Silvester Diggles (1817 – 1880) 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, Silvester permanently relocated his family to Brisbane in 1855. His first wife, Eliza (née Bradley) died in Brisbane in 1857 after a ‘long and painful’ illness. They had one daughter, Eliza Robina Diggles. Silvester then married Albina Birkett. Their sons, Edward Silvester Diggles and George Silvester Diggles were born in Brisbane in 1859 and 1862.

Silvester 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.


Lee Butterworth, ‘Silvester Diggles (1817 – 1880)’, Harry Gentle Resource Centre, Griffith University, 2017 (updated 2023),

Archival Resources

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Death registration, Eliza Diggles, d. 18 Aug 1857, 1857/B/153.

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Marriage registration, Silvester Diggles and Albina Birkett, 1859/B/120.

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Birth registration, Edward Silvester Diggles, b. 15 Jun 1859, 1859/B/1102

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Birth registration, George Silvester Diggles, b. 12 Jun 1862, 1862/B/1169.

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Death registration, Silvester Diggles, d. 21 Mar 1880, 1880/B/13443.

Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Death registration, Eliza Robina Diggles, d. 31 Dec 1917, 1918/B/26499.


Rod Fisher, Diggles Down Under: Brisbane via Sydney from Merseyside 1855-80.

Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 2003.

Louis J. Piggott, The Bird Man of Brisbane: Silvester Diggles and his Ornithology of Australia.

Moorooka, Qld: Boolarong Press, 2010.


Silvester Diggles: A Queensland Naturalist One Hundred Years Ago. E. N. Marks, Queensland Naturalist, vol 17, nos 1-2, 1963, pp. 15-25.

Notes on Diggles' “Ornithology of Australia”. E. N. Marks, Queensland Naturalist, vol 17, nos 5-6, 1965, pp. 99-102.


Classified advertising (To the musical public), Moreton Bay Courier, 25 Nov 1854, p. 3.

Ipswich, Moreton Bay Courier, 2 Dec 1854, p. 2.

Classified advertising (Announcement. Mr Diggles.), Moreton Bay Courier, 9 Dec 1854, p. 3.

Shipping intelligence, Moreton Bay Courier, 3 Feb 1855, p. 2.

Entomology, Moreton Bay Courier, 18 Apr 1857, p. 2.

Scientific and useful, The Queenslander, 5 Feb 1876, p. 23.

Birds of Australia (2), Brisbane Courier, 21 Jul 1888, p. 9.

Deaths, The Week (Brisbane), 2 Sep 1892, p. 16.

Legal notices, Telegraph (Brisbane), 2 Dec 1892.

Online Resources

Series 01: Ornithology of Australia, ca. 1863-1875, by Silvester Diggles

'Diggles, Silvester (1817-1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography

Silvester Diggles, Flickr album, Brisbane City Council

'Diggles, Silvester (1817-1880)', Encyclopedia of Australian Science

'Silvester Diggles', Wikipedia