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Whalers off Twofold Bay, New South Wales



Oswald Brierly

England, Australia

19 May 1817 - 14 Dec 1894


Oswald Brierly, a celebrated marine painter, studied navigation and naval architecture in Portsmouth, England and exhibited his paintings at the Royal Academy, London, before joining Benjamin Boyd, the merchant adventurer, on his voyage to Australia in 1841.

Brierly managed Boyd's whaling enterprises at Twofold Bay, Eden, on the south coast of NSW until 1848, an experience that provided the subject for this major watercolour, painted after his return to England in 1851. An earlier related version, 'The death flurry' 1865, is in the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

In his manuscript 'The Cetacea or Reminiscences of the sea' in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, Brierly vividly recounts his experiences of whaling near Twofold Bay off the south coast of New South Wales:

"It so happened that I was in the boat wh[ich] was the first to come up with the whale wh[ich] we had sighted. After the [harpooner] had successfully cast his [harpoon] and fastened to the whale it turned towards us & made a dive – him coming to the surface exactly under our boat. I shall never forget the new & sickening sensation of finding the whole boat suddenly lifted out of the water by the rising back of the whale, and the sliding gliding helplessly slipping motion of the boat as it shot down the back of the monster under us. The powerlessness of the situation flashed through the mind – oars were of no use. We were literally 'out of our element' but truly only for a moment and then as we touched water again down came the great tail of the enraged monster cutting our boat in twain with one smashing blow as a hatchet would chop a pat of butter and in a moment the whole party were plunged into a boiling eddy of foam & water made by the whale as it plunged into deep water & left us struggling for dear life, & handicapped by a thick coat and sea boots – Luckily for us assistance was at hand and beyond a ducking and a fright none of us were any the worse for the novel experience".

© Australian Art Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2004


Other Titles

South Sea Whaling

Final Flurry


Whalers coming out of Twofold Bay

Place where the work was made




Media category


Materials used

watercolour, opaque white, scraping out


86.3 x 147.7 cm sheet; 107.6 x 169.1 x 5.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l. corner, red watercolour "O.W. BRIERLY/ 1867".


Purchased 1901


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Oswald Brierly

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 8 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 13 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 67 (colour illus.).

Marnie Bassett, Behind the picture: HMS Rattlesnake's Australia-New Guinea cruise 1846 to 1850, Melbourne, 1966, 32 (illus.). plate no. 8

Jean Campbell, Australian watercolour painters: 1780 to the present day, 'Sir Oswald Brierly', pg. 31-33, Sydney, 1989, 32, 33 (colour illus.).

William J Dakin, Whalemen adventurers, Sydney, 1934, opposite pg. iii (illus.).

Deborah Edwards, Two centuries of Australian painting: a selection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Introduction', pg. 8-14, Sydney, 1986, 17 (illus.). 4

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Works on Paper', pg. 182-197, Sydney, 1999, 187 (colour illus.).

Shar Jones, Early painters of Australia, 1788-1880, Sydney, 1988, 122 (illus.). plate no. 91

Hendrik Kolenberg, 19th century Australian watercolours, drawing and pastels from the Gallery's collection, 'Introduction', pg. 6-16, Sydney, 2005, 10, 11 (colour illus., detail), 58, 59 (colour illus.).

Hendrik Kolenberg, Nineteenth century Australian watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1991. 10

Alan Moorehead, The fatal impact: an account of the invasion of the South Pacific 1767-1840, London, 1966, between pgs. 178 & 179 (illus.).

Bernard Smith, 100 years of Australian painting, 'Foreword', pg. 2-4, Sydney, 1948, 13. watercolours 4; titled 'South Sea Whaling'

Martin Terry, Maritime paintings of early Australia 1788-1900, 'Explorers and Surveyors', pg. 20-31, Carlton South, 1998, 24-25 (colour illus.). plate no. 19

Trustees of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australian watercolours from the National Art Gallery collection 1836 to 1946, Sydney, 1946, 3-4, 8. 3; titled 'South Sea Whaling'