The rescue of William D’Oyly by the Isabella, from Murray Island, Torres Strait

Survivors from the wreck of the CHARLES EATON being rescued by the ISABELLA

Oil on canvas, 442 x 704mm. Original Gilt Frame. Newcastle upon Tyne 1839
One of the earliest oil paintings of north Australia by one of the foremost English marine artists of the nineteenth century. It depicts the Sydney based schooner Isabella, anchored off Murray Island in the Torres Strait, Queensland, in the 1836 rescue of William D’Oyly, son of Charles D’Oyly, a captain in the Bengal artillery.

SKU SF001037 Category


The fascinating story of this rescue and the events leading up to it had captivated the European public in the 1830s and it was widely reported in newspapers and books published in both England and Sydney. The Charles Eaton was wrecked on 19 July 1834 while en route from Sydney for Surabaya and Canton. One party of survivors made their way to one of the Torres Strait islands where they were massacred; only a cabin boy, John Ireland, and the infant D’Oyly survived. Over a year later, on 18 September 1835, the ship Mangles arrived near Murray Island. Several canoes came out to trade. In one of the boats was the young Ireland, quite naked like the natives. He wished very much to come on board but the natives detained him. The captain of Mangles also saw D’Oyly on shore.

The fate of the two boys was finally resolved by Captain Lewis of HM Schooner Isabella. In June 1836 on Murray’s Island Lewis discovered Ireland and D’Oyly. The two boys had been purchased by a man called Duppah and his wife from Murray Island, reportedly for the trade of a hand of bananas. When found by Captain Lewis some two years later both were in good health; D’Oyly, by then fluent in the Murray Island language, was reported to have wept for days at being parted from this native family.

Carmichael’s painting of North Queensland and the Isabella rescuing the two boys is inspired by the adventure and romance associated with exploration in the South Seas, the artist presenting a contemporary account of an event which captured the spirit of nineteenth century voyaging. Two years later in 1841, he again painted the same subject, the rescue of the survivors of Charles Eaton. The second painting is composed from a different perspective, the tableau closer to land and with fewer boats. The 1841 painting now hangs in the National Gallery of Australia. Two other paintings by Carmichael which reside in Greenwich are in the same genre, Survey ships in the South Seas and Survey Ships in the Antarctic.

In this outstanding Australian coastal work Carmichael shows certain qualities we associate with Turner – the delicate luminous sky, the hazy mountains, and shimmering water surface. He has brilliantly represented the exotic Pacific ideal, so respected in early nineteenth century art.

James Wilson Carmichael (1800 1868) began his life’s work as a marine painter by setting up a studio in 1823 in Newcastle. In 1825 he exhibited two marine paintings at the Northumberland Institution. By 1835 he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London and between 1835 and 1859 showed 21 pictures there. In about 1845 he moved to London where one of his early successes was a commission to paint eight panels for the Duke of Devonshire. Carmichael’s reputation was now established and he spent three months with the fleet in the Baltic during the Crimea War and contributed a series of paintings for the Illustrated London News. He was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and published two books on marine painting in 1859 and 1865. Following the death of his son in 1862, he returned north and settled at Scarborough, he died on 2 May 1868.

This painting is original in every aspect; the fine gilded frame bears the original label from Newcastle upon Tyne, the artist’s hometown and also home to the painting’s first owner, William Cochran Carr. Born in 1815, Carr was listed as a farmer at Lower Condercum, Benwell in 1839 but by the 1840s he had expanded his business interests, becoming owner of the Benwell Colliery and a firebrick manufacturer (his wife’s name was Isabella perhaps explaining why a young local businessman acquired an oil painting by Carmichael showing the schooner Isabella in a rescue operation in a faraway land!). As few Australian shipwrecks have excited more interest than that of the Charles Eaton with its vivid stories of cannibalism and rescue, this superb painting, in excellent condition, is of great significance to Australian history.

Additional information



J.W. Carmichael


Oil on canvas