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ARTIST OF THE GOLDFIELDS: SAMUEL THOMAS GILL

Cradling at Forest Creek (1859) by S.T. Gill Image: Gold Museum Collection (96.11503)

Cradling at Forest Creek (1859) by S.T. Gill
Image: Gold Museum Collection (96.11503)

The Gold Museum holds a large collection of artworks by Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-1880), better known to history as S.T. Gill, or ‘the Artist of the Goldfields.’ As there are few photographs from the 1850s and 60s still in existence, his vivid illustrations provide some of the best examples of life on the early goldfields of Victoria.

S.T. Gill was born on 21 May 1818 at Perriton, in Somerset, England. He was educated in Plymouth and later worked in London as a ‘Draughtsman and Water Colour Painter.’ In 1839, he decided to travel to Australia with his parents and siblings to seek new opportunities. He arrived in South Australia in December that year and set up business as a portrait painter.

Marking the Claim  by S.T. Gill Image: Gold Museum Collection (99.0211)
Marking the Claim by S.T. Gill
Image: Gold Museum Collection (99.0211)

Although recognised as an excellent artist, Gill found it difficult to make a living from painting. In 1852, he arrived on the Victorian goldfields, where he produced his best-known works. Gill recorded the vitality and the boisterousness of the rush to the Ballarat and Bendigo diggings with great character and detail. He documented people from all walks of life, including gold prospectors, postmen, stockmen, criminals, the police and Indigenous Australians.

In later life, Gill became an alcoholic, unable to hold a job or earn a reliable income. He collapsed and died on the steps of the Melbourne Post Office in 1880 and was buried as an unknown man in a pauper’s grave. Today, his legacy as ‘the Artist of the Goldfields’ lives on.

Robbing the Mail by S.T. Gill, from The Australian Sketchbook (1864)Image: Gold Museum Collection

Robbing the Mail by S.T. Gill, from The Australian Sketchbook (1864)
Image: Gold Museum Collection

The majority of S.T. Gill works in the Gold Museum’s collection are currently on display in our permanent exhibition, Inspired by Gold, which tells the history of Ballarat from the earliest days when the land was inhabited by the indigenous Watha Wurrung people through to the industrialisation of the city in the 1870s. We also hold a number of original books and sketches in our archives.

Title page of The Australian Sketchbook (1864) by S.T. Gill

Title page of The Australian Sketchbook (1864) by S.T. Gill
Image: Gold Museum Collection

You can learn more about S.T. Gill from:

Australian Dictionary of Biography; Design & Art Australia Online; National Library of Australia; National Gallery of Australia; Art Gallery of Ballarat; Wikipedia.

Successful Diggers on Way from Bendigo (1854) by S.T. Gill

Successful Diggers on Way from Bendigo (1854) by S.T. Gill
Image: Gold Museum Collection (96.11512)

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