A History of the Birds of New Zealand

by Walter Buller was a publishing sensation when it first came out in London, winning praise from Charles Darwin among others.

It was packed with eyecatching paintings by Dutch artist J.G. Keulemans and one London admirer said there was "no other work to place alongside it ... it will call attention to the delightful country which is the dwelling-place of such singular and beautiful objects in natural history".

Colonial pride in the achievement - and its potential as an advertisement for New Zealand's beauty - was prominent in the coverage from the Herald at the time. But, as Te Papa researchers Sandy Bartle and Alan Tennyson point out in their "History of Walter Buller's Collections", the value of Buller's work was so much greater than just pretty pictures.

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They use his collections to document the decline and extinction of endemic New Zealand birds in the late 19th century as a result of introduced mammal predators.

One 1873 reviewer used it to criticise the "silly mania" of importing foreign species to New Zealand - and other places - which in some cases drove the native fauna to extinction.

For the beauty of his book and his long-running influence, Walter Buller is our New Zealander of the Year for 1873.

View A History of the Birds of New Zealand (1873) in its entirety here.
From the Herald archives:
Letter to the editor, New Zealand Herald, 18 September 1872
'The Ornithology of New Zealand', New Zealand Herald, 25 September 1872
'Book editor's top title for 2012', NZ Herald online, 6 December 2012
Further reading:
'History of Walter Buller's collections of New Zealand birds', Te Papa online