Voyages of The Rattlesnake | State Library of New South Wales

Voyage of the Rattlesnake

The marine Hydrographers of the British Admiralty wanted desperately to chart a safe passage through the Great Barrier Reef and the gap between the northern tip of Australia and Papua New Guinea, which would open up the new colony to the East Indies trade.

They commissioned the Rattlesnake, a 28 gun frigate of the Royal Navy, whose captain was a keen amateur artist and whose name, Owen Stanley, was given to the mountain ranges of PNG.

Emblem of H.M.S. Rattlesnake

Detail from Voyage of the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, 1846-1849
by Owen Stanley. Emblem of H.M.S. Rattlesnake. PXC 281

After the passage out, Stanley brought aboard Oswald Brierly, later to be the marine painter to Queen Victoria, and together these men made two voyages through the Great Barrier Reef, painting and sketching all the while.

They produced an unparalleled visual record of 19th century contact between Europeans and the indigenous people of Northern Australia and New Guinea. The Mitchell library holds hundreds of images from the Rattlesnakes' voyages. A selection is below.

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