THE AUSTRALIAN GOLD RUSH
In my last blog I talked about the work I am doing in researching and writing a book about colonial artist Samuel Thomas Gill's contribution to our understanding of nineteenth-century Australia. Gill was a prolific artist and had the knack of capturing real earth life in the colonies. In my last blog the focus was on his work while he lived in Adelaide.
He is possibly best known for his work in capturing the frenetic activity of the Victorian goldfields from 1852. He has been called 'the artist of the goldfields'.
After the discovery go gold in New South Wales it was feared that Victorians would continue to desert the new colony in large numbers and join the gold rush in New South Wales. To counter this, in June 1851, Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe offered a reward of £200 for the discovery of gold within 200 miles of Melbourne. William Campbell had discovered gold at Clunes north of Ballarat in 1850 but did not disclose the discovery until a month after La Trobe had offered the reward. This was followed by a discovery at Anderson’s Creek, near Warrandyte in July. In September a richer field was discovered at Golden Point Ballarat, a mere 75 miles from Melbourne. The Victorian gold rush was now on and within a month between six and ten thousand men had arrived to search for the yellow metal.
Gill arrived on the goldfields with half of the male population from South Australia seeking their fortune. S.T. Gill arrived at the rich Mount Alexander diggings by July 1852. In the Mount Alexander area of central Victoria, the surface and shallow workings, especially at Forest Creek, were very productive. It was reported that, in nineteen days, three diggers had uncovered 360 ounces of gold, and another group had obtained £1000 worth of gold in a mere two weeks. After a short time Gill gave up mining to indulge his passion for recording all aspects of life and work around him in sketches and watercolours. His images of Forest Creek are strong in detail and topographic in style. The viewer is treated to detailed mining scenes, and yet there are intimate glimpses of diggers as they maintain a semblance of normal life in these unfamiliar circumstances.
Gill produced dozens of images of life on the goldfields and many were lithographed and published in the colonies and in Britain. Gill’s lithographs of the goldfields clearly show movement and activity and provide the human narrative of the diggers and those who came for a different purpose. Its highly likely that the publication of his artwork in Britain encouraged many to emigrate to the colonies, especially to Victoria. A couple of his goldfields images are below.
This water colour is of Fryers Creek one of the areas that was heavily mined.
A common sight on the goldfields.