New book on the remarkable life of Owen Stanley's artist
15 March 2017
From Eden to Windsor Castle - the amazing life of Sir Oswald Brierly by Bob Lawrence, 76 pages, full colour, $30 plus $5 postage and packaging. Benjamin Boyd by Bob Lawrence, second edition, 36 pages, B&W, $20 plus $5 postage and packaging. Available from the author at [email protected]. Or you can order both books for a discounted $45
CAPTAIN Owen Stanley, after whom the fine mountain range just north of Port Moresby is named, made two survey trips into the Torres Strait between 1848 and 1850.
On these voyages, he was accompanied by his official marine artist, Oswald Brierly, and now I have been able to tell his story.
While in Torres Strait in 1849, Stanley recorded in his journal sighting "a mountain range that appeared to be mountains stacked on mountains that ran along the mainland coast and disappeared to the north west" which he named the Owen Stanley Range.
That night wrote "no painter can ever give due effect to that sunset" he had just witnessed.
Brierly's journal notes also show that he found the range to be a challenging subject to paint.
Brierly Island in the Louisiade Group was named for the artist who, along with the ornithologist John MacGillivary and young surgeon, Thomas Henry Huxley, were Stanley’s intellectual companions on the two journeys.
Sadly, aged only 38, Owen Stanley was found dead in his Sydney bed one morning in 1850, but Brierly went on to become Sir Oswald Brierly (1817-94), official marine artist to Queen Victoria.
Huxley (1825-95) became a noted academic scientist and defender of Charles Darwin when his ground-breaking Theory of Evolution was attacked for its then radical theories.
My book From Eden to Windsor Castle - the amazing life of Sir Oswald Brierly has been written to mark the bi-centenary of his birth.
As a young man, I worked for the PNG National Broadcasting Commission in Port Moresby, in the shadow of the Owen Stanley Range between 1974 and 1976, also spending time in Lae and Rabaul.
The book’s title, From Eden to Windsor Castle, is reflects the journey Brierly took from his first job in Australia to his last job in England .
Brierly sailed to Sydney in 1841-42 with the wealthy London stockbroker, Ben Boyd (the subject of my first book published in 1995 and now in a second edition). The following year he took charge of Boyd's whaling operations at Eden on the south coast of New South Wales.
Boyd's spectacular bankruptcy and grizzly death - he lost one-million pounds in 10 years and was eaten by cannibals in Vanuatu - left Brierly destitute. He accepted a position with Owen Stanley to earn some money and eventually return home to England.
Brierly's last job was working for Queen Victoria in her royal residence at Windsor Castle, which to this day houses the largest collection of Brierly's paintings. He was also appointed as Keeper of the Painted Hall at the historic Greenwich naval establishment near London.
His many adventures included surviving an attack by islanders and rescuing Barbara Crawford Thompson from a Torres Strait Island five years after she was marooned. Although struggling to remember English, she helped Brierly and others compile the first dictionary of the local language.
Brierly eventually returned home with Admiral Keppel who introduced him to the Royal Family. He was Keppel's artist during the Crimean War and later became official painter on Royal Navy ships captained by Queen Victoria's son, Prince Alfred.
Brierly accompanied Prince Alfred on the first Royal Tour of Australia in 1867-8, and was nearby when there was an attempted assassination of the prince in Sydney.
This is a great story of a dramatic and inspirational life. The book is illustrated with some fine colour reproductions of Brierly’s work.
Thanks for your comment Perry. I have never previously seen mention of suicide in relation to the death of Owen Stanley, but I could well imagine had it been so the suicide would have been covered up. Suicide was a black issue then, especially for the son of senior cleric. Stanley had been in ill-health and grumpy for weeks beforehand according to diaries of Brierly and Huxley. It was written about at least four months before the death. However, to arrive in Sydney to news of the death of his brother and father would have been shattering, especially on top of his ill-health. Whether that contributed to him dying of natural causes or suicide is now hard to determine. However, I believe that suicide victims were not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground. Being a naval officer that could been side stepped by buying him at sea, even though he died in his cabin while in Sydney Harbour. However, I wonder if the church would have allowed the memorial plaque still in the wall of St Thomas' Church, North Sydney, to have been installed. The land he is buried in would have been consecrated after it was donated a few years earlier by Alexander Berry to house the grave of his wife.
The fact is we will never know, but I could not rule out your reference to suicide due to the sorrow of two deaths on top of ill-health.
I am glad you wish to read the book. Please contact me on [email protected] Best regards.
Posted by: Bob Lawrence | 25 April 2017 at 08:29 AM
Daniel, It was a pleasure to meet you and the group in Sydney.It is import for people such as myself to maintain contact with PNG and its people and issue. This is why I read PNG Attitude. Keep well
Posted by: Bob Lawrence | 25 April 2017 at 08:12 AM
Hi Bob - I look forward to reading your book. There is conjecture that Owen Stanley took his own life. Hoping that was not true.
Having lived in PNG for eight years and served on survey ships in the RAN visiting many places Stanley visited, the question of his demise still haunts me. Surveyors are a tough but strange breed.
Posted by: Perry Whitehouse | 24 April 2017 at 08:14 PM
Congratulations Bob on your new book.
It was a pleasure meeting you in Sydney last September.
I followed you to the NBC studios at Five Mile in POM after you had left a decade previously.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 15 March 2017 at 11:23 AM