Samuel Austin was born in Liverpool and educated at the Blue Coat School. The traditional story is that a charitable person paid for three lessons for him from Peter de Wint (1784-1849), which led him to chose watercolour as his preferred medium. Initially Austin became a drawing master in a girls' school in Liverpool, but subsequently Austin took private pupils.
He exhibited for the first and only time at the Royal Academy in 1820, a view of Liverpool, entitled Spellow Mill, Walton. However between 1822 and 1832 he exhibited 101 drawings at the Liverpool Academy and was a founding member of the Society of British Artists. In 1827, the year the present watercolour is dated, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours and became a full member in 1833.
From 1829 to 1831 Austin was one of several artists who contributed drawings to Lancashire Illustrated, a collection of descriptions by William Henry Pyne and others, published serially by H. Fisher, Son and Jackson, London. Seventeen out of the hundred engravings are from originals by Austin including one of St John's Market, which differs slightly to this watercolour in the disposition of the figures.
This watercolour was included in the sale of Walter Duckworth's pictures held in these Rooms, 29 May 1905, lot 8. Amongst other pictures Duckworth owned 55 works by Austin, primarily views of Liverpool. Walter Duckworth was from an important Liverpool family, whose fortune was made from importing cotton, a commodity central to Liverpool's wealth. His father, Nicholas Duckworth (circa 1817-1889) and his grandfather were cotton merchants, the business being Duckworth and Rathbone, later called Nicholas Duckworth and Sons. Walter continued the family business until he retired in about 1888. He died on 3 September 1903. When the present watercolour was offered in these rooms in 1903, it was unsold and has remained in the Duckworth family ever since.
The present watercolour, highly finished and painted on a grand scale, is an important example of the artist's work. Austin in his use of watercolour and scratching out to depict the light streaming in through the windows, shows that he has absorbed the techniques of Turner in his work at this period. The watercolour is also an historic record of Liverpool at this date; St John's market being rebuilt in early 1970s. Austin has chosen to paint the hustle of Liverpool's commercial centre, the stalls are labelled with the names of the traders. Also to the right of the picture Austin has painted a negro figure, reminding us that Liverpool's phenomenal growth in second half eighteenth century was founded on both the textile industry and the slave trade.