GILL, Samuel Thomas (1818-1880)


GILL, Samuel Thomas (1818-1880)
artist
was born at Perrington, Somerset, England, on 21 May 1818. His father, the Reverend Samuel Gill, became headmaster of a school at Plymouth, and the son was educated first at this school, and then at Dr Seabrook's academy in the same city. He arrived in Adelaide with his parents in December 1839, and in the following year opened a studio and advertised that he was prepared to execute portraits. In 1846 he was a member of the J. A. Horrocks exploring expedition which came to an end by the accidental death of Horrocks. 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. He went to Victoria in 1851 and made many sketches illustrating life on the goldfields, which were lithographed and published at Melbourne in two parts under the title A Series of Sketches of the Victoria Gold Diggings and Diggers as they are (not dated but probably issued about the end of 1852). Seven excellent coloured lithographs of Melbourne scenes were executed in 1854, and in 1855 appeared another series of lithographs, The Diggers, Diggings of Victoria as they are in 1855. In 1856 he visited Sydney where he published some views of Sydney in booklet form. It is not clear when he returned to Melbourne, but in 1857 a large collection of his drawings engraved on steel by J. Tingle was published there under the title of Victoria Illustrated. A second series was published in 1862. Gill also provided the illustrations for Edward Wilson's Rambles in the Antipodes published in 1859. In 1860 a series of 25 Sketches in Victoria appeared, and in 1865 a set of coloured lithographs of scenes from bush life, The Australian Sketchbook, was published at Melbourne. Several of his water-colours were shown at the Melbourne exhibition of 1866-7, and in 1869 he was commissioned by the trustees of the Melbourne public library to do 40 water-colour drawings illustrating the diggings in the fifties. He appears to have done comparatively little work after this date and was drinking heavily for some years. On 27 October 1880 he fell in the street and died, and was buried in a public grave. In October 1913, at the suggestion of Mr Arthur Peck, the Historical Society of Victoria organized a subscription, had the artist's remains removed to a private grave, and erected a tombstone. The inscription understates Gill's age by two years, but little was then known of his early life.
Gill's landscapes show him to have been a competent craftsman in water-colour, sometimes working with a flowing brush and at other times using gum or body-colour. His diggings scenes reveal a talent for caricature and form an interesting commentary on the period. A large collection of his drawings is at the Melbourne public library, several are at the national gallery at Adelaide, and he is also well represented at the Mitchell library and the Commonwealth national library at Canberra.
A. W. Greig, The Victorian Historical Magazine, March 1914; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; Basil Burdett, Art in Australia, April 1933; The Herald, Melbourne, 31 August 1940; W. H. Langham, Bulletin of the National Gallery of South Australia, March 1940.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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