Roper was a restless spirit who became a travel-writer and a painter. He sailed alone to join his family in Canada in 1844 when he was only 15, a 71-day journey. A keen amateur artist, he sketched and painted the early Canadian settlements, before sailing to Australia in 1851 to join the Gold Rush. His painting Gold diggings, Ararat is now in the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. Five years later he returned to Canada, then sailed for England in 1858 where he married, returning to Canada the following year but not for long. He moved with his family back to England in 1865, where he became manager of the Graphotype Company, only to leave again for Australia in 1870 with his wife and daughter aboard the Newcastle. Whilst aboard, Roper sketched and took photographs, bound in an album also now in the State Library of New South Wales.
It was at the end of this voyage, off Melbourne, that he painted this picture. The clouds have taken the guise of a regiment of horsemen despatched by wraiths, the lurid aurora backlighting them and the sail of the Newcastle.