Silvester Diggles

Last Name


Given Name:


Arrival in Queensland

January 1855

Date of Birth

24 January 1817

Place of Birth

Liverpool, Merseyside, England

Date of Death

21 March 1880


Toowong Cemetery

Place of residence in Queensland

Kangaroo Point, Brisbane


Eliza Bradley

Date of Marriage

1 May

Place Married

Liverpool, England


Two daughters , 1 son


Albina Birkett

Date of Marriage

26 January


George Silvester Diggles, Edward Silvester Diggles

Art Teacher
Natural History Artist
Music Teacher

Silvester Diggles was a naturalist, artist and musician who arrived in Sydney from England in November 1853. He visited Brisbane in 1854 and permanently settled his family there in January 1855. Silvester is best known for his publication The Ornithology of Australia (1865-70) that showcased his outstanding talent as an artist. Unable to raise funds to complete the publication of all of his hand-coloured plates and text pages, the remaining material was published under the title Companion to Gould’s Handbook (1877). His artwork, consisting of 325 detailed watercolour paintings of approximately 600 Australian land birds is held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney in the form of four bound folio volumes.

Silvester Diggles was a talented artist who sketched landscapes, sea life and the numerous birds he encountered during the voyage from England to Australia in 1853 (his digitised original sketchbook can be viewed on this site). After an exploratory visit to Brisbane in 1854, Sylvester permanently relocated his family to Brisbane in 1855. Diggles was a community minded citizen who founded the Brisbane Choral Society in 1859 and the Brisbane Philharmonic Society in 1861. He was also involved in the founding of the colony’s first scientific institution, the Queensland Philosophical Society on 1 March 1859. The Philosophical Society established a museum in the old windmill observatory on Wickham Terrace in 1862 and Sylvester was the honorary curator for many years. The collection was eventually transferred to the Queensland Museum between 1871 and 1874.

Diggles’ special interests were ornithology and entomology. His publication The Ornithology of Australia consists of twenty-one parts and each part contains six lithographed hand-coloured plates, each accompanied by a page of descriptive text. When bound, this formed a large volume of 126 plates and 126 text pages, but it covered only about one third of the known Australian birds as he lacked the funds to complete the publication. In 1877 his remaining plates and text were reissued under a new title, Companion to Gould’s Handbook. Between 1863 and 1875, Diggles, unassisted, made 325 detailed watercolour paintings depicting about 600 Australian land birds, as the preliminary artwork for his plates. These watercolours, now bound in four folio volumes, are held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Diggles’ major contribution to the knowledge of Australian fauna, however, was through the extensive collections of insects, particularly butterflies, moths and beetles, which he sent to overseas entomologists for description.

Silvester Diggles died at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane on 21 March 1880. He is buried at Toowong Cemetery.

If you can provide further information on the life of this person please contact the Harry Gentle Resource Centre ([email protected])

Archival Resources

Qld Births, Deaths, Marriages and Divorces, marriage registration: 1859/B/120

Qld Births, Deaths, Marriages and Divorces, death registration: 1880/B/13443


Diggles down under: Brisbane via Sydney from Merseyside 1855-80

Rod Fisher, 2003.

The bird man of Brisbane: Silvester Diggles and his Ornithology of Australia

Louis J. Piggott , 2010.
Published Brisbane: Boolarong Press


‘Silvester Diggles: A Queensland Naturalist One Hundred Years Ago’

E. N. Marks
Queensland Naturalist, vol 17, nos 1-2 1963 15-25

‘Notes on Diggles “Ornithology of Australia”’

E. N. Marks
Queensland Naturalist, vol 17, nos 5-6 1965 99-102

Online Resources

Series 01: Ornithology of Australia, ca. 1863-1875 / by Silvester Diggles
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Brisbane City Council Kangaroo Pt Natural History Trail
Encyclopedia of Australian Science

Papers and pamphlets

On some Australian birds : papers read before the Queensland Philosophical Society / by Silvester Diggles.

Silvester Diggles
Queensland Philosophical Society