Hidden treasures | State Library of New South Wales

Hidden treasures

Concealed within the collector's chest are a series of painted panels and hidden drawers. They can be opened out to display the gorgeous, brilliantly-hued natural history specimens. The displays evoke the same sense of breathtaking wonder and delight experienced by early European visitors on first encountering Australian fauna and flora.

When the upper lids of the chest are opened a series of painted panels are revealed. There are 13 paintings which can be divided into three groups according to their subjects: the first group consists of seven images of pairs of birds and one image of a pair of kangaroos; the second is the single image of an arrangement of fish on the top lid; the third group is four views after engravings which appear in Matthew Flinders' published account of his voyage from 1801 to 1803 on HMS Investigator.

Get the latest Flash player to view this interactive content.

Get Adobe Flash player

Select from the different views to uncover hidden treasures. Select from the displayed images to enlarge and then select again to close.

Macquarie Collector's Chest, ca. 1818
Wooden chest   XR 69

Inside the top compartment are four glass-topped boxes, edged with gilded and cedar banding, which contain specimens of butterflies, beetles, insects and spiders native to New South Wales.

Seaweed and algae specimens can be found in the concealed drawers at the side. In the two trays of the centre compartment are 45 stuffed birds of Australian species, including a tawny frogmouth, satin bowerbird, regent bowerbird, and a variety of kingfishers, parrots and herons. One of the two smaller drawers in the front of the cabinet contains two glass-topped boxes with another 35 smaller ornithological specimens such as wrens, robins, honeyeaters, finches, firetails and pardalotes. Most of the birds retain their original handwritten tags, numbered to refer to a list of contents which is no longer available.

All the birds were found in the Sydney and Newcastle regions in the early 19th century. Some have subsequently become scarce or rare because of urban development, reduction of habitat and the introduction of predators.

The lower right-hand drawer contains two boxes of shells, arranged by size. These retain their original gilded dividers, forming geometric star-like patterns. The arrangements do not attempt any scientific order, but rather form an appealing decorative display.

The single lowest drawer contains a miscellany of items which are only a portion of the original contents. These include Solomon Islands artefacts, toucan bills from Central America and dried Pacific Ocean flying gurnard (fish).

 > Find more information and images of the Macquarie Collector's Chest on the Library's catalogue catalogue link

 > Explore a second, similar chest made in about 1820 also held by the State Library catalogue link