Sir Oswald Walters Brierly was born on 19 May 1817 at Chester, son of Thomas Brierly, a doctor and an amateur artist. He studied at the art school of Henry Sass, Bloomsbury Street, London, and naval architecture and possibly navigation at Plymouth. His interest in ships introduced him to Benjamin Boyd of the Royal Yacht Squadron, whom he joined in the yacht Wanderer on a voyage to Australia; they arrived at Sydney in July 1842.
In New South Wales Brierly acted as manager of Boyd’s pastoral and whaling business, living at Twofold Bay where he was appointed a magistrate.
In 1848 when Boyd’s affairs were approaching bankruptcy Brierly accepted the invitation of Captain Owen Stanley, elder brother of Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, to join him as his guest on the H.M.S. Rattlesnake on a survey of the north and east coast of Australia and the adjacent islands.
While living at times in Sydney, Brierly painted on the walls of his host’s house, ‘The Rangers’ and ‘H.M.S. Rattlesnake in a squall off the Island of Timor’, which is reputed to probably be the first mural painted in Australia.
On Stanley’s death at Port Jackson in March 1850 Brierly transferred to H.M.S. Meander as the guest of her commander, Henry Keppel, later admiral, remaining in her throughout her voyage across the Pacific, sketching in many of her ports of call, New Zealand, the Friendly and Society Islands, Chile, Peru and Mexico, and returning to England at the end of July 1851
After the declaration of war with Russia in February 1854, Brierly was again Keppel’s guest, on the St Jean d’Acre, and the painter was present at all the operations of the allied fleets in the Baltic and sent home sketches for publication in the Illustrated London News. In 1855 Brierly worked on several ships in the Black Sea and, though recording no actual engagements, became the British ‘graphic naval historian’ of the war. After his return, he was commanded by Queen Victoria to take sketches from the royal yacht of the great naval review which was held at Spithead at the end of the war. This, and perhaps Keppel’s friendship with the Prince of Wales, brought him the patronage of the royal family for whom he executed several commissions.
Between 1863 and 1869 Brierly was associated with the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred, on various cruises, including back to Sydney where Henry James O’Farrell made an attempt on the Duke’s life, who after making a full recovery was able to resume command of his ship and return to England in early April 1868.
During the remainder of his life, Brierly contributed hundreds of watercolours to the Royal Watercolour Society, becoming a full member in 1880. In 1881 he was appointed curator of the Painted Hall at Greenwich, and in 1885 received the honour of knighthood.
Brierly was twice married, first about 1851 to Sarah, daughter of a Quaker, Edmund Fry, and second in 1872 to Louise Marie, daughter of Louis Hubbard of Brussels. He died in London on 14 December 1894.
Gallery: Engravings of Sir Oswald Walters Brierly’s artwork appearing in Edwin Carton Booth’s “Australia” published in 1873
Provenance: “Australia” vols. I & 2, 1873; Edwin Carton Booth F.R.C.I. with drawings by (John) Skinner Prout, N. (Nicholas) Chevalier, &c. &c.Author: Edwin Carton Booth
Contributor: John Skinner Prout (1805-1876)
Contributor: Nicholas Chevalier (1828-1902)
Date of Publication: 1873
Publisher: Virtue & Co
Place of Publishing: London
Copyright status: Out of copyright
Courtesy: The British Library