John Gould was born at Lyme in 1804, son of a gardener, and probably had an early job in the Dowager Lady Poulett's garden. He worked under his father at other gardens, including those of Windsor Castle and of Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. He took up taxidermy (the preserving and stuffing of animal skins), became in 1824 the first curator of the Zoological Society's museum in London, where he had the first chance to examine the collections of specimens being brought back by travellers from regions such as the Himalayas and New Guinea. He published huge multi-volume books about the world's birds, with coloured lithoraph illustrations by his wife Elizabeth and later by others including Edward Lear (he of the limericks, the Pobble, the Jumblies, and The Owl and the Pussycat).
In 1837 Charles Darwin, having returned from the voyage of the Beagle, gave his animal specimens to the Geological Society. Gould was asked to identify the birds, and six days later at the society's next meeting he announced the results: birds that Darwin had thought were blackbirds, gross-bills and finches were an entirely new group, twelve species of ground-finches. Darwin turned to Gould for more help, and got from him several other important corrections. Especially about the finches from the Galåpagos: Darwin had not labeled them according to which island he found them on, but some of the crew, including Captain Robert FitzRoy, had collected and labeled their own specimens. Darwin now obtained these and with Gould's help determined that on each island a separate species had evolved. This was the key evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
The next year, Gould and his wife (who became pregnant on the way) sailed to Australia, where Elizabeth's brother lived; the results were a seven-volume book on the birds, with 328 new species named by Gould, besides books on the kangaroos and the mammals in general; and another result, perhaps, was Elizabeth's death in 1841, shortly after they returned. Gould continued to produce bird volumes till not long before his death in 1881. In 1857 he went to the U.S.A. to see his favourites, the hummingbirds. A good book about him is Isabella Tree's The Bird Man (2004).