Born in Holloway, London, Edward Lear was the twentieth of twenty-one children of Danish descent and as such had to earn his own living at an early age. He did this by drawing birds and other works for shops and hospitals. In 1831 at the age of 19 he obtained employment as a draughtsman in the gardens of the Zoological Society, assisting John Gould and Dr J.E. Gray with ornithological and other drawings. In 1832 he published one of the earliest collections of coloured plates on birds.