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In 1940 Austin Roberts published The Birds of Southern Africa.  Such an undertaking required clear pictures and the job was given to a draftsman named Norman Lighton.

Lighton was under pressure to produce 56 plates containing water-colours of over 1000 birds, and, knowing about the Finch-Davies paintings lying in the vaults of the Transvaal Museum accessed them and and produced copies from them.

A close study of the work of both artists tells the story. Bird after bird is exactly copied with certain elements - a feather here, a foot position there - are changed. Sometimes the bird's position is reversed, but then the copy is often more exact.

The use of all those pictures of uncertain ownership may be excusable had the original artist received due recognition. But the introduction of the first and later editions merely states: "the plates have been figured in colour by Mr Norman CK Lighton under the directions of the author." Finch-Davies is not mentioned. 

Finch-Davies must be regretting his light-fingered ways in an otherwise unblemished career. Without it he would probably have been the illustrator of Roberts' Birds - and undoubtedly have become the most celebrated avian artist in Southern Africa. Fate works in curious ways.


The copying is illustrated with two of the stamps issued by South Africa in 1990 (Southern African Birds) and two of the stamps issued by Bophuthatswana in 1989 (Birds of Prey).  The Norman Lighton illustrations of the Rufous-naped Lark and the Bokmakerie have been scanned from cigarette cards issued in the  "Our South African Birds" series by the United Tobacco Co in 1941, while the Pale Chanting Goshawk and the Black-breasted Snake Eagle are from Roberts "The Birds of South Africa" First Edition published in 1940.



Use has been made of the featured article which was published in "Getaway" magazine in March 2001.  Permission to use material from this article is gratefully acknowledged. Getaway is available online at

Images other than those of stamps have been taken from Roberts "Birds of South Africa" First Edition 1940, and  UTC publication "Our South African Birds" also published in 1940.  This article has also appeared in ThemNews, the newsletter of Thematics SA

Graham Burrows ( )