Posted by: Rob Viens | May 11, 2012

The Art of the Beagle – Augustus Earle: Part I

May 11th – Darwin’s next entry does not occur for two more days, as he seems to be afflicted by another injury.  On the 13th he writes:

“These four days I have been almost laid up by an inflammation in my arm. — Any small prick is very apt to become in this country a painful boil. — Earl continues very ill & is in bed.” (May 11/12/13)

With Darwin laid up, I thought it worth saying a little about the expedition’s artist who was staying with him at Botafoga Bay – Augustus Earle (“Earl” in the diary). In an early entry, Darwin refers to Earle’s illness as rheumatism.  Rheumatism is used pretty generically to describe problems with joints and connective tissues.  It is not an official medical term today, but does encompass afflictions such as arthritis.  Having had joint pain on occasion myself, I can only imagine how difficult that would have been on a rocking ship, or during a time when walking long distances was the norm. I feel your pain Augustus!

Self Portrait – Solitude (1824 in Tristan ad Cunha – while marooned for 8 months with his dog)


Augustus Earle was born in 1793 in London to James Earl and Caroline Smyth (he later “extended” his name to “Earle”). James was born in the United States and was part of the Earle family of Massachusetts, which included several famous artists, poets, politicians, inventors, doctors and scientists. For example, Augustus’ uncle Ralph painted sites of the American Revolution and his cousin Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl painted portraits. Cousin Ralph was even the official painter of the Andrew Jackson administration (at about the same time Augustus was in Rio). His father (James), sister (Phoebe) and her husband (Denis Dighton) were also artists. So paint seemed to flow in Augustus’ veins.

By the age of 13 he was already exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy of the Arts in London. (Some sources say he studied there though others suggest that he was just tutored by the Academy’s president, Benjamin West.) By the time he reached his 20’s he figured out how to combine his love of travel with his passion for painting and became a traveling artist – making his first trip to Mediterranean between 1815 and 1817 with his brother.

Midshipman’s Quarters on Board a Ship of War

Midshipmen Quarters on board a British Frigate

The very next year he set out on a trip around the world that lasted 12 years.  Along the way he visited and painted in the United States, South America (including Rio), Australia, New Zealand, India and several ocean islands (including Tristan da Cunha and St Helena).  One account suggests that Augustus was the first freelance artist to travel around the world and visit 5 continents.

Afro-Brazilian Dance

Afro-Brazilian Dance

Cape Barathas, Adventure Bay, Van Dieman’s Land

Cape Barathas

The trip was divided between traveling by ship (usually via the Royal Navy) and relatively long periods of “shore leave”.  Earle spent several years in Rio where he painted people and places of Brazil.  After leaving Rio, he was accidentally left behind on Tristan da Cunha – an island that at the time had only 6 adult residents.  Eight months later he was picked up by a passing ship on its way to Tasmania, and spent the next three years in Australia and New Zealand. Throughout this time, he made money painting portraits of well-to-do residents, while focusing his own art on landscapes and native people.  He spent about a year, gradually working his way back to England (returning in 1830) – painting all the way.

Albatross (Tristan da Cunha)


Throughout this time Earle was critical of slavery (in Brazil) and the treatment of Aborigines in Australia and the Maori in New Zealand. His used his painting to capture (and presumable to share) the horrors of slave treatment, and the culture of the Maori with the world.

Meeting of the artist and Hongi at the Bay of Islands, November 1827

New Zealand

Tomorrow – Part II – Augustus Earle joins the Beagle, (RJV)



  1. […] in Tierra del Fuego, by Augustus Earle (for more on Augustus Earle see The Art of the Beagle: Part I and Part […]

  2. […] remember, this was the main career of the Beagle‘s resident artist – Augustus Earle (see The Art of Beagle- Augustus Earle).)  Pritchett even came to the attention of Queen Victoria who commissioned several works for her […]

  3. […] was the artist in residence on the Beagle, though his illness kept him from participating much (see The Art of the Beagle – Augustus Earle).  It would not be long before he gave up on trying to “recover” and would head back […]

  4. […] Earle. (For more on the Beagle’s first artist see The Art of the Beagle: Augustus Earle Part I and Part II).  Unfortunately Earle suffered from what appeared to be debilitating arthritis and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: