Rare edition book for auction by Sudbury naturalist

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A rare first edition copy of a 270 -year-old book written and illustrated by a Sudbury man is set to fetch round £150,000 at an auction next Tuesday.

The two volume book titled : The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, by Sudbury-born naturalist Mark Catesby was originally published in parts over 18 years between 1729 and 1747.

The first volume contains 120 hand-coloured engraved plates while volume two contains 100 plates and all the figures of the plants and animals were drawn and etched by Catesby himself.

The book, which is being auctioned by Sotheby’s in London, has been described as “the most famous colour plate book of American plant and animal life.”

Catesby was born in Sudbury on March 14,1683.

His father, John Catesby was town clerk of Sudbury and the Catesby family owned a farm and a house, Holgate,in Sudbury.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Catesby seems to have been educated locally in spite of having affluent parents.

He had no university education but was influenced by the botanical knowledge of his grandfather and naturalists of the day.

Catesby was in his late twenties when he set off on a voyage in 1712 to Virginia where he stayed with his aunt, Elizabeth Cocke and her physician husband.

Catesby spent the next few years travelling in and around Carolina and the West Indies before returning to England in 1719 with a collection of dried plants reported to have been the most perfect ever brought into the country.

Catesby is one of the few Suffolk people to have a plant named in his honour: catesbaea melanocarpa, a rare species of flowering plant in the coffee family known by the common name tropical lilythorn.

The rare first edition copy of Catesby’s book is among £15 million worth of antique treasures put up for sale by the Duke of Northumberland, to cover the costs of flood damage in Newcastle in 2012.

Mark Catesby’s original drawings for the book were bought by King George 111 in 1768 for £160 and they are now in the Royal Collection in Windsor.