Reverend W. Houghton

Reverend W HoughtonFor all that the Reverend William Houghton was a well known amateur naturalist of his day, he was a good man at keeping his head down and Jon and I have yet to find any detailed biographical source - so if any readers can oblige, please do let us know.

Houghton was a talented man, but he was not an painter of anything like Couch's stature and so he commissioned two artists to execute the pictures for him, Alexander Lydon and Benjamin Fawcett - the majority of the illustrations being by the first of this talented pair. Fawcett's real talent was as an engraver and he had made a name for himself in the specialty, having followed in the steps of Bewick by engraving the plates for a popular work on British birds. This was a stunning effort, which took no less than seven years to complete and appeared in half a dozen volumes, so it was not for the faint hearted.

Fawcett was no less of a naturalist than Houghton and had even invented his own technique for colour printing using wooden blocks and standard, rather than sticking to the usual method, which called for metal plates and oily inks. The connection with Lydon came about because Alexander had been apprenticed to Fawcett to learn the art of wood engraving, at which he became almost unbelievably dextrous. It came as an almost complete surprise to Fawcett when his pupil turned out to be an extremely accomplished watercolourist and he contributed more than 1500 blocks to Fawcett's stock before leaving his employment in 1882 to establish his own business in London.

Houghton contributed the text for the massive work that British Fresh-Water Fishes became - a landmark work not least because it was the last blast of the British amateur naturalist before the professional scientific community tightened its grip and all but eliminated their kind. The work was a long time in preparation and Houghton corresponded widely - basing some of his work on paintings supplied by Jonathan Couch - as well as taking the time to visit many collections of preserved specimens. He was an extremely thorough man and British Fresh-Water Fishes eliminates many of the errors that had been repeated in earlier works, although several "non-species" slipped through his net, as the selection of illustrations in the gallery shows only too well; but Lydon and Fawcett's artwork is fantastic. If you visit the library, you can download a free pdf of the book - volume 1 is here and volume 2 is here.

To view the gallery, click the link on the sidebar on the left - this will open a new page which will take a few seconds to load. Once this is done, you can have the choice of using the thumbnails at the top to load the larger images, or you can click in the middle of the large image to start a slideshow. You might like to compare the lithographs Houghton commissioned with the fish illustrated by Jonathan Couch.