Watercolour. 1849. By the official artist, Oswald Brierly. Signed by Brierly.

SKU SF000716 Category


This attractive animated scene shows the RATTLESNAKE at the critical moment navigating a narrow opening in the reef, with the BRAMBLE already in calm waters beyond. The event is described by MacGillivray in his Narrative of the Voyage: “At length an opening in the reef was observed, and the ship hauled off and hove to, while Lieut. Yule examined it in one of his boats. In the afternoon the BRAMBLE having made the signal ‘passage clear but narrow’ was directed to enter, and we followed her through a fine opening 400 yards wide…the name Coral Haven was bestowed on this new harbour”.

The young Thomas Henry Huxley, a naturalist on the expedition, gives a rather more graphic account in his diaries: “The opening is very narrow (a tenth of a mile, nautical), and it looks rather ticklish to see yourself passing within a stone’s throw of roaring breakers on either hand, however loudly the leadsman may sing out his ‘Deep nine’ or ‘By the mark fourteen'”. This drawing was worked up into a print by Brierly who tells us that the signal displayed, directed at BRAMBLE, is “Go ahead and shew soundings”.

The RATTLESNAKE was an unhappy ship; her commander Owen Stanley grew increasingly unstable throughout the voyage. Huxley comments that on the 14th June, “the skipper’s black dog ‘Native’, weary I suppose of leading a dog’s life among the middies, committed suicide last night by walking into the sea from the main chains. The skipper and his dog had this in common, that they liked each other, and were disliked by everyone else”.