H.M.S. Rattlesnake was one of the fourteen "Atholl" class sloops, built at Chatham and launched in March 1822. Measured at 500 tons, she was 114 feet in length with a 32 foot beam and mounted 28 guns of varying calibre. After fifteen years of service with the fleet, she became a troopship in 1839 until converted into a survey vessel in 1846.
Sent to the south-western Pacific under Captain Owen Stanley, R.N., in December 1846, her mission was to continue the work begun by her predecessor (H.M.S. Fly) in surveying and charting a safe route through the narrow Torres Strait [between the north Australian Cape York Peninsular and the southern coast of New Guinea] and the Great Barrier Reef for naval vessels en route to Sydney. Assigned to Rattlesnake as her tenders for the task were the 10-gun cutter Bramble and the schooner Castlereagh, both of which are also depicted in these two delightful watercolours by Oswald Brierly who accompanied the mission in order to document its achievements at the personal invitation of Captain Stanley.
Other examples of Brierly's pictures from this expedition are held in the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.