Upon a painted ocean | State Library of New South Wales

Upon a Painted Ocean

Sir Oswald Brierly, a young marine artist, arrived in Sydney in 1842 on the yacht Wanderer. He left us with an extraordinary visual and written record of early colonial Australia.

Photograph of Oswald Brierly

Detail from Oswald Brierly, ca. 1885, marine artist to Queen Victoria
Dry Plate photograph

Settling at the whaling station of Boyd Town in Twofold Bay, he painted extensively and left a vivid account of the whaling life during the five years he spent there. However it was the open sea and adventure that lead Brierly to accept a position on the HMS Rattlesnake as shipboard artist. Sailing in April 1848 under Captain Owen Stanley, the ship charted the Inner Passage of the Great Barrier Reef before returning to Sydney nine months later. Brierly remained with the ship and sailed on, this time to survey the southern coast of New Guinea and the Louisiade Archipelago.

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Brierly was a prolific artist, confessing in his journal to 'an irresistible urge to sketch'. On most mornings he could be found somewhere on deck well before dawn, sketchbook in hand as he captured the changing sea. He was intensely curious about all aspects of the survey, and among his works are detailed cloud studies, panoramas and coastal profiles, as well as drawings of ships, flora and fauna, shipboard incidents and Indigenous artefacts.

Bernard Smith succinctly summarised the nature of Brierly's art when he wrote that Brierly sought '... to represent the adventure and romance of life on the high seas. Yet ... the overriding consideration was the accuracy of the individual facts recorded.'

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Made possible through a partnership with John T Reid Charitable Trusts and Thyne Reid Foundation - UNESCO Memory of the World