A government surveyor, explorer and administrator in Western Australia from 1829 to 1833, Dale made a number of watercolour views of the Swan River Colony. Prints after Dale are held in public and private collections.
painter, topographical draughtsman, explorer and soldier, was born in November 1810 at Winchester, Hampshire. He became an ensign in the 63rd Regiment of Light Infantry on 25 October 1827. On 8 June 1829 Dale arrived at the Swan River on board HMSSulphur and was appointed temporary assistant government surveyor by Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe . He explored the country beyond the Canning River, the York district, the Helena Valley and the country to the north of King George Sound, selecting a 2,560-acre land grant for himself at York and other land at Helena.
Dale’s watercolour view near the mouth of the Swan River was the unacknowledged source of the lithograph A View in Western Australia, Taken from a Hill the Intended Site of a Fort, on the Left Bank of the Swan River, a Mile and a Quarter from its Mouth… published in the Foreign Literary Gazette (London) on 24 March 1830, the English lithographer being J.S. Templeton (copy Kerry Stokes collection, Perth). An acknowledged lithograph after his drawing was made by B. King and issued from the Quarter-Master General’s Office at the Horse Guards, London, while a further engraving, by I. Dodd, appeared in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction on 12 March 1831. Although competent topographical work, all versions of the view lack the human interest of Dale’s best-known work, Panoramic View of King George Sound, Part of the Colony of Swan River (18 × 274.5 cm).
Dale was stationed at King George Sound from about January to May 1832, possibly longer, when he drew this long narrow panorama, presumably another watercolour. It was issued as a hand-coloured aquatint and etching in October 1834 by Robert Havell of 77 Oxford Street, London, accompanied by Dale’s Descriptive Account of the Panoramic View &c. of King George’s Sound, and the Adjacent Country (J. Cross & R. Havell, London 1834). Both were souvenirs of the large panorama exhibited in London, an extremely lively image that shows Princess Royal Harbour, where the main settlement was established, King George Sound and Oyster Harbour. Included among its numerous, precise and rather naive details are small figures of soldiers and Aborigines returning together from a kangaroo hunt, going fishing, meeting and travelling along the track in the foreground. Nakinna, a friend of Dale’s who lived mainly at the settlement, is the Aborigine in European clothing 'standing amongst the party returning from the kangaroo hunt’. No original drawing has been located for comparison, but it seems likely that both soldiers and Aborigines were added as local colour in London, figures with narrative interest being common improvements in panorama displays in order to attract the crowds.
In 1832 Dale was appointed acting administrator of the colony to assist Captain Irwin (see Elizabeth Irwin ) during Governor James Stirling 's absence in England. He became lieutenant by purchase on 16 November 1832 then left Western Australia in October 1833 on board HMSIsabella when his regiment was transferred to India. He took with him the shrunken, smoked head of Yagan, Chief of the Swan River , an outlawed Aborigine (shot by an 18-year-old shepherd) whose head had been suspended over a fire in a hollow tree for three months by a servant of one of the settlers in order to preserve it. A drawing of Yagan’s head by the English caricaturist George Cruikshank became the frontispiece to Dale’s Descriptive Account , while the lengthiest section of the pamphlet (ostensibly about his panorama) was devoted to a phrenological reading by 'T.J. Pettigrew, Esq., F.R.S., F.S.A., and F.L.S.’, who discovered Yagan to have been of the 'Malay species’, of the lowest class, 'overwhelmed by vice’, cunning, proud, vain, with a violent temper, prominent sexual feelings and an animal attachment to his offspring, etc., etc.’
Dale sold his commission in November 1835. He had disposed of some of his landholdings while still at the settlement but retained Avon, which he advertised for lease in 1850. He died at Bath in 1856. Dale River (WA) is named after him.