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S.T. Gill's The Seasons and The Months


The previously untold story of Lieutenant John Roe, his likely visit to the 1847 exhibition of artists and his quest for a momento of his posting to South Australia.

This article recovers the fascinating historical context for Gill's beautiful watercolour series, The Seasons and The Months.


John Roe and the February 1847 artists' exhibition

The 96th Regiment of Foot was the first military detachment to South Australia. It was followed by the 11th (The North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot, the succession being effected in May 1846 when the barque Brankenmoor swapped a company of each regiment between Launceston and Adelaide. The fresh South Australian contingent comprised four officers, ninety rank and file, twelve wives and 25 children. Ensign John Roe (1824-1898) was third-in-command.1 He soon had an opportunity to move up the ranks and he obtained a promotion by purchase. The public read of his success in the colonial press on 30 January 1847.

MILITARY.—The Gazette of October 9th announces the following changes in the 11th Regiment of Foot:—Lieut. Owen Ward to be Captain, by purchase, vice Fetherstone, who retires; Ensign John Roe to be Lieutenant, by purchase, vice Ward; and Philip D. Vigors to be Ensign, by purchase, vice Roe.—96th Regiment, Lieut. Hugonin succeeds to the Captaincy open by the retirement of Captain Butler, Government resident at Guichen Bay.2

The very next item in "Local News of the Week" was:

EXHIBITON OF PAINTINGS.—We beg to call attention to the Exhibition of the works of our South Australian artists, which we have this day the great satisfaction of announcing. We are sure that it will be a most interesting one; and we are equally confident, that the public will not allow native talent to complain of cold regard or neglect upon this occasion.2

"Cold regard or neglect" was an allusion to the controversy accompanying the previous exhibition – one by George French Angas in June 1845.

The 1847 exhibition was held in the Council Room on North Terrace from 11 to 17 February. With extra bullion on his sleeves and banknotes in his pockets, here was an opportunity for Roe to secure a souvenir of his posting.

John Roe cruised the line of 33 watercolours from Horrocks' recent fatal expedition by Sam Gill. Gill had other pictures on display, as did Roe's friend from the Adelaide Hunt, George Hamilton. We won't know what conversations might have been had that week between Roe, Hamilton and Gill, but we know Gill became the artist of Roe's choice.

Gill was in great demand after the exhibition. He made a trip to Burra Burra in April to paint the township and the mine, above- and below-ground, for the directors of the South Australian Mining Association. At the same time he had work to do for Charles Sturt whose departure for England was imminent. Sturt needed colour plates for the book he planned to publish.

Then Sam Gill found space for Roe.

May 1847

The 1847 season of the Adelaide Hunt – also known as the Adelaide Hounds – was predicted to be the best to date. On 26 May, they met for the first time that season and at their favourite location.

On Wednesday last, the Adelaide Hunt had their first grand field-day for the season on the Para Plains and Dry Creek. More than 120 horsemen, many of them in scarlet coats, met at the Dry Creek about noon; and on being joined by his Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, they went to work, and were not long in "finding," when a gallant run of something more than four miles ended in capture. His Excellency, who was in at the death, was offered the brush, but declined the honour, on the principle of palmam qui meruit ferat.3

Frederick Robe was the first governor of South Australia to don the hunt's scarlet and leather. As such he was honoured by the Hunt, but he declined the tail in favour of the rider who earned it.

I imagine Roe and Gill meeting again soon after ...

John Roe now had his inspiration for a souvenir of South Australia.

He visited Gill's rooms in Leigh Street and the men agreed to a pleasant set of local art as the perfect momento of the brief posting for this rising officer. (Roe would only be in South Australia for two and a half years.) Roe wanted the Adelaide Hounds somehow included and Gill suggested a pastoral set along a traditional theme of the seasons and the months – sixteen paintings in all. It would not be inexpensive. As the commissioner of the series, Roe would appear somewhere in one of the pictures and Gill quickly sketched his subject.

Sam Gill and John Roe

In time the series was complete: sixteen beautiful watercolour vignettes.

Spring's subject was garden planting, Summer – wheat harvesting, Autumn – crop sowing, Winter – the hunt. There were echoes of Pieter Brueghel II's four seasons of scytheman harvesting (summer), garden planting (spring), butchering (autumn) and ice skating (winter). The subjects of the months: January – melon picking, February – grape picking, March – a house garden, April – sheep grazing, May – a man and woman strolling arm-in-arm, June – the hunt again, (July is now missing), August – supplying a farm cottage, September – duck hunting, October – sheep washing, November – sheep shearing, and December – wheat harvesting again. In the background of each scene were further labours which often in turn were the main subjects of other pictures. Gill had cleverly threaded the series as a whole.

All the paintings were in portrait – not Gill's usual orientation. The months were on paper about 8½" by 7" and the seasons larger at around 11½" by 8½". With a fine brush Sam Gill initialled "STG" at the lower left edge of each scene.4

Roe retuned to Gill's studio. The artist presented the officer with the complete collection in a red morocco album he'd personally gilded with name and date: JOHN ROWE 1847. It was the officer's non-preferred spelling, but Roe opened the cover with no less anticipation. It was an impressive souvenir indeed. Vibrant colours rose from the bright white paper; each image delightful. All thoughts of spelling had evaporated by the time he arrived at the last one: Winter.

Thumbnail image for NLA R3307Winter | National Library of Australia R3307 

Winter's young hunter in flamboyant pose exultantly holds brush and riding cap aloft in his right hand, horse reins and whip low in the other. He is handsome, boyish in face, well groomed, with full wavy hair, soft side part, curly mutton chops nearly to the chin, but sans beard or moustache. John Roe saw himself and his grey charger.5

There was one further special touch for the young officer of the 11th Regiment. If Roe hadn't noticed it, did Gill reveal it or did he trust Roe would one day have leisure with good light and a reading glass to make his own discovery?

Thumbnail image for NLA R3302November | National Library of Australia R3302 

Sheep shearing. Men with broad shoulders labour under a simple pole and brush shelter; strong backs and muscly arms clip the fleece from the wool-laden sheep. Bulging bales are stacked high on a bullock dray. Gill often pictured wool bales; the South Australian Company's "S.A.C." brand is frequently seen. Here five bales are marked "RO" – Sam Gill's nod to his client. In the shearing shed another bale is in the process of being packed; it is marked "RO 3". It is cryptic. The "3" could be no more obscure than a reversed "E", or a sideways "W" – an allusion to Roe's variant spelling. It's tempting to think Gill added it after he realised his gilding error.

Two bales are marked "XI". Of course they are Roman numerals for the eleventh month but much more significantly they are Roe's lifetime regimental commission – the 11th Foot.

Postscript: John Roe

Lieutenant John Roe stayed in Adelaide only until October 1848 when he and some of the regiment were reassigned to New South Wales. His grey charger was auctioned the following month.5 Roe returned to England in 1851, eventually made Colonel and after 33 years service with the 11th,6 he retired in 1877 on a pension with the honorary rank of Major-General.7 He married for the first time in 1886 and died 16 February 1898 in Monkstown, County Dublin (leaving a widow).8

Postscript: Art History's Wrong Turn

The Seasons and The Months was probably painted around winter 1847. Thirty-five years ago art history took a wrong turn and dated the series to 1840-42. I treat this in a separate article: S.T. Gill and Art History's Wrong Turn  

The 15 Extant Works

To see the fifteen extant works in NLA's collection, with accompanying notes, just scroll down or jump to the List of Works.


Footnotes

1. South Australian Register 6 May 1846: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27452765>

2. South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register 30 January 1847: 2. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article195934545> Also see The New Annual Army List for 1847 <https://archive.org/stream/newannualarmylis1847lond#page/178/mode/1up>

3. South Australian Register, 29 May 1847: 2. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48545036>

4. Months about 22cm x 18cm; Seasons about 30cm x 22cm. Appleyard noted "January" as the only picture without a signature, however it has been obscured by the dirt and wear of time. (See detailed description below.)

5. Roe's horse was auctioned after his departure. South Australian Register, 25 November 1848: 1. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48726323>

6. John Roe. Regiment: 11th Foot (Devonshire Regiment). Dates of Service: 1844-1877. Born: 20 July 1824, Dublin. <http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C13273580>

7. The London Gazette, 30 October 1877, 5923.

8. His death was reported in The Morning Post, 21 February 1898, 1 and Guardian (London), 23 February 1898, 13. Will information is available online from the National Archives of Ireland, <https://www.nationalarchives.ie/>.


List of Works

You can scroll down to see all pictures along with detailed notes or click a link to jump to a specific work from the list:


January | NLA R3293


Thumbnail image for NLA R3293January | National Library of Australia R3293 
Main subject: picking melons.
Background: harvest (also Summer), strolling couple (also May).

This is a domestic scale garden. Melons (and/or marrows) grow (admirably) under a gum tree. Fruit trees and grape vines also grow inside the fence. On close inspection, the gardener seems slightly too large with respect to the garden path, however this effect achieves the desired focus.

Commercial scale cropping is going on beyond the garden fence.

It seems this picture accumulated much dirt and wear from being on top of the group. This has obscured the signature. Appleyard noted this as the only picture in the series without a signature, but the usual "STG" can be found in the high resolution image (made easier with digital enhancement). It is in the same position and angle (slightly sloping up) as the other months. It is "pointed to" by the lower fruit and distant from it by its length.

126


February | NLA R3294


Thumbnail image for NLA R3294February | National Library of Australia R3294 
Main subject: picking grapes (also January) in a house garden.
Background: ploughing (also April).

In a fenced domestic scale garden a couple picks grapes with the sun low above the ranges. The grapes in the basket are particularly large! Gill here employs his recurring device of garden tools.

Commercial scale cropping is going on beyond the garden fence.

127


March | NLA R3295


Thumbnail image for NLA R3295March | National Library of Australia R3295 
Main subject: house garden.
Background: none.

More garden tools! In an ornamental domestic garden a man leans on his spade beside an empty wheelbarrow. Behind him near the house looks to be three generations: grandmother, mother, baby and child. Roses bloom in the garden.

128


April | NLA R3296


Thumbnail image for NLA R3296April | National Library of Australia R3296 
Main subject: sheep grazing, lambs, shepherd.
Background: ploughing (also February).

The shepherd is one of Gill's favourite themes and here there are two of them.

Commercial scale cropping is going on beyond the fenced sheep.

This could be Gill's occasional combination of honeysuckle and grass tree, but the tree at left looks more like a wattle with galls. Gill's grass trees have become quite stylised (also in Winter).

129


May | NLA R3297


Thumbnail image for NLA R3297May | National Library of Australia R3297 
Main subject: couple strolling (also January).
Background: cattle and sheep grazing, shepherds.

A pastoral scene; an elegant couple stroll arm in arm. In the background a cow looks towards a bull.

130


June | NLA R3298


Thumbnail image for NLA R3298June | National Library of Australia R3298 
Main subject: the hounds / the hunt (also Winter).

A meet of the hunt - the Adelaide Hounds - on a cross-country run on a day of variable weather and a magnificent rainbow.

A native flower - hardenbergia sp. (Australian lilac) - frames the picture at left foreground. (It is also pictured in "Spring".)

Appleyard sees two Aboriginal hunters on the skyline, but the high resolution image shows these obscure "figures" tower over a mounted rider and so are intended as background not people.

131


August | NLA R3299


Thumbnail image for NLA R3299August | National Library of Australia R3299 
Main subject: supplies delivered to farm cottage.
Background: water body (likely a river).

Two carriers manhandle sacks. It is not obvious whether the bullock dray is being loaded or unloaded but I tend to think it is bringing in winter supplies to the thatched roof cottage. The woman simultaneously holds a baby and a conversation with the child while the man simultaneously leans on his axe and smokes a pipe.

A wattle and sheoak (casuarina) are featured.

133


September | NLA R3300


Thumbnail image for NLA R3300September | National Library of Australia R3300 
Main subject: duck hunting / shooting (also Spring).
Background: none.

The location is the Reed Beds on the Torrens River below Adelaide. This picture is very similar to one by Gill's student W.A. Cathorne titled "A View of the Reed Beds" and dated 3 April 1847 (link below). The bare hills and sand hills in the background are the same. It also compares with another work "Duck shooting in the reeds - Duck shooting Reed beds" by Cawthorne but previously unattributed to him (SLNSW DGA 58 f.35).

While Cawthorne labelled tall reeds in his foreground, Gill seems to be showing green wheat. Reed Beds was a location for irrigated wheat crops.

"We are informed that an enterprising farmer at the Reed-beds has, during the past year, made some interesting and successful experiments in irrigation. By skilful management he has made two harvest seasons, having had one part of his crop still green while another was ripe, and he has thus been enabled to cut the whole crop at his leisure, and at less expense. We understand, too, that the irrigated crop has yielded at least one-third more than the rest." Southern Australian, 26 December 1843: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71618836>

Two colonists have stopped to inspect the wheat on the way to join two others duck shooting.

In the foreground Gill features the native flower - kennedia sp. - "running postman".

Thumbnail image for SLNSW PXB 233 (image 112)A view of the Reed Beds, 3 April 1847 | State Library of New South Wales PXB 233 (image 112)  in W.A. Cawthorne's sketchbook. Artist notes: title (centre right); "Mass of Reeds / Yellow & Green" (foreground); "Bk ranges blue", "bare hills", "sand hills", "scrubby".

134


October | NLA R3301


Thumbnail image for NLA R3301October | National Library of Australia R3301 
Main subject: sheep washing (also Spring).
Background: harvest, scythemen (also Summer).

Men work sheep through a sheepwash erected on the creek. Sheep washing (October) precedes shearing (November).

John Howard Angas records in his diary 29 October 1844: "out with Mr Gill the artist who has come from town to take some sketches - took Angaston, 'Wheal Sally', sheep washing and flat below Mr Evans".

135


November | NLA R3302


Thumbnail image for NLA R3302November | National Library of Australia R3302 
Main subject: sheep shearing (also Spring).
Background: harvest, scythemen (also Summer).

This is the key picture to identify Gill's customer for this series, John Roe. (See main article.)

A she-oak tree is to the left behind the shearing shelter.

136


December | NLA R3303


Thumbnail image for NLA R3303December | National Library of Australia R3303 
Main subject: wheat harvest (also Summer).
Background: house garden (also Spring, February, March)

Following the harvest (Summer) two men are threshing with flails. Next to them is a rake to remove the straw and in the foreground are sheaves, a sieve for winnowing and a short-handled sickle.

In the background is a dray being loaded with the harvest (left) and a thatched roof house with its fenced garden (right).

137


Spring | NLA R3304


Thumbnail image for NLA R3304Spring | National Library of Australia R3304 
Main subject: garden planting.
Background: Aboriginal Australian people, sheep washing (also October) and sheep shearing (also November).

Mr. January reappears in the domestic scale garden with his striped shirt and beribboned straw or cabbage tree hat. This time he's planting.

Gill decorates with some flower painting: a wattle tree (right centre) and native flowers (foreground) including: Australian lilac (hardenbergia sp.) (also pictured in "June"); running postman (Kennedia sp.); sundew (Drosera sp.). Roses bloom (middle, left).

A lot is going on beyond the garden fence. Two Aboriginal Australian people are fishing with spears. Colonists are washing and shearing sheep.

Spring's flowers are very similar to Thumbnail image for NLA NK1939/2[Native flowers] | National Library of Australia NK1939/2  which shows from left to right (arguably): 1. orchid (Glossodia?); 2. brown boronia (Boronia megastigma); 3. Tetratheca ericifolia?; 4. common heath (Epacris impressa); 5. sundew (Drosera sp.). The content of this work's album shows some connection to Gill (and George French Angas) and possibly belonged to a student of Gill. The flowers in this picture are much like those in Gill's Spring and this flower painting may well be by Gill.

138


Summer | NLA R3305


Thumbnail image for NLA R3305Summer | National Library of Australia R3305 
Main subject: wheat harvest, scythemen (also December).
Background: house garden (also March), smoke from fires.

"Summer" shows wheat harvested by solid men with thick legs, strong backs, muscly arms, broad hands, each working a short-handled sickle; the thirst inducing labour repaid in both currency and beer. Close by are a quart jug, watermelons and a machete for slicing. A tree stump is a headstone to lately departed timber.

There is a domestic fenced garden (middle ground). Plumes of smoke rise from beyond the ridge.

Also in the background a team of six bullocks pulls something with seemingly a large front wheel. The image is small and hard to resolve but is it meant to be a reaping machine?!

139


Autumn | NLA R3306


Thumbnail image for NLA R3306Autumn | National Library of Australia R3306 
Main subject: crop sowing.
Background: house garden (also March)

A man casts seed by hand over damp freshly tilled soil; another steers a hand-plough behind a driver who urges a four bullock team. Two more men work the domestic fenced garden (middle, right). Sheep and cattle graze in the background.

Summer's foreground stump is reprised.

140


Winter | NLA R3307


Thumbnail image for NLA R3307Winter | National Library of Australia R3307 
Main subject: the hounds / the hunt (also June).
Background: duck hunting (also September),

The first Adelaide hunt of that season was on 26 May 1847. The hunter at "the death" likely represents Gill's commissioner, Lieutenant John Roe, with his well-known grey charger. The prey lies, partly obsured, with its tongue hanging out.

The grass trees (foreground) are very stylised (also in April).

An Aboriginal Australian group is outside their wurley (middle, right).

September's duck hunters are in the background.

141



David Coombe, 22 April 2021. (Updated 27 April 2021.)

CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2021, S.T. Gill's The Seasons and The Months, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <http://coombe.id.au/S_T_Gill/S_T_Gill's_The_Seasons_and_The_Months.htm>