National Library of Australia

James Barker Emery’s Sketches of Australian Fishes

James Barker Emery (c.1794–1889)Sketches of Australian Fishes 1837–1841

watercolour on paper; each 51.0 x 41.0cm

Rare Book Collection, State Library of South Australia
Sketches of Australian Fishes 1837–1841

When it came to discovering the wonders of the natural world in the early 19th century, HMS Beagle was without peer.

James Barker Emery (c.1794–1889) joined the Royal Navy in 1808 and was first lieutenant aboard the Beagle during a survey of the Australian coast from 1837 to 1841.

A gifted artist and talented amateur naturalist, he recorded in a series of vivid watercolours numerous fish of the continent’s western and northern coasts. (In those days, ship’s officers and lower ranks were often remarkably skilled watercolourists and, while not considered art, their works were often of the highest artistic merit.)

Emery identified some of the fish by their scientific names. Where he did not know the name, he recorded as much useful data as possible.

His paintings are mostly unpublished, although six were reproduced in Icones piscium or Plates of Rare Fishes by Sir John Richardson in London in 1843. One of English ornithologist John Gould’s specimens of a rare wallaby is also attributed to Emery.

Point Emery, in northern Australia, was named during the voyage in honour of Emery’s successful searches for water there.

for teachers Read the Teachers Notes for this item