S. T. (Samuel Thomas) Gill

(21 May 1818 - 27 October 1880)

Gill was born in Perriton, Somerset, England, son of the Reverend Samuel Gill, a Baptist minister, and his first wife, Winifred Oke. Rev. Gill became the headmaster of a school at Plymouth, where the son was first educated, then he continued to Dr. Seabrook's Academy, Plymouth. Having moved to London, Gill was employed as a draughtsman and watercolour painter by the Hubard Profile Gallery, before departing for the colony of South Australia in 1839 with his parents, arriving in December.

Gill arrived in Adelaide, aged 21 and established a studio in 1840, and called for those 'desirous of obtaining a correct likeness' of themselves and their families, friends, animals and residences to contact him. His activities soon expanded to include street scenes and public events, including the newly discovered copper mines at Burra Burra as well as the departure of Charles Sturt's expedition for the interior 8 October 1844. His sketching tours of the districts surrounding Adelaide, produced a number of watercolours.

Gill was one of the inhabitants in Melbourne to take interest in photography - ordering a daguerreotype camera and the other necessary equipment in 1846, setting up as a professional photographer. With public interest in the new medium not forthcoming, Gill sold his camera to Robert Hall prior to his departure with John Horrocks' expedition northwards to the Flinders Ranges later in 1846. Horrocks, the first settler of South Australia's Clare Valley, mounted a small expedition to search for suitable farming land in the country northwest of Mount Arden in the southern Flinders Ranges. Gill's watercolours and pencil sketches provide a narrative of this fateful trip, which saw Horrocks die after being accidentally shot. In January 1847 Gill raffled some sketches made by him on the journey, and in February an exhibition of pictures was held in Adelaide of which he appears to have been the organizer. In 1849 he published "Heads of the People", 12 lithographic sketches of South Australian colonists.

In 1852, following a series of personal tragedies including bankruptcy and ill health, Gill joined a large group of South Australians heading for the Mount Alexander gold fields, Victoria. Originally intending to turn his hand to digging for gold, he soon returned to portraying images of everyday life, depicting life on the gold fields and the emergence of substantial towns like those of Ballarat and Bendigo.

Late in 1852 Gill moved to Melbourne where he began recording the impressive growth of that city, although he continued to take periodic sketching trips to the gold fields and other parts of Victoria. Gill's skill as a lithographer resulted in the production of a number of lithographs during this period including "Victorian Gold Diggers as They Are", "The Diggers and Diggings of Victoria As They Are 1855", and "Sketches of Victoria". It is largely from these works, a number of which were reproduced in England and Germany, that his reputation as "artist of the goldfields" was formed.

Gill moved to Sydney in 1856, but was unable to repeat his earlier success, and returned to Melbourne in 1862. The Melbourne that Gill returned to had developed considerably during his absence, and his works had been largely forgotten. He did, however, procure one major commission from the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library in 1869, to produce 40 watercolours of life on the Victorian goldfields.

At the same time as the Melbourne Public Library commission, Gill prepared a largely identical set of 53 watercolours under the title drawing of "The Goldfields of Victoria During 1852-53, Comprising Fifty Sketches of Life and Character Primative (sic) Operations etc, etc.," By S.T. Gill Melbourne, 1872. But these were not published before his rather undignified death in 1880. His health and personal finances by this time were broken through by drink and syphilis, and when he collapsed and died on the steps of the Melbourne Post Office in 1880 he was buried in a pauper's grave. Gill's body was eventually moved to a private grave in 1913, thanks to a subscription raised by the Historical Society of Victoria which also arranged for a headstone to be placed there.

Wikipedia; A. W. Greig, The Victorian Historical Magazine, March 1914;

The son of an amateur artist, Samuel Thomas Gill (1818–1880) was born in Perriton in Somerset, England, and educated in Plymouth at a school kept by his parents and at Dr Seabrook’s academy. He was employed as a draftsman and painter by the Hubbard Profile Gallery in London. In 1839 he emigrated with his family to South Australia. He set up a studio in Adelaide. As well as painting buildings and street scenes, he took an early interest in the interior of the colony and the Aboriginal peoples. In 1846 he was a member of the party led by J. A. Horrocks that explored the country near the head of Spencer’s Gulf. Some of the paintings made on this journey were displayed in the first general art exhibition in Adelaide in 1847.

In 1851 Gill was declared bankrupt and in 1852 he travelled to the Victorian goldfields. After a few months he had assembled a large number of watercolours and wash drawings, which were highly praised when they were exhibited in Melbourne. A skilled lithographer, Gill produced 24 lithographs entitled "Victorian Gold Diggings and Diggers of Victoria as They are (1853)" and a later series "The Diggings and Diggers of Victoria as They were in 1852" (1854). He was recognised as the leading artist of the goldfields and his works were pirated in England and Europe.

In 1856 Gill moved to Sydney where he produced "Scenery in and around Sydney." He was commissioned to paint some wealthy homes, but his fortunes waned and he increasingly relied on newspaper work. He returned to Melbourne in 1862 and published The Australian Sketchbook" in 1865. In 1869 the Public Library commissioned him to paint 40 watercolours of the goldfields, based on his drawings. He produced drawings for the Melbourne Herald, but his last years were clouded by alcoholism; he became largely forgotten and was destitute at the time of his death.

The earliest acquisition by the Library of paintings and drawings of S.T. Gill was the purchase of 27 works from W.A. Bell of London in 1932.

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