. Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia of Natural History (1830), with additions and improvements.
  • Swainson 17. Original manuscript of 'Entomology as connected with Agriculture and Gardening' published as part of the Encyclopaedia of Gardening edited by John Claudius Loudon from 1824.
  • Swainson 18. Notes and proofs entitled 'Mexican Zoology'.
  • Swainson 19. A portfolio with 'Old Zoological Mss.' of various contents.
  • Swainson 20. A manuscript with title 'On the Natural Arrangmenet of the Testaceous Mollusca'
  • Swainson 21. A manuscript with title 'General Ornithology, vol. 1'
  • Swainson 22. A packet of miscellaneous manuscripts, unsorted.
  • Swainson 23. Copies of Annual Reports of the Bolanos Mining Company, with some letters.
  • Swainson 24. Description of 'Northern Zoology'.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Swainson (1789-1855) was born in Liverpool. He joined H.M. Customs in 1803 and transferred to the Commissariat of the Mediterranean Army in 1806. This gave him the opportunity to travel and study natural history in Malta, Italy and Sicily. He retired at half pay in 1815 when he was 26 years old.

In the next year he went to Brazil on an expedition to collect plants and animals, especially birds, returning in 1818. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society (1820) and a Fellow of the Linnean Society. After 1818, he learned lithography and produced many drawings of animals. He was engaged as a professional writer and wrote many populat books and papers on shells, birds and other animals. He was one of the chief exponents advocating a peculiar sustem of classification called the Quinary System.

In 1840 he emigrated to New Zealand, disillusioned by the lack of acceptance of his theories of systematics, the failure to obtain a post at the British Museum and saddened by the death of his first wife (Mary Parkes) in 1835. He left with his second wife Ann Grasby and four of his five children. He purchased 1100 acres of land in the Hutt Valley from the New Zealand Company.

Access Information

Manuscripts can be consulted on appointment only. The Museum of Zoology is open Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 17:00 pm. Access and reproduction is at the discretion of the Archivist.

Acquisition Information

The manuscripts were acquired direct from Swainson by the University of Cambridge for the Museum of Zoology togther with Swainson's collection of birds in 1840.


Description compiled by Kees Rookmaaker, Archives Hub project archivist.

Other Finding Aids

There is a handwritten list of the different items with the collection.