Whalers off Twofold Bay, New South Wales
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
South Sea Whaling
Whalers coming out of Twofold Bay
Place where the work was made
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".
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 8 exhibitions
Australian watercolours from the National Art Gallery collection 1836-1946, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 May 1946–Jun 1946
100 years of Australian painting (1948), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Apr 1948–17 May 1948
Western European and Australian drawings XVI-XX century, from Australian museums, State Hermitage Museum, Russia, Dec 1978–Feb 1979
Two centuries of Australian painting, a selection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Orange Regional Gallery, Australia, 19 Apr 1986–15 Jun 1986
Nineteenth century Australian watercolours from the collection (1991), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Apr 1991–07 Jul 1991
British and European watercolours - the first thirty years of the collection 1875-1906, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Apr 1996–02 Jun 1996
Romancing the sea; drama in early Australian maritime art, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, 19 May 2000–25 Jun 2000
19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Apr 2005–24 Jul 2005
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.). cat.no. 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. cat.no. 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 cat.no. 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. cat.no. 3; titled 'South Sea Whaling'