George Shaw lived from 1751 to 1813. He was very highly regarded during his life time and was Assistant Keeper to the natural history section of the British Museum from 1791 to 1807, when he became Keeper, a position he held until his death six years later. He was co-founder of the Linnean Society in 1788. His main works were the Museum Leverianum , the Zoology of New Holland (today Australia) published in 1794, the General Zoology published between 1800-1812 and the Naturalists’ Miscellany published 1789 to 1813.
Sir Ashton Lever (1729-1788) was an English collector of natural objects. He began by collecting seashells in around 1760 and gradually accumulated one of the richest private collections of natural objects, including living animals. He opened it to the public in 1766 in Manchester before moving the collection to his family home near Rochdale, Lancashire in 1771. In 1774 Lever moved to London and in the following year opened his "Holophusicon" to the public in Leicester Square. Captain Cook was apparently so impressed that he donated objects from his own voyages to the museum.
Lever continued to buy new items until he became bankrupt at which point the collection contained some 28,000 items. Both the British Museum and the Empress of Russia declined to buy it so a lottery was held to dispose of it. 8,000 tickets were sold at a guinea ( in today’s currency £ 1.05) each. The winner put the collection up for auction in 1806. One of the major purchasers was Leopold von Fichtel, who bid on behalf of the Imperial Museum in Vienna. Other purchasers included the Earl of Derby. As a result of these transactions the type specimen for the Hyacinthine Macaw ended up in Vienna. You can view the type specimen by clicking here and the head by clicking here.
1. The entry in Museum Leverianum, which is accompanied by an interesting colour plate begins with the Latin version of the English text and identifies the macaw as Psittacus augustus. The head of the illustration can be viewed by clicking here. The Latin version on Page 57 is first followed by the full original English text on Page 59:-
ROSTRUM ad uncum: mandibula superiore mobili, cera instructa.
NARES in rostri basi.
LINGUA carnosa, obtuse, integra.
PEDES scansorii Lin. Syst. Nat. p. 139
CHARACTER SPECIFICUS &c.
Psittacus Macrourus Cyaneus, rostro ped: busque nigris, orbitis basique mandibulae inferioris luteis.
Psittacus Hyacinthinus Lath. Ind. Orn. P.84
Venustissima hac avi Museum Leverianum donavit Noblissimus Comes Orford, nuperrima defunctus, qui etiam viventem emerat. Latuit prius physicas species incognita. Reliquis omnibus psittacini generic videtur ante cellere mole et magnificentia.
De patria nihil habeo quod pro certo dicam: vix tamen dubitem hunc psittacum cum aliis majoribus, iis scilicet que Macaones vocantur, Americam Australem praecipueque Brasiliam incolere. Tota avis es eximie cyanea, nisi quod super frontem er margines remigum levissima sit coloris thalassini tinctura. Superficies inferior alarum caudaeque nigra est. Rostrum praeter solitum magnum validumque omnino nigerrimum. Nigrant quoque crura et pedes: quorum ingens robur. Orbitae, seu spatia nuda circum oculas coloris sunt lutei: lutea etiam es cutis nuda qua mandibulae inferioris basis cingitur.
Partium corporis proportio eadem sere est huic ac duabus speciebus jam memoratis, Macaoni nempe et Araraunae; quas tamen mole superat psittacus augustus. Praeter specimen quod jam descripsimus nullum aluid in tota Europa creditur extare.
English text (Page 59)
THE HYACINTHINE MACCAW
BILL hooked, upper mandible moveable
NOSTRILS round, placed in the base of the bill
TONGUE fleshy, blunt at the end
LEGS short, toes formed for climbing, viz, two toes forward, and two behind
Long-tailed deep-blue Maccaw, with the bill and legs black, the orbits and base of the lower mandible yellow
Of all the parrot tribe yet known this bird seems to be the largest as well as the most august in its appearance. It is also a new species, and was unknown to naturalists till it was introduced into the Leverian Museum by the late Lord Orford, who purchased it living.
Nothing certain is known with respect to its native country; it may however be strongly presumed that, like the Psittacus Macao, Ararauna, and the other large Maccaws, it may be an inhabitant of South America, and probably of Brazil in particular. Its colour is the richest and deepest mazarine blue, uniformly diffused over the whole bird, except that on the edges of the wings and the forehead is a very slight tendency to a sea-green or blueish-green cast. The under surface of the wings and tail is black. The beak is uncommonly large and strong. It is totally black, the legs and feet are also black and extremely strong. The orbits or bare spaces round the eyes are of a deep yellow, and the base of the lower mandible is surrounded by a bare skin of the same colour.
The general proportions of this magnificent bird are the same as in the two species above mentioned, but its size is still larger. The specimen now described is perhaps the only one known to exist at present in Europe.
(End of entry in the Museum Leverianum)
2. Entry in the Fifteenth Volume of the Naturalist’s Miscellany. According to C.D. Sherborn this work was published monthly in 287 parts from August 1789 to June 1813. E.Noddy was co-editor. The entry is accompanied by a plate (No. 609)
THE HYACINTHINE MACCAW
Bill hooked: upper mandible moveable, and furnished with a cere. Nostrils round, placed at the base of the bill. Tongue fleshy, broad, blunt at the end. Feet scansorial.
SPECIFIC CHARACTER, Etc
Long-tailed deep-blue MACCAW, with the bill and legs black: the orbits and base of the lower mandible yellow.
Museum Leverianum. No. 2 Pl.2 Lath. Ind. orn. P.84
This extremely rare bird, which surpasses in the magnificence of its appearance all the rest of the Parrot tribe, is preserved in the Leverian Museum. The whole bird is of a very fine deep blue, except that the forehead and edges of the wing-feathers have a slight cast of sea-green. The under surface of the wings and tail is black. The beak, which is uncommonly large and strong, is of a deep black, as are also the legs and feet. which are extremely stout. The orbits or naked spaces round the eyes are of a deep yellow, as is also the skin round the base of the lower mandible. The general proportions of the bird are nearly the same as those of the Psittacus Ararauna, and it is probably a native of the same parts of South America. The specimen now described is perhaps the only one known to exist at present in Europe.
(End of entry)
3. In 1812 Shaw finished publishing his General Zoology and Volume VIII - Part II contains the following entry on page 393.
Psittacus augustus, P cyancus, rostro
pedibusque nigris, orbitis basique
mandibula inferioris luteis
Museum Leverianum No. 2
Deep-blue Maccaw with the bill and legs black;
the orbits and base of the lower mandible yellow
Hyacinthine Maccaw Nat. Misc. Vol.15, pl. 609
Psittacus hyacinthinus P.macrourus violaceo-ceruleus,
capite colloque dilutioribis, orbite gulaque nudis flavis. Lath. ind. orn
Hyacinthine Maccaw Lath. syn
This august species, which is a degree larger than the Blue and Yellow Maccaw, was first described by myself, in the work entitled Museum Leveranium, from a very fine specimen preserved in that celebrated collection. I must therefore repeat my former description. The colour of this bird is the richest and deepest mazarine blue, uniformly diffused over the whole plumage; except that on the edges of the wings and the forehead is a very slight tendency to a sea-green or blueish-green cast; the under surface of the wings and tail is black: the beak is most uncommonly large and strong, and considerably exceeds that of the Macao or Ararauna; it is totally black, the legs and feet are also black and extremely strong. The orbits or bare spaces round the eyes are of a deep yellow, and the base of the lower mandible is surrounded by a bare skin of the same colour: the general proportions of this magnificent bird are the same as in the two species above-mentioned. Nothing certain is known relative to its native country, but it may be presumed that, like the rest of the large Maccaws, it is an inhabitant of South America.
It may be added, that the specimen in the Leverian Museum was probably the first of its kind brought into Europe, and before its introduction into the Leverian Museum, had been in the possession of the then Lord Orford, with whom it lived a considerable time. I have been informed that a second specimen was some time afterwards brought to Lisbon, and was presented to the Queen of Portugal. It is therefore probable that the bird is of Brasilian origin. It is remarkable that it differs from the rest of the Maccaws in having the cheeks covered with feathers.
(Website editor: it is evident that Shaw’s description is based on personal observation, whereas Latham appears to have his information second-hand. Both Shaw and Latham have illustrations of the Hyacinthine Macaw in their respective works and that in Shaw’s Museum Leverianum is far superior to that in Volume II of Latham’s collection of water colours (Plate 99)
Friday 3rd November 2023
More good news from Brazil about the Spix’s macaw
There is more good news from Brazil about the re-introduced Spix’s macaws. A statement from ACTP has revealed that a pair of Spix’s macaws, a male released in June of this year and a female from the December 2022 release, have hatched ... Read More »
" Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "
( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)
Horace (65-8 BC)