About the Book


Mister Catesby



Foreword by Jane O. Waring

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A lavishly illustrated book written by the pre-eminent experts in their fields.

In 1712, English naturalist Mark Catesby (1683-1749) crossed the Atlantic to Virginia. After a seven-year stay, he returned to England with paintings of plants and animals he had studied. They sufficiently impressed other naturalists that in 1722 several Fellows of the Royal Society sponsored his return to North America. There Catesby cataloged the flora and fauna of the Carolinas and the Bahamas by gathering seeds and specimens, compiling notes, and making watercolor sketches. Upon his return to England five years later, he began the twenty-year task of writing, etching, and publishing his monumental The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama islands.

Mark Catesby was a man of exceptional courage and determination combined with insatiable curiosity and multiple talents. Nevertheless no portrait of him is known. The international contributors to this volume review Catesby’s biography alongside the historical and scientific significance of his work. Ultimately, this lavishly illustrated volume advances knowledge of Catesby’s explorations, collections, artwork and publications in order to reassess his importance within the pantheon of early naturalists.

Table of Contents and Author List



Catesby Chronology

“The truly honest, ingenious, and modest Mr. Mark Catesby, F. R. S.” – documenting his life
Dr. Charles Nelson  (FLS: Freelance editor & author, Wisbech, United Kingdom)

Behind the scenes: Catesby, the man, viewed through the lens of a camera
Cynthia P. Neal  (Film producer/director, Nashville, TN)

Mark Catesby’s botanical forerunners in Virginia
Dr. Karen Reeds  (Independent scholar, Princeton, NJ)

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717): pioneering naturalist, artist, and inspiration for Catesby
Dr. Kay Etheridge  (Professor of Biology, Gettysburg College, PA); and Dr. Florence F. J. M. Pieters  (Guest researcher, Artis Library, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

William Dampier (1651-1715): the pirate of exquisite mind
Diana & Michael Preston  (Historians and writers, London, United Kingdom)

John Lawson’s A new voyage to Carolina and his “Compleat History”: the Mark Catesby connection
Dr. Marcus B. Simpson, Jr.  (Vice Chair – retired, Dept. of Pathology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston- Salem, NC)

Mark Catesby’s world: England
Dr. Janet Browne  (Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

Mark Catesby’s world: Virginia
Dr. Sarah Meacham  (Associate Professor of History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA)

Mark Catesby’s Carolina Adventure
Dr. Suzanne Linder Hurley  (Historian and author, Davidson, NC)

Mark Catesby’s Bahamian natural history (observed in 1725-1726)
Dr. Robert Robertson  (Emeritus Curator/Malacology, Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA)

Mark Catesby’s preparatory drawings for The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands
Henrietta McBurney  (Formerly Curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Library, Windsor Castle, United Kingdom)

The publication of Mark Catesby’s The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands
Leslie K. Overstreet  (Curator, Natural History Rare Books, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, DC)

The plant collections of Mark Catesby in Oxford
Dr. Stephen A. Harris  (Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, Oxford, United Kingdom)

Carl Linnaeus and the influence of Mark Catesby’s botanical work
Dr. Charles E. Jarvis  (Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom)

The economic botany and ethnobotany of Mark Catesby
Dr. Hardy Eshbaugh  (Emeritus Professor of Botany, Miami University, Oxford, OH)

“Of birds of passage”: Mark Catesby and contemporary theories on bird migration and torpor
Dr. Shepard Krech III  (Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Brown University, Providence, RI)

Catesby’s animals (other than birds) in The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands
Dr. Aaron M. Bauer  (Professor of Integrative Biology, Villanova University, Villanova, PA)

Catesby’s fundamental contributions to Linnaeus’s binomial catalog of North American animals
Dr. Kraig Adler  (Professor of Biology and formerly Vice Provost, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY)

Mark Catesby’s plant introductions and English gardens of the eighteenth century
Mark Laird  (Adjunct Professor of the History of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

Following in the footsteps of Mark Catesby
Judith Magee  (Library Collections Development Manager, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom)

Inspiration from The natural history of Carolina…by Mark Catesby
Sir Ghillean T. Prance  (FRS: Retired Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom)

Conclusions: The Account, Appendix, Hortus and other endings among Mark Catesby’s work
David J. Elliott  (FLS: Executive Director, Catesby Commemorative Trust, Charleston, SC)

APPENDIX: Identification of the plants and animals illustrated by Mark Catesby for The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands
Dr. James L. Reveal  (Adjunct Professor of Plant Biology, Cornell University, NY)

Notes to chapters and authors’ acknowledgements

A bibliography for Mark Catesby



“A landmark book filled with introspective and concise essays, each developed with a richness of detail, revealing the absorbing portrait of a self-taught artist from Suffolk who had an insatiable curiosity about nature. Wonderfully readable, this classic is an engaging introduction to Catesby’s timeless illustrations and to his keen observation of the natural world. Like an investigation by forensic scientists, the contemplative and thorough scholarship of these authors reveals new insight into Catesby, his journeys, his peers, and the inexhaustible pursuit of botanical and zoological specimens in an eighteenth-century world.”

– Marian Hill,  Former President of The Garden Club of America

Special Edition

This leather bound special edition of The Curious Mister Catesby with a special dedication to Queen Elizabeth has limited availability. Please contact David Elliott (davidmep@bellsouth.net) for information on making this instant collectors item a part of your library.


Dr. Charles Nelson is a botanist who served for two decades as a horticultural taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin. He served as Honorary Editor of Archives of natural history (1999–2012) and has written or edited, singly or collaboratively, nearly forty books. His most recent titles include Shadow among splendours: Lady Charlotte Wheeler-Cuffe’s adventures among the flowers of Burma, 1897–1921.

David J. Elliott is Founder, Chairman, and now Honorary Trustee of the Kiawah Island Natural Habitat Conservancy. He has been Executive Director of the Catesby Commemorative Trust since 2002.