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Goldfields artist forgotten for three decades

For 33 years he was buried in a pauper's grave until a subscription was raised by the Historical Society of Victoria to recognise Samuel Thomas Gill, the artist of the goldfields.


Born in Somerset, England in 1818, Gill came out to Australia in 1839 and opened rooms at Gowler Place, Adelaide where he advertised portrait work and local scenery, made to order. One of his first works was of a view of Hindley Street, Adelaide, which was published as a coloured print in 1844. He would tour areas surrounding Adelaide producing water colours of the areas he visited. He was also on hand to sketch the departure of Charles Sturt's expedition on 8 October, 1844.


Samuel Thomas Gill. Courtesy State Library NSW


His next public works seem to be from the Horrocks expedition in 1846. He accompanied the explorer John Horrocks, first settler of the Clare Valley in South Australia, to the Flinders Ranges. Unfortunately, the expedition was cancelled after Horrocks accidentally released a shot from his gun that caught him in his face. Gill dressed the wounds but the young explorer died forcing the party to return to Adelaide.


In 1851 gold was discovered in Victoria and Gill headed to Mount Alexander and recorded life on the gold fields. By August 1852 he had published a set of 24 lithographs of "Sketches of the Victoria Gold Diggings and Diggers As They Are".


Gill's star started to shine when he moved to Melbourne, holding exhibitions of his sketches and water colours of the goldfields. He worked for J.J Blundell and Co, publishers and booksellers, doing lithographs.


His skill and reputation saw many of his works published including: The Australian Sketch Book (1855), Scenery in and Around Sydney (1856), Victoria Illustrated (1857), Sketches in Victoria (1860) and Second Series of Victoria Illustrated (1862). The Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library commissioned him to reproduce 40 of his earlier water colours of life on the Victorian goldfields.


The Australian Sketch Book, published in 1855. Courtesy State Library of Victoria.


From then on his star began to wane. From 1870, despite continuing to produce work, it wasn't of the same high quality and he fell into obscurity. His life was spent frequenting many dancing rooms and bars, spending much of finances on drink and women. There is evidence he would barter his sketches for drinks.


The headstone erected by the Historical Society of Victoria to acknowledge Samuel Thomas Gill. Courtesy Findagrave.


The drinking caught up with him on 27 October, 1880 when he was heading up the steps of the post office in Melbourne. According to the inquest that followed, he died suddenly from an aneurism of the aorta at 62 years of age.


In 1913, Gill was finally acknowledged as the 'Artist of the goldfields' when the Historical Society erected a gravestone over his final resting place.



References

  • 'S.T. Gill', Wikipedia. accessed 7th March, 2023, S. T. Gill - Wikipedia

  • E. J. R. Morgan, 'Gill, Samuel Thomas (1818–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gill-samuel-thomas-2096/text2639, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 12 March 2023.

  • 'Inquests - Disease of the heart', The Argus, Friday 29 October 1880, Page 7



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