Samuel Augustus Perry was a watercolourist, surveyor and soldier. Appointed deputy surveyor-general of New South Wales, he arrived in Australia in 1829. Perry, with Captain William Dumaresq, was responsible for returning to Venice the four bronze horses of St Mark's which Napoleon had removed to Paris.
watercolourist, surveyor and soldier, was born in Wales and spent much of his youth in London. Little is known of his family or education but he was accomplished in Latin, Greek and French. Appointed ensign in the Royal Staff Corps in June 1809 at the age of seventeen, he was promoted lieutenant in 1811 and later captain. He served in the Peninsular War under General Sir George Murray at Badajoz, Nivelles and Nive. With Captain William Dumaresq (later also of Sydney) he was responsible for returning to Venice the four bronze horses of St Mark’s which Napoleon had removed to Paris.
On 12 April 1817 Perry married Caroline Elizabeth Johnson of Baker Street, London, in St Paul’s, Hammersmith. Between 1819 and 1823 he held the appointment (on half-pay) of professor of topographical drawing at the Royal Military College. Then he went to the West Indies as private secretary and aide-de-camp to Governor Major-General William Nicolay, recording the place in a number of sketches and watercolour views (p.c.). The family returned to England in 1827 due to Perry’s ill-health and lived at Ampfield, Hampshire. Appointed deputy surveyor-general of New South Wales, he travelled to Sydney with his wife, their six children, Miss Julia Thomas (a member of his wife’s family) and a servant, Ann Barnett, in the barque Sovereign , arriving on 3 August 1829. In Sydney he lived mainly at Birchgrove until moving to his own home, Bona Vista, Darlinghurst, in about 1832. In 1835 he purchased the 100-acre Spring Cove estate (now Leichhardt North) and built Austenham House, 'a good brick stuccoed cottage with out offices, stable and garden’. He sold this in 1840 and erected another 'large brick house’ closer to Iron Cove, initially also called Austenham but later known as Kalouan.
Often sorely tried by his superior officer, Perry nevertheless remained Major Thomas Mitchell 's deputy until 1853 and frequently acted as surveyor-general during Mitchell’s absences from the office. In September 1836 he accompanied Colonel George Barney to assist in choosing a site for settlement in northern Australia (Port Curtis, the present Gladstone in Queensland). Perry resigned due to ill health on 1 October 1853 and he and his wife moved to Kiama (NSW). He died there on 15 January 1854, his wife having predeceased him by only a few weeks. Buried in Marden Hill (Kendall’s) Cemetery, Kiama, they were survived by nine children.
Perry’s artistic skills are evident from his appointment to teach topographical drawing to the young officers at the Royal Military College. His works were mostly watercolour landscapes, ranging from open countryside to waterfalls, including scenes on the Spanish Peninsula and in the West Indies. In New South Wales he painted a view of the original Austenham House and a scene showing the Perry and Marlay families at Government House (p.c.). A member of the committee of management for the second exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Australia held at Sydney in 1849, he also showed several paintings, including The Hawkesbury River, from Holiday Pass and Woolomombi [sic] in New England . The Sydney Morning Herald considered all to be 'of the same excellent character’, describing the former as 'the production of an artist who has studied nature intently, and, strictly adhering to his model, has succeeded in producing a striking portraiture of it’. His Wollomombi view was thought 'even better’. Scene in New England was shown posthumously at the 1854 Australian Museum Exhibition, View in Mauritius at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts in 1857.
Unfortunately, most of Perry’s paintings held by his great-grandson, A.S. Gill, were destroyed in a flood at Walcha in the 1930s. A few survive with other family members, including watercolour landscapes such as one of the Hawkesbury River, pencil sketches and prints. Some are mounted in a family album that includes sketches by other hands, possibly by Perry’s wife Caroline, and/or their daughter-in-law Selina Rose Perry, née Marlay. The National Library owns an untitled watercolour (c.1835) thought to be a harbour view near his Iron Cove home, while H.A. Moore 's sepia watercolour of Government House (1857, ML) is stated to be after a sketch by Captain Perry. Perry’s panoramic watercolour view of Sydney Harbour from above Blackwattle Bay was offered at auction in 1985. The Dixson Library holds a photograph of a chalk drawing believed to be a self-portrait.