"South Australia Illustrated" was George French Angas' magnum opus. But who painted plate 7, "Port Adelaide" – Angas or Samuel Thomas Gill? I resolve this question with the help of a time and place machine – an interactive map of 1840s Port Adelaide views.
Note: there are no images of paintings embedded in this article, but there are several image links and a map link which are worth referring to as you read.
Samuel Thomas Gill painted (and repainted) Port Adelaide in the 1840s. He captured the crowded shipping at the company and government wharves, the comings and goings on Commercial Road, the major buildings and the port's extent along North Parade. And in one picture he, typically topical, included the "Juno", the first steamer to visit Adelaide.
I've studied eleven Port watercolours and washes by Gill together with pictures by other contemporary artists and have incorporated them into an interactive map.
This map brings to life the Port Adelaide that Gill saw in the 1840s. The map shows the art works, the spots from where they were sketched and the built structures. One can stand with Gill on Commercial Road, gaze north along the canal, admire the South Australian Company's store, hear the pub-goers, dodge the Port cart and smell the canal!
Gill used four main views for painting the Port:
As well as Gill's paintings, there is another pivotal work. It is plate 7 in George French Angas' "South Australia Illustrated": SLSA B 15276/7 . It too is a south-east view. (All the works taking this view are represented on the map by the green pin ).
What is especially interesting about this lithographed plate is that is almost identical to Gill's watercolour: NLA NK208 . This likeness is problematic because the print appends Angas's name as the artist.
The possibility of Gill's authorship has previously been raised, without being resolved.1
So what is the relationship between these near identical pictures? Did the two artists sit and sketch the same scene together? Did Angas copy Gill or was it the other way round?
Let's compare the two pictures.
They share the same view: looking south-east across Hindmarsh Reach (Gawler Reach) to Port Adelaide. The Mount Lofty Ranges are in the background. Prominent are the South Australian Company stores (McLaren warehouse, red building, left) and the Customs House (white building, centre). Between them are the flagstaff, steps and the canal beside Queen's Wharf. On the river side of the Customs House are the Queen's wharf warehouses. At right is the confiscated French ship "Ville de Bordeaux".
In addition to Angas' plate there are three Gill watercolours that take this south-east view. The similarity in all four pictures is striking. And it's not just the point of view.
Many of the artistic devices are the same:
Even the tide is identical!
All four scenes are inescapably the same.
So what are the differences and what can we learn from them?
The pictures mainly differ in the arrangement of people and objects in the foreground. They show different activity for the foreground boat. The near identical pair of pictures – plate 7 and NLA NK208 – have the boat ferrying colonists, one of whom wears a top hat. In the other two pictures (AGSA 0.655 and Montefiore picture to be discussed below) this is a working boat and there's not a top hat to be seen.
There's a shed on McLaren wharf (left of McLaren warehouse) which is only in the field of view for the near identical pair, and it is much less distinct in the print.
In all three of his watercolours Gill paints a discarded spar and, in two, its trailing S-shaped line. Angas has a fishing rod which is astonishingly like the spar; it seems the spar has been misunderstood by Angas's lithographer. Gill's trailing line which is clearly an "S" – likely a cryptic signature – has perhaps not even been noticed by Angas or his lithographer. Bright sand around Gill's basket has been taken to be two flat stones.
The error of a copyist is to misunderstand the original. From a comparison of the pictures, Angas's plate looks like a copy of Gill. What else do we know?
Angas' "South Australia Illustrated" was lithographed in London and the first three parts (including plate 7) landed in Adelaide in May 1847. If Gill had copied Angas, this would have been his first look at the picture. But by this time Gill was already reworking his scene. All because of a fire at the Port.
On 29 January 1847 a fire destroyed the Port Tavern. Quick work meant that by licensing day in March 1847 hotel owner Henry Mildred was able to obtain his licence for the replacement building even though it wasn't yet ready for occupation.
Gill's repainting included the new Port Tavern, showing the two storey building under construction and still surrounded by scaffolding: AGSA 0.655 (You can see the tavern in the picture between the confiscated French ship "Ville de Bordeaux" (right) and the (white) Customs House.) It's not a stretch to suggest this watercolour is around the time of the relicensing – March 1847 – and before Angas' by then outdated scene had arrived in store. (Gill at the time signed a petition for the Port road to be extended.)
There is one more south-east view to consider: Mitchell Library, SLNSW | SSV*/Sp Coll/Gill/3 .
Gill's contemporary, Eliezer Levi Montefiore, owned this watercolour (and made pencil notes in the area below the image). The Port Tavern had not yet burnt down, suggesting this just precedes AGSA 0.655. The Montefiore picture is only half the size of the latter and may have been a study for it. The colour palette is identical. I can imagine Gill painting this then upon hearing the Port Tavern had burnt down, and knowing the virtue of verisimilitude for the built environment, he gave this picture to Montefiore (along with two similar studies). (For more on these, see: S.T. Gill and E.L. Montefiore | Three Studies.)
Is there an original Angas painting that could possibly have been the basis for the plate? As for Angas' own pictures of the Port, there is just "Port Adelaide in 1844" | AGSA 0.620 , which is attributed to Angas (and Cawthorne). However this painting is not the basis for plate 7, as it is a sou'-sou'-west view to the Port. (See the interactive map).
The evidence from pictures and timeline weighs solidly in favour of Gill's original authorship with Angas's plate being a copy. So how did Angas get his hands on Gill's watercolour? There are two standout possibilities.
Angas is said to have taken with him paintings by Gill when he left Adelaide.1 NLA NK208 might have been one of those. Or it could have gone with James Allen to England in November 1845, since two others from Allen's collection are used (and acknowledged as Gill's) in "South Australia Illustrated" (plates 41, 54).2
So Angas used three (at least) of Gill's pictures – two attributed and one not – in his major work.
All the paintings discussed, and more, are shown in the interactive map and are represented by pins locating their view point.
The background image for the map is "Plan of allotments at Port Adelaide, Section A" SLSA BRG 42/119/48 which shows Port Adelaide as it was in the 1840s.
To prepare the background map, I first obtained a high-resolution version of SLSA's map image using the SLSA image tile stitching tool by Tim Sherratt (@wragge) . I then geo-rectified this in MapWarper and used the result as the custom background in OpenStreetMap's uMap.
1. Lock-Weir, Tracey. & Art Gallery of South Australia. (2005). Visions of Adelaide : 1836-1886. Adelaide, S. Aust : Art Gallery of South Australia. Pp. 87-88.
2. Appleyard, Ron. & Fargher, Barbara. & Gill, Samuel Thomas. & Radford, Ron. & Art Gallery of South Australia. (1986). S.T. Gill : the South Australian years, 1839-1852. Adelaide : Art Gallery of South Australia. Pp. 67,84.
David Coombe, 17 November 2020. (Updated 2020-11-18.)
CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2020, S.T. Gill's Port Adelaide, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <http://coombe.id.au/1840s_South_Australia/S_T_Gill_and_Port_Adelaide.htm>