The Curious Mister Catesby

Date: April 14

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Location: Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History

In collaboration with the Catesby Commemorative Trust, the Smithsonian Libraries presents The Curious Mister Catesby event, a panel lecture and book signing, featuring contributors Leslie K. Overstreet and E. Charles Nelson. The Catesby Trust's new book, The Curious Mr. Catesby: A “Truly Ingenious” Naturalist Explores New Worlds is available now. The event is free and open to the public.

In 1712, English naturalist Mark Catesby (1683–1749) crossed the Atlantic to Virginia. After a seven-year stay, he returned to England with paintings of plants and animals he had studied. They sufficiently impressed other naturalists that in 1722 several Fellows of the Royal Society sponsored his return to North America. There Catesby cataloged the flora and fauna of the Carolinas and the Bahamas by gathering seeds and specimens, compiling notes, and making watercolor sketches. Upon his return to England five years later, he began the twenty-year task of writing, etching, and publishing his monumental The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands.

Mark Catesby was a man of exceptional courage and determination combined with insatiable curiosity and multiple talents. Nevertheless no portrait of him is known. The international contributors to this volume - including Leslie Overstreet, the Smithsonian Libraries' Curator of Natural-History Rare Books - review Catesby’s biography alongside the historical and scientific significance of his work. Ultimately, this lavishly illustrated volume advances knowledge of Catesby’s explorations, collections, artwork, and publications in order to reassess his importance within the pantheon of early naturalists.

The book is being introduced at a series of events in DC, New York, Cincinnati, Richmond, Va., Kiawah Island, S.C., Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Atlanta, San Francisco, London, and Sudbury, UK. Each event will display Addison Publication's new version of Catesby's Natural History based on facsimiles of his original watercolors at Windsor Castle. For more information on The Curious Mister Catesby, visit


Leslie K. Overstreet

Leslie Overstreet is the Curator of Natural-History Rare Books and heads the Smithsonian Libraries’ Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History. She has co-authored papers on early books in the natural sciences and on the history and technologies of printing as they affect scientific publications. For many years her primary research has focused on the printing of Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. She has given talks on the work and served as a consultant to the documentary film The Curious Mister Catesby.

E. Charles Nelson

Charles Nelson was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. After completing his doctoral research at the Australian National University, Canberra, he was appointed horticultural taxonomist in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Now a freelance author and editor, he was Honorary Editor of Archives of natural history from 1999 until 2012 and was awarded the Founders’ Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History in 2013. Two of his books have received the accolade of Reference Book of the Year from the Garden Media Guild.

David Elliott

David Elliott has been executive director of the Catesby Commemorative Trust since 2002 and was executive producer of The Curious Mister Catesby documentary. He was educated at Dartington Hall School in England, where he developed his interest in natural history, and Trinity College in Connecticut. He retired from a thirty-seven-year career at Procter & Gamble as director of international trade and has served as deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was founder and first chairman of the Kiawah Conservancy, which is devoted to the protection of wildlife habitat.