Born in Bath in 1761, Lambert was part of the privileged and wealthy elite. With the leisure and the means to pursue his passion for natural history in an extravagant and all-consuming way, his salons and personal library became the backdrop for the spoils of his collecting mania.
With a keen eye for detail and an almost childlike enthusiasm, Lambert relished the thrill of natural history collecting and was particularly interested in the drawings coming out of Australia.
Lambert became known as one of Britain’s leading natural historians and though he never left Europe, he amassed over 700 drawings and countless specimens from New South Wales.
After his death in 1842, Lambert’s library was auctioned by Sotheby’s.
The 13th Earl of Derby, a great friend of Lambert, purchased his collection of Australian watercolours from the sale. A passionate naturalist and collector himself, the Earl of Derby had begun assembling one of the finest natural history libraries in England at his family seat of Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool.
The drawings remained in the Knowsley Hall family library for over 150 years, rarely opened until the State Library’s purchase of the collection in 2011. Undiscovered, the watercolours have barely faded or deteriorated over the years and feature bold and striking examples of Australian birds, plants, fish, a handful of mammals and a single scene of Norfolk Island.
The collection of 745 drawings was bound into six volumes, three of which have been referred to in historical literature. However, until the Library’s purchase, the other three had never been seen or described before.
Obtained through the generous support of TAL & Dai-ichi Life and the NSW Government and known today as the TAL & Dai-ichi Life Derby Collection, these extraordinary watercolours are the Library’s most significant addition to the First Fleet collection since the 1930s.
Below is a just a small selection of the Australian flora and fauna that was discovered within those six volumes.