Discovering fishes of India : the Francis Day collection of drawings

by Ann Sylph on

These wonderful drawings of fishes of India are a small selection from the Francis Day collection, the originals are kept in the ZSL Library, many species were depicted for the first time.

The drawings are by Day himself and a variety of artists, including some local Indian artists. The collection consists of circa 692 art originals bound in four volumes.

Drawing of a spotted eel

Francis Day (1829-1889) was a military surgeon and ichthyologist. In c1861, when Day was living in Cochin, he started his first survey of Indian fishes. The results of the Cochin study were presented to the Zoological Society in 1865 when he had returned to England for two years before returning to India.

He spent 24 years studying the fish fauna of India, he became the greatest authority at that time and was responsible for more than 70 scientific papers, a fish collection of 10,000 specimens, and naming 343 new species of marine and freshwater fishes.

He was elected a Fellow of the Zoological Society in 1864. Day left India for the last time in 1874 and returned to England. He retired from the army in 1876 with the rank of deputy surgeon-​general. In England he wrote The fishes of India, a major four volume work published 1875-1877, which was illustrated by himself and George Henry Ford. However the illustrations in the published books are uncoloured hence these drawings are an invaluable information source for identifying the fish more clearly and to appreciate their vivid colours. ZSL Library's copy of the published book Fishes of Malabar, 1865 is a particularly useful copy as it contains coloured illustrations.

This was followed by Fishes of Great Britain (1880-1884) and numerous scientific papers.

Drawing of a striped fish


Some of the images in the Francis Day collections were featured in a previous blog on Raffles, fish and the Museum of the Zoological Society of London

Drawing of a fish in vivid green, red and blue

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