HMS 'Beagle' off Fort Macquarie, Sydney Harbour

Described by former NMM curator James Taylor in ‘The Voyage of the Beagle…’ (Conway, 2008, p.26) as: '… the best-known watercolour image of the survey ship, although it relates to her third and final expedition in 1837-43. It was created by Commander Owen Stanley (1811-50), captain of HMS ‘Britomart’, a sister-ship of the ‘Beagle’, who was also an artist of promising ability and occasionally produced accomplished work. Stanley’s picture featuring the ‘Beagle’ was completed when ‘Britomart’ came into contact with ‘Beagle’ in Australian waters. It is loosely constructed and to a small scale (the size of a large postcard). It is full of atmosphere and charm… However, his painting technique makes it difficult to determine if this really is a technically accurate portrayal of the ‘Beagle’.'

The initial commander of the Australian survey was Commander John Clements Wickham with Lieutenant John Lort Stokes as second-in-command and assistant surveyor. Both were veterans of the ship's two South American voyages and Stokes took over from Wickham from March 1841, when he resigned and went ashore at Sydney for health reasons. This drawing was made at Sydney that April,after they had returned with Stanley and 'Britomart' from a survey of the Arafura Sea, towards Timor. Stokes described 'Beagle' as 'belonging to that much abused class the 10-gun brigs', but she is here shown as a barque-rigged brig-sloop, as in other pictures by those who knew her (e.g. those by Lieutenant Graham Gore in Stokes’s 'Discoveries in Australia, vol 2, pp.187 and 225). The ship was in fact built as a (two-masted) brig of the ‘Cherokee’ / ‘Rolla’ class, and therefore retained that designation despite being later given a rather different rig, in which the mizzen sail was regarded as temporary. The drawing is signed by Owen Stanley, lower right, and inscribed on the back 'HMS ‘Beagle’ Sydney April 10 1841'. The vessel to the left may be the Colonial cutter 'Vansittart', lent to the 'Beagle' expedition by the Governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin, to assist in the survey of the Bass Strait. For Oswald Brierly's drawing of them both, probably in 1842, see PAD9324.

Object Details

ID: PAD8969
Type: Drawing
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Stanley, Owen
Vessels: Beagle (1820)
Date made: 1841
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 140 x 224 mm; Mount: 316 mm x 480 mm

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