Watercolour. Signed by Oswald W Brierly in a lower left-hand corner. Manuscript note in graphite.

Watercolour study by marine artist Sir Oswald Walters Brierly (1817-1894) with a significant provenance related to the voyage of the RATTLESNAKE in far north Queensland between 1846-1850. This remarkably detailed painting depicts the cutter BRAMBLE with the RATTLESNAKE at rest in the distance. The BRAMBLE was assigned to the expedition to assist with the detailed reef survey, and later accompanied the RATTLESNAKE north to the tropical seas east of New Guinea.

SKU SF000718 Category


In 1948 Brierly joined the RATTLESNAKE commanded by Captain Owen Stanley to survey the Great Barrier Reef, a task of vital importance given the incidence of shipwrecks off the coast of northern Queensland. Furthermore, the expedition was manned and equipped to study the extensive natural history of the region. Brierly accompanied promising surgeon and naturalist T.H. Huxley who assisted the scientific studies of John MacGillivray, who later published an account of the RATTLESNAKE survey (London, 1852).The original paper backing of this beautiful watercolour bears a manuscript note “F Brady/Rattlesnake” that has been carefully preserved with this framed painting.

Lieutenant Brady served aboard the RATTLESNAKE as purser and is mentioned in MacGillivray’s account: “The first cutter was sent to Brierly Island to-day…Mr. Brady took charge of the bartering, and drawing a number of lines in upon the sandy beach, and explaining when each was covered in yams he would give an axe in return… [a native] had been trembling with anxiety for some time, holding Mr. Brady by the arm and watching the promised axe with eager eye” (‘Narrative of the Voyage of HMS RATTLESNAKE’ page 228). Furthermore, Lieutenant Brady is listed amongst the officers in a letter penned by Captain Owen Stanley to his sister Louisa, noting that, “the purser, Mr. Brady, is also very young, but quite up to his work”. Sometime later, when the RATTLESNAKE had sailed into the archipelagos east of New Guinea, Stanley wrote in his journal that Brady accompanied a landing on Chaumont Island alongside Huxley, MacGillivray and a sergeant of the marines, noting their anxiety that the natives of the island wore armbands made from human jawbones.

Painted by one of the leading marine artists of the mid nineteenth-century and with an important personal association to a fellow officer of the voyage, this is a rare and beautiful image from an important Australian maritime scientific expedition.

Additional information



Oswald Brierly


Paper, Watercolour