Thomas Bewick was born at Cherryburn in the Tyne Valley. At the age of 14, he became an apprentice in the Beilby workshop in Newcastle. He soon became a partner in the firm, and worked with Ralph Beilby engraving on silver and gold. Bewick eventually took over the Beilby workshop and is now most famous for his wood-engraving. He was a countryman who worked directly from nature in watercolours. He later made these drawings into wood engravings for his books of animals and birds. Today, Bewick’s work is known and admired all over the world.

A History of British Birds Vol. 1 (Land Birds), 1805 edition by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828)
Paper with leather binding
Given by Lawrie, 1953

The ‘History of British Birds’ is considered by many to be Thomas Bewick’s greatest achievement. It was published in two volumes; ‘Land Birds’ was published in 1797, followed by ‘Water Birds’ in 1804, with an additional supplement appearing in 1821. The ‘Birds’ was very popular, and even during Bewick’s lifetime it was reprinted in many editions. For each new edition he supplied additional engravings, so no edition is an exact reprint of an earlier one. This uniqueness made them very popular with book collectors.


Printing block of the Eider duck from ‘British Birds Vol. 2’, 1800 by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828)
Engraved wood
Given from a private collection, 1922

This is the original woodblock of the eider duck that is illustrated in Thomas Bewick's book, 'Water Birds'. The block is dated on the bottom 10 May 1800. The light and warm down of this duck was used to fill eiderdowns, the forerunners of today's duvets. Bewick notes eider ducks live in remote northern, frozen climates and includes in this, the Northumbrian Coast!