Celebrating the work of artist, scientist and explorer at Heritage Centre, in Sudbury

PUBLISHED: 11:19 01 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:19 01 November 2017

Robert Catesby

Robert Catesby


As people up and down Britain get ready to mark the failure of Robert Catesby’s plot to blow up Parliament this coming weekend, Sudbury is also commemorating the success of another Catesby.

An illustration from Mark Catesby's bookAn illustration from Mark Catesby's book

A new presentation currently underway at the Heritage Centre, in the Town Hall, celebrates Mark Catesby, the artist, scientist and explorer. This son of a 16th century Sudbury Mayor wrote illustrated and published the first natural history of the fledgling America.

Three centuries ago he arrived back in England from the New World with boxes of his treasure. Not gold or precious stones but plants and seeds he believed would grow in gardens along with paintings of wild things never before seen in Europe.

This was all a century after Robert Catesby led the plot to blow up Parliament, and James I with it, in an attempt to end Catholic persecution.

Fellow plotter Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the barrels of gunpowder and Catesby was hunted down and shot.

A Wampum snake drawing by Mark CatesbyA Wampum snake drawing by Mark Catesby

Mark Catesby spent his boyhood in Sudbury and funded his first trip to Virginia in 1712 by selling property in North Street he inherited from his father John, who was three times mayor of Sudbury in the 17th century.

The Heritage Centre presentation reveals Mark’s background in Sudbury, covers his journeys in the New World, and shows his watercolours of exotic birds and other creatures never before seen in Europe. It also tells how he achieved publication of his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands by etching the plates himself and colouring the prints.

Mark Catesby had a vastly different relationship with royalty to that of Robert Catesby. He was presented at court to Queen Caroline, wife of George II and dedicated his first volume to her.

George III acquired Catesby’s original artwork after his death. It is now in the Royal Library at Windsor and has been exhibited in England and Scotland (including Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury), Japan and widely in the US where he is feted by the Catesby Commemorative Trust.

An illustration of a Red Winged Starling by Mark CatesbyAn illustration of a Red Winged Starling by Mark Catesby

Was he a descendant of the Robert Catesby who came close to assassinating King James I, in 1605?

“There is probably a link but it is indirect and uncertain”, according to Dr Charles Nelson who has researched the Sudbury Catesby family.

He is a co-author of the newly-published Mark Catesby’s Natural History - An Introduction published in the US by the Trust and on sale at Gainsborough’s House.

The Heritage Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.


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