S.T. Gill

From eurekapedia
Revision as of 19:22, 27 July 2013 by Cgervaso (talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
S.T. Gill, Ballaarat Post Office and Township from Government Enclosure, 1857, lithograph. Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection, purchased 1994.


Samuel Thomas Gill was born on 21 May 1818 at Perriton, near Minehead, Somerset, England. The son of a Baptist Minister he was educated as a draftsman and watercolourist. He moved to South Australia with his parents in 1852.[1]

S.T. Gill is buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.[2]

Goldfields Involvement, 1854


SAMUEL THOMAS GILL. By A. W. Greig. in The Melbourne Argus.] On the afternoon of Wednesday, October 27, 1880, a spare-framed man of medium height, wearing a reddish beard, was seen to stagger and fall on the steps of the Melbourne General Post Office. The constable on duty in the vicinity, finding him to be in a comatose condition, hurried him off in a cab to the Melbourne Hospital; but ere that institution was reached life had become extinct, and an examination made later revealed the fact that the unfortunate man had been overtaken by the swift and awful death which follows the rupture of an aneur[y]sm of the aorta. To use a popular, but inexact, phrase, he had 'dropped dead from heart disease.' At the inquest, held on the following day, the deceased was identified as Samuel Thomas Gill, 60 years of age, an artist by profession; and it was elicited, on the evidence of one or two gentlemen who had been acquainted with him, that, although formerly in comfortable circumstances, he had been for some time an habitual drunkard, and when met on the day of his death appeared to be wandering in his mind. It is probable that, apart from those immediately concerned with the inquest, not a dozen people paid more than passing attention to the brief newspaper paragraph which recorded the event above referred to. Melbourne had just made a bid for the notice of the world at large by opening an "International Exhibition," and the attractions of the great building which had risen in the Carlton gardens, coupled with the excitement occasioned by the capture and trial of the notorious outlaw "Ned" Kelly, were quite sufficient to occupy the public mind to the exclusion of such details as the death of a wastrel in the streets. Yet the man whose last bed had been the cold stones of the post office, and whose spirit had passed into the great unknown amid the unheeding bustle of the city had done more, perhaps, than any other, to preserve a pictorial record of the life and manners of that feverish "gold-rush" epoch to which Victoria owed so much of her then position and prosperity. —In Adelaide.— Of Gill's birthplace, parentage, and early training, nothing, as far as I am aware, has been placed on record; but if the statement regarding his age given by the newspapers which reported his death be correct, he must have been a young man of five or six and twenty when he first came before the public eye in the then infant settlement of Adelaide, South Australia. At this time his forte is said to have been the painting of portraits of horses, and it is possible that he is identical with the "S.T. Gill" listed in the "Dictionary of Artists," as having exhibited a "sporting subject" at the British Institution in 1847. Our definite knowledge of him begins with the report in The Adelaide Observer of July 18, 1846, of a farewell supper, which he had given to some friends a few days previously, on the eve of his departure as a member of the Horrocks Exploring Expedition, which was to penetrate the unknown region lying beyond the Flinders Ranges. It is significant that "our much respected and talented fellow-colonist, Mr. Gill," comes on the scene amidst convivial surroundings, which give early evidence of the tastes which were in later years to prove his undoing. The expedition was a fiasco, its leader meeting his death by misadventure before anything had been achieved by his party; but Gill returned with a number of watercolour sketches of bush scenery, which were shown at the Adelaide "Artists' Exhibition" in the following February. It would have been a surprising thing if a young man with sufficient enterprise to brave, without remuneration, the hardships of such a journey into the untravelled wilds, had been content to remain in the quiet little town of Adelaide while the neighbouring colony of Victoria was seething with the excitement of the gold discoveries; and our next glimpse of Gill shows him in the bustling streets of Melbourne, presumably after an extended tour of the gold- fields. About August, 1852, a series of 24 drawings from his pencil, entitled "Golddiggers and Diggings of Victoria," was lithographed by Messrs. Macartney and Galbraith, of Collins street, who also published some of his South Australian sketches, and in June, 1853, his "Views in and Around Melbourne."
S.T. Gill, Site of Bentley's Hotel - Eureka Ballaarat, 1855, lithograph, Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection, Purchased, 1977.
Vigour and Fidelity.— During 1854 and 1855 Gill worked for James J. Blundell, a bookseller and publisher, who had established himself in Collins street, about the beginning of 1851. The actual work of lithographing was carried out by Messrs. Campbell & Fergusson, whose premises were but a few doors distant from Blundell's shop; but Gill seems to have worked in a room over the bookseller's, using a mirror to assist him in making reversed copies of his sketches on the stone. In 1856 he visited Sydney, producing several views of that city and its surroundings, which were published in booklet form; and on his return to Melbourne, deserting his old employer, he designed the engravings issued by Sands and Kenny in 1857 under the title of "Victoria Illustrated." To him also are to be ascribed the 12 tinted lithographs which illustrated Edward Wilson's "Rambles at the Antipodes," published in London in 1859, and which, according to that writer, displayed "the singular vigour and fidelity . . . ever associated with his pencil." From this point onwards only a few isolated facts can be recorded concerning Gill's career. In 1865 and 1866 he had a studio in Melbourne, and in 1809 he pain- ted for the trustees of the Public Library of Victoria a series of 40 watercolour studies of life on the goldfields, based on the sketches which be had made in 1852-3. This seems to have been the last occasion upon which his work came under notice, and I cannot find that he took any part in the annual exhibitions organized by the Victorian Academy of Artists from 1870 on- wards. At a time when Louis Buvelot and others were teaching Victorians the possibility of establishing a native school of art, Samuel Thomas Gill was slipping downwards into the abyss of intemperance and social degradation. The scraps of tradition and personal recollection which are still to be garnered concerning him in his last days show us an unattractive person of somewhat theatrical demeanour, paint - potboilers for public houses, and having as his one object in life the satisfaction of his craving for drink. Saved from actual destitution by the generosity of one who appreciated at once his genius and his weakness, a bed and a meal were always assured to him; but the palsy of chronic alcoholism was upon him, and it was only by grasping his right wrist with his shaking left hand that he could steady his brush sufficiently to put it to paper. Surely it was a merciful blow which struck him down on the post office steps, and stayed those poor trembling hands for ever.
Life on the Goldfields.— It is with relief that we turn from such a gloomy picture to the consideration of the work for which Gill's memory should be honoured long after his human frailties are forgotten. Although there still linger in odd corners some watercolour studies which show that the scenery of the Australian bush and the tossing waters of the Southern Ocean were equally acceptable subjects for his brush, he is best known by those pictures of old Melbourne streets and sketches of life on the goldfields, which have been so frequently drawn upon for the illustration of reminiscent publications. The ricketty "Geelong Mail" dashing through the shingle-roofed shanties of old Ballarat; the Chinese eating house, filled with hungry, rough-mannered diggers; the eager bustle of new arrivals on "Cole's Wharf," and the motley vehicles and ephemeral buildings of "Great" Bourke and Collins streets have all been preserved to us as living glimpses of a period fast retiring into the mists of romantic antiquity. Nor are there wanting scenes from the life of stockman and aborigine, the gallop of mustered cattle, on the ungainly flight of the hunted emu, nor dramatic touches, as when the rough humour of the goldfields is brushed aside and the artist's pencil depicts, with grim fidelity, the mouldering remains of "the digger who never returned" lying uncoffined in the lonely wild. In many of Gill's drawings a decided bent towards humorous caricature is observable, and there is extant an unpublished title- page for a collection of "Colonial Comicalities" which he seems to have projected about the year 1856. This in itself goes far to justify the title which I have bestowed upon him at the head of this article, and may be ranked with the actually lithographed title page of his "Miscellaneous Sketches" as a vignette of Melbourne street life of the period which has probably never been surpassed. With mere versatility and less mannerism than Cruickshank, to what pre-eminence might he not have risen but for the fatal weaknesses which beset his path. Not long since I stood by the forgotten grave of Samuel Thomas Gill, in an untended corner of the Melbourne General Cemetery. Neither railing nor headstone marks the spot, which is identifiable only by its position in relation to a numbered metal label. Even the low mound has become obliterated in the course of two and 30 years, and the rank herbage of early spring runs riot over all. Are there any Victorians alive to-day who, for the sake of his art and for the sake of the days that are gone, would rescue the last resting place of poor "S. T. G." from the oblivion into which it has fallen?[3]

Post 1854 Experiences

See also

Further Reading

Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.


  1. Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004
  2. Corfield, J.,Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004
  3. Adelaide Register, 18 September 1912.

External links

--Clare K. Gervasoni (talk) 19:11, 27 July 2013 (EST)