painter, was born in Coventry, England, son of Thomas Eyre, a wool-comber and weaver, to whom he was apprenticed in November 1784. Very little is known of his early life before his arrival in Australia but, judging from the competence of the topographical views that he executed in the colony, it seems likely that he had received some form of artistic training. Bernard Smith has suggested that he may have studied drawing under Joseph Barnes. On 23 March 1799, at the Coventry Assizes, Eyre was convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He reached Sydney aboard the Canada on 14 December 1801. Granted a conditional pardon on 4 June 1804, he advertised in the Sydney Gazette on 1 July that he wished to buy a box of watercolours.

Eyre was employed by Governor Bligh in 1807 to condense three charts of Port Dalrymple (Launceston) into a single chart and at this time became acquainted with David Dickinson Mann. He provided watercolour drawings for the four engraved views in Mann’s The Present Picture of New South Wales , published in London in 1811. The book was intended for the English market and the views formed a panorama designed to give English readers an accurate pictorial description of the town.

Eyre’s artistic activities had to be wide-ranging as he obviously experienced some difficulty making a living as a painter of pictures. In 1811 he was engaged to paint numbers on all the buildings in Sydney east of the Tank Stream; at sixpence a house it seems to have been an extremely lucrative government job. He became associated with Absalom West, an emancipist brewer and publisher who in March 1812 published a pair of views of Sydney engraved by Philip Slaeger after Eyre’s drawings. At 10s a set, they apparently sold so well that on 1 January 1813 West issued a set of twelve Views of New South Wales costing £3. Ten of the plates were engraved from watercolours by Eyre. In September 1814 a second series of twelve views was published, four being credited to Eyre. Like his earlier views, those undertaken for West were marked by their topographical precision and insistence on detail. All appear to have been an outstanding success, the full set of twenty-four views (on twenty-two sheets) selling well even at £9.

A stylistic contrast is provided by three signed watercolour views of Norfolk Island, notable for their broader washes of colour and somewhat freer approach. There is no evidence that Eyre ever visited Norfolk Island and at least one appears to be a copy of a pen and wash drawing made in 1796 by William Neate Chapman . Then on 15 August 1812 Eyre placed a notice in the Sydney Gazette advertising his intention to leave the colony for Europe 'at the Earliest opportunity’. He apparently left a considerable number of works with West; the Rienits suggest that the proceeds may have paid for his passage. Nothing is known of him after this.

Staff Writer
Date written:
Last updated: