Augustus Earle was born on 1 June 1793 in London, son of James Earle, an American artist and his wife Caroline. Augustus was the nephew of Ralph Earle, the well-known American portrait painter. His father, who had studied at the Royal Academy, returned to America in 1794, but died of yellow fever at Charleston in August 1796. The set of stamps which are produced in sheets of 10 consists of two 50p stamps ‘Scudding before a heavy westerly gale off the Cape, lat. 44 deg. 1824’ (National Library of Australia) and ‘On board the Duke of Gloucester, Margate hoy, between Rio de Janeiro and Tristan De Acunha 1824’ (National Library of Australia) as well as two 70p stamps ‘Tristan Da Cunha, 1824’ (Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne University) and ‘Solitude, watching the horizon at sun set, in the hopes of seeing a vessel, Tristan de Acunha in the South Atlantic 1824’ (National Library of Australia).
Earle also studied at the Academy and apparently befriended American artist, C. R. Leslie, biographer of Constable, and Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code, who accompanied him on painting excursions. He is reported to have exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806, when only 13 years old!
At the age of 22, he joined his half-brother, William Henry Smyth aboard the Royal Naval Vessel ‘Scylla’ that Smyth commanded as part of Admiral Exmouth’s Royal Navy fleet. Earle was therefore able to visit and sketch areas of Sicily, Malta, Gibraltar and North Africa, before returning to England in 1817. A portfolio of drawings from this voyage is held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Apparently never content to settle in one place for any length of time, in March 1818 he left for New York, worked there for some months, then moved to Philadelphia. He then journeyed to Brazil, Chile and Peru, painting water-colours illustrating local as well as naval life.
In 1824, he boarded the ageing ‘Duke of Gloucester’ bound for the Cape of Good Hope, and onwards to Calcutta. In the mid-Atlantic, storms forced the ship to anchor off the remote Island of Tristan da Cunha. During the ship’s stay in the island’s waters, Earle went ashore with his dog and a crew member, Thomas Gooch, attracted by the idea that ‘this was a spot hitherto unvisited by any artist’.
Three days later, to their amazement, the Duke of Gloucester set sail, leaving Earle and Gooch on the island, which had only six permanent adult inhabitants. In the ensuing eight months of enforced stay on the Island, between March and November, Earle became a tutor to several children, and continued to record impressions of the island until his supplies ran out.
Sixteen works survive from the stay on Tristan da Cunha a number of which appeared on their 1988 Definitive set.
This new set, marking the 190th Anniversary of his enforced visit, depicts paintings that he made during the voyage and just after arrival at Tristan. Only one of the designs, the poignant image of Earle and his dog looking out to sea in the unlikely hope of spotting a vessel, has appeared on a stamp before, but the image clearly chose itself for inclusion in this set.
Earle was finally rescued on 29 November by the ‘Admiral Cockburn’, which had stopped off on its voyage to Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land. He spent several years in Australia and New Zealand still painting, during which time he published ‘Journal of a Residence in Tristan D’Acunha’ and for a year sailed with Charles Darwin on the ‘Beagle’ until he was forced to leave due to ill-health.
Returning to England, Earle continued to paint and produce books until his death in London in 1838.