Martens was with the Beagle for nearly a year (December 1833 – November 1834) working under Fitzroy and alongside the soon to be famous naturalist Charles Darwin. This was to be an important period for Martens as the close contact with such brilliant scientists as Darwin and Fitzroy was to profoundly affect the manner in which he was to view nature and express that vision within his art.
During the artist’s period aboard the Beagle the vessel was involved in a survey of the southern most coast of South America. This took him to places such as Port Desire (December 1833); the Straits of Magellan (January 1834); Port Famine, Mount Sarmiento, Cape Horn, and the Beagle Channel (all during February 1834); the Falkland Islands (March); up the Santa Cruz River (April – May); the Cape Virgin Islands (May); Chiloe (June); and Valpariso at the end of June, 1834. From June to November 1834 the Beagle was stationed at Valpariso, during which period Martens and the scientists made numerous excursions into the local countryside.
When time came for the expedition to move on in November 1834 Martens was signed-off by Captain Fitzroy, mainly due to lack of funds and shortage of storage space upon the Beagle in which to house him….
After leaving the Beagle in November 1834 Martens decided on travelling to New South Wales, possibly with the intention of settling there. He left Valpariso on 3 December 1834 aboard the Peruvian bound for Tahiti, where he arrived on 22 January 1835.
The route he took to New South Wales would basically follow that taken by the Beagle nine months later, and in many ways he was still acting as their unofficial artist.
Martens spent approximately seven weeks at Tahiti sketching and painting, before boarding the Black Warrior bound for Australia via New Zealand. He left Tahiti on 4 March 1835 and arrived at the Bay of Islands a month later, on 4 April. After spending six days at the Bay of Islands the Black Warrior weighed anchor on 9 April and set off on the final leg for New South Wales. She eventually arrived at Port Jackson on 17 April 1835, with Martens recording her passage through the Heads in a pencil sketch. Upon this work he also noted the prevailing weather conditions, revealing the influence of Captain Fitzroy who was an expert in the developing science of meteorology.
Throughout his time in Australia Conrad Martens would continue to experiment with sky and atmospheric features such as clouds, sunrise, moonlight, and storms; incorporating these aspects within his paintings with the skill of an experienced meteorologist and viewer of nature…
Fort Macquarie (site of Sydney Opera House now) from the north shore, 1836
Para Creek, Near Wollongong, Illawara District, New South Wales
“The appearance when off the heads of Port Jackson is that of a wild and iron bound coast and the entrance that of a gigantic gateway, but the scene changes immediately upon entering the calm and beautiful islands, bays and headlands … the town of Sydney is seen tho’ still at a distance … and still further the faint outline of the blue mountains in the interior.” – Martens, 17 April 1835