Search the Collection
Advanced Search
Image Not Available

A singular animal called kanguroo (sic) found on the coast of New Holland

Date: 1790 - 1800
Overall: 124 x 173 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00008521

User Terms

    This engraving, titled 'A singular animal called kanguroo (sic) found on the coast of New Holland', is after a painting by George Stubbs. It was the first printed image published of the kangaroo and accompanied the journals of James Cook's first voyage.
    The original oil colour painting became known as 'Stubb's Kangaroo' and was directly commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks on his return to England from the ENDEAVOUR voyage in 1771. Stubbs was provided with a kangaroo skin and skull to work from by Banks and it is said that Stubbs had to stuff or inflate the skin in order to try and understand it (although Sydney Parkinson had made an orginal sketch of a kanagroo whilst still in Australia, this was not available to Stubbs at the time).

    SignificanceThe uniqueness of the kangaroo saw it become one of the most iconic early ideas of Australia that was embraced by Europeans. It represented the exotic adventure and the unknown scientific wonderland that fascinated eighteenth century thought.
    The kangaroo would go to feature on the Australian coat of arms and become a patriotic symbol as visually recognizable as the Australian flag.
    HistoryGeorge Stubbs, a recognised 18th century oil painter working in London, was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks to paint the first kangaroo from a skin collected during Captain Cook's first voyage to the Pacific in 1768 - 1771 on the ENDEAVOUR.

    Banks had been the naturalist on board the ENDEAVOUR during the voyage. He had an accompaniment of eight staff including the naturalists Daniel Solander and H D Sporing, the artists Alexander Buchan and Sydney Parkinson, James Roberts, Peter Briscoe and the servants Thomas Richmond and George Dorlton. Equipped with a large fortune and a wealth of natural history experience Banks was recommended to the British Admiralty for the expedition by the Royal Society. Between 1768 and 1771 Banks with his staff collected large amounts of specimens including seeds, shells, insects, bottled specimens and animals. Many of the pieces he took back to England and they formed an extensive natural history collection.

    One of the first recordings of the kangaroo was by Cook himself who wrote on 24 June 1770 in his journal:

    "I saw myself this morning, a little way from the ship, one of the Animals before spoke off [sic]: it was of a light mouse Colour and the full size of a Grey Hound, and shaped in every respect like one, with a long tail, which it carried like a Grey hound; in short, I should have taken it for a wild dog but for its walking or running, in which it jump'd like a Hare or Deer."

    On the 14th July 1770, a speciman was caught and is recorded as:

    "Mr. Gore, who went out this day with his gun, had the good fortune to kill one of the animals which had been so much the subject of our speculation; an idea of it will best be conceived by the cut, plate XX, without which, the most accurate verbal description would answer very little purpose, as it has not similitude enough to any animal already known, to admit of illustration by reference. In form, it is most like the gerbua. This animal is called by the natives Kanguroo."

    The same event is recorded by Sir Joseph Banks on 14th July:

    "Our second lieutenant who was shooting today had the good fortune to kill the animal that had so long been the subject of our speculations. To compare it to any European animal would be impossible as it has not the least resemblance of any one I have seen. Its fore legs are extremely short and of no use to it in walking, its hind again as disproportionately long; with these it hops 7 or 8 feet at each hop."

    The following day Banks, with a singular lack of nostalgia, duly noted: ‘The Beast which was killed yesterday was today Dressed for our dinners and provd excellent meat’.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: A singular animal called kanguroo (sic) found on the coast of New Holland


    Related People

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.