John Kirk Townsend
Collector of Audubon’s Western Birds and Mammals

Hardback, 290mm x 230mm, 400 pages, approx 350 illustrations (300 in colour), 10 maps, 4 flow charts, 18 appendices and extensive bibliography.

(See below for a detail of contents, sample pages and reviews.)

The Townsend story provides a unique perspective on Audubon’s famous books. Audubon’s Black Oystercatcher (Plate CCCCXXVII of The Birds of America) is based on specimens provided by Townsend.
The text is enhanced by wildlife and habitat images taken by the authors as they followed in Townsend’s footsteps. Elk were often seen by Townsend.

This new book is the first in-depth biography of J.K.Townsend (1809-1851) an ornithologist from Philadelphia who crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River in 1834 and made two visits to the Hawaiian Islands. He returned home with a great haul of bird and mammal specimens: Townsend’s Warbler, Townsend’s Chipmunk, Townsend’s Ground Squirrel, Townsend’s Mole etc. that were used by John James Audubon in the preparation of his Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds.

The heart of this book is an exciting new presentation of Townsend’s Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains, to the Columbia River, and a visit to the Sandwich Islands, Chili &c (1839). Although there have been several editions of the Narrative this version includes new material from Townsend’s original journal, is the first to be fully illustrated and the first to include Audubon paintings of the very specimens that Townsend collected.

Barbara and Richard Mearns also examine Townsend’s Quaker upbringing, track him on his journey westwards, provide a modern zoological commentary on his discoveries, trace his troubled career, and discuss his association with Audubon and the major contribution that Townsend made to his famous works.

It is essential reading for those with an interest in – early Western travels and the Oregon Trail – the wildlife of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest – the history of ornithology and the contribution of Audubon, Bachman, Nuttall and Townsend – the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the National Institute at Washington – Quaker naturalists.

“John K. Townsend was evidently a genius whom force of circumstances prevented from reaching his proper place in ornithological annals.” Witmer Stone, The Condor 1916.


i-x  Preface and Acknowledgements. Abbreviations
1-7  Chronology
9-30  Part 1   John Kirk Townsend
9-12  1. Townsend and Audubon – two very different characters
13-24  2. Townsend’s early life in Philadelphia
25-28  3. Townsend and Nuttall set off westwards
29-265  Part 2    Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains, to the Columbia River, and a visit to the Sandwich Islands, Chili, &c. by J.K. Townsend
33-50  1. First steps to Independence
51-72  2. Independence to Laramie’s Fork
73-86  3. Laramie’s Fork to Green River
87-98  4. Green River to Fort Hall
99-114  5. Fort Hall to Boise River
115-129  6. Across the Blue Mountains to Fort Walla Walla
131-138  7. Fort Walla Walla to Fort Vancouver
139-154  8. Fort Vancouver and the lower Columbia River
155-173  9. First visit to the Hawaiian Islands, 1835
174-202  10. Return to the Columbia River
203-237  11. The Columbia River, 1836
238-252  12. Second visit to the Hawaiian Islands, 1837
253-265  13. Homeward bound
266-317  Part 3   Townsend’s later life
266-280  1. Audubon paints Townsend’s birds
281-290  2. Townsend in Philadelphia
291-306  3. At the National Institute
307-317  4. Philadelphia once more
318-375  Appendices
318-324  1. Townsend’s natural history collections
325-326  2. New birds and mammals in the Townsend collection
327  3. Tolmie List, 15th November 1836
328-331  4. Derby List. Lord Derby’s catalogue of birds, 16th June 1838
332  5. McEuen List. Thomas McEuen and J.K. Townsend, 25th October 1839
333-336  6. Townsend’s numbered catalogue of bird specimens
337-349  7A. Birds seen and collected by Townsend and Nuttall on the overland journey from Missouri to the Pacific, the  voyages  between the Columbia River and the Hawaiian Islands, and Nuttall’s visit to California
350-354  7B. Mammals seen and collected by Townsend on the overland journey from Missouri to the Pacific
355-356  8. Where and when did Townsend collect his Swainson’s Hawks?
357-359  9. The Columbia River bird report given by Townsend to the Rev Samuel Parker
360  10. Townsend’s controversial seabirds
361-364  11. Townsend’s bird specimens from the Hawaiian Islands
365-366  12. Townsend’s bird specimens from Tahiti
367-368  13. Townsend’s bird and mammal specimens From Chile
369-370  14. Nuttall’s bird specimens from the West
371  15. Audubon’s Central and South American land birds in The Birds of America
372  16. The Edward Harris collection of birds
373  17. Townsend’s bat Specimens from the West
374-375  18. Townsend’s attempt to sell mammal specimens in Europe.
376-383  Bibliography
384-387  Index of birds and mammals
388  General Index
x  1. Townsend’s travels, 1834-37
34  2. St Louis to Independence, 24th March – 28th April 1834
52-53  3. Independence to Laramie’s Fork, 28th April – 1st June 1834
74  4. Laramie’s Fork to South Pass, 1st June – 14th June 1834
91  5. South Pass to Fort Hall, 14th June – 6th August 1834
104  6. Across the Sawtooth Mountains, 6th August – 24th August 1834
116  7. Across the Blue Mountains, 24th August – 10th September 1834
135  8. The Lower Columbia River, 10th September – 11th December 1834
144  9. Fort Vancouver and vicinity
159  10. The Hawaiian Islands, 1834-35 & 1837
202  11. The Lower Columbia River, 16th April 1835 – 30th November 1836

Sample pages

Page 108
American Pika

Download as PDF document

Page 171
Back to O‘ahu

Download as PDF document

Page 202
Lower Columbia River map

Download as PDF document

Comments and reviews

... a fascinating read from beginning to end, it is also a work you can happily dip into time and again.”

Leni Martin, Birdwatch (Dec 2007) 186: 57.

What a marvellous job!  Both the writing and the illustrations are superb (including Townsend's writing which no modern person of his age could possibly duplicate).  I had, of course, read his Narrative before but it really came to life in your book. ... Thank you both for your dedication to ornithological history and so many sterling contributions to it.”

Storrs Olson, Division of Birds, Smithsonian Institution, email 18 Jan 2008.

This grand and comprehensive biography of John Townsend is a marvellous contribution to the history of American ornithology, and is the first book to fully document the life of this highly talented but relatively little known biologist. The book also illuminates the many interactions among Townsend, Nuttall, Audubon, and other important American naturalists of the day.”

Paul A. Johnsgard, Nebraska Bird Review (June 2008) 76: 84-85.

Many thanks for the copy of the Townsend book, which I have dipped into, but it will be quite a while before I will read it thoroughly. It looks like an absolutely magnificent piece of work. When I looked at the leaflet I thought it was a bit on the expensive side, but having seen it I realise that, if anything, it's remarkably cheap!!”

Michael Walters, author of A Concise History of Ornithology, email 2 Oct 2008.

Yesterday's mail brought your JKT book!  And what a book!  Never in my wildest dreams could I have come up with anything so beautiful, so resourceful, so scholarly and well referenced & source cited!  It is truly magnificent!  How fortunate our family is that someone as talented as you two would be so interested in John Kirk Townsend and his life's work!”

Dana Dunbar King (descended from JK Townsend’s sister Elizabeth), email 16 Sept 2007.

Well, simply wondrous and amazing. Thank you both so very much.  I stayed up extra late last night going over the book and now 24 hours later am just getting back to email.  Will take some time to read all, but at least I have the rich flavor.  The photos and overall layout and design are also captivating.   Amazing work and so much due diligence over so many years.”

Donald Townsend Little (descended from JK Townsend’s nephew), email 12 Sept 2007.

It stands in marked contrast to Townsend’s original Narrative, which contained no illustrations. The lavishly produced edition by Barbara and Richard Mearns makes up for that lack, and it will be consulted by those who have an interest in the natural history dimensions of this famous classic of Western travel”

Paul Lawrence Farber, Oregon Historical Quarterly (2008) 109: 499-500.

This latest work by Barbara and Richard Mearns is truly a visual feast. The photographs and the skilful design of the book are among its greatest virtues; rarely has an apparent biography been filled with such lovely images ... The work contains a number of items useful to professional ornithologists. Not only do the appendices detail every species collected by Townsend, but a series of flow charts (Figures 1–3 in Appendix 1) diagrams the dispersal of Townsend’s bird collection in the United States and Europe and notes the paths and current locations of specimens held by individuals and institutions. The authors also allow Townsend’s own voice to be heard via extensive quotes from his journals and letters. They clearly pursued the topic with passion and complete dedication ... “

Daniel Lewis, The Ibis (2008) 150: 428.