Conrad Martens

Conrad Martens (1801-1878)

Artist, was born at Crutched Friars near the Tower of London, the son of J. C. H. Martens, a German merchant from Hamburg who had been appointed Austrian consul to London, where he married an Englishwoman. When his consular term expired Martens set up as a merchant in London. His three sons became artists. Conrad Martens received his training in landscape painting from Copley Fielding, who was the most popular teacher of his time. From him Martens learned the principles of picture-making which stood by him in his later isolation in Australia. After his father’s death in 1816 the family moved to Exeter whence Martens practised his water-colour painting in the Devonshire landscape.

About 1832 Martens accepted an offer from Captain Francis Blackwood of H.M.S. Hyacinth of a three-year voyage to India. Whilst at Rio de Janeiro he heard that Captain FitzRoy of the Beagle, leader of a scientific survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, wanted an artist to replace Augustus Earle who was leaving the expedition because of ill health.

Martens joined the Beagle at Montevideo, and became associated with a group of observant scientists which included Charles Darwin. Without losing his feeling for the picturesque, Martens now became more concerned with factual topography, but the varied interests of the expedition’s members greatly widened his experience and had a very positive effect on his later work in Australia. That a lasting friendship developed between him and Darwin is shown by subsequent correspondence.

Probably because Captain FitzRoy was obliged to dispense with his second ship, Martens left the Beagle at Valparaiso in October 1834, and on 3 December sailed in the Peruvian for Tahiti, where he spent some time sketching. In March 1835 he sailed for New Zealand, and six weeks arrived in Sydney, which became his home for the rest of his life. It had not been his intention to remain in Australia but he was soon at work and within six months had made sketching expeditions to the Illawarra, the Blue Mountains and Broken Bay.

His first residence was in Cumberland Street in the fashionable Rocks area, and from a Pitt Street studio he gave lessons in drawing and painting. In 1837 he married Jane Brackenbury, a daughter of William Carter, later master in equity and registrar of the Supreme Court. Their first child Rebecca was born in 1838, and the second daughter Elizabeth in 1839. A son, born in 1844, died in infancy.