~ writing niche history



S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 1. The Controversy


Episodes: 1. The Controversy | 2. Why is the Sun Shining from the South? (Hindley Street) | 3. Alibis and Mystery | 4. Sunshine and Dating (Rundle Street) | 5. 10 August 1844 | 6. Are They Still Following Me? | 7. Gill’s Newfoundland Dog | 8. A Mystery of Provenance | 9. Man Dead! News Murdered!! | 10. More to Reveal … 




The Controversy (A Podcast)


This is the first of my series of “episodes” on STG. Let’s start with the controversy.


You can keep this page open with its timeline while you listen to this podcast from February 2016: Respectable Free Settler or Audacious Convict The Mystery of Artist S T Gill (The Sydney Institute) by historian and author Babette Smith. Smith speaks for about 30 minutes. Including a question and answer session, the entire podcast runs for about 58 minutes.


You will find links to references, including Gill’s convict record, newspapers, the podcast and this page in this NLA Trove list: - S. T. Gill controversy - 01.

Note, Appleyard is S.T. Gill, the South Australian years 1839-1852 / Ron Appleyard, Barbara Fargher, Ron Radford, [1971].


Scrolling further down this page, you will also see:

  • Gill data for the 1841 South Australian census (not mentioned in the podcast)
  • Gill data for the emigration application
  • A link to the next “episode” in my STG investigations.




In her podcast, Smith gives a much more extended timeline, but I want to focus on the period of transition from “convict Gill” to “artist Gill”, albeit including the “back story”. I add dates of my own. I also add detail from the Gill family application for migration and relevant census entries. Dates are in the format yyyy-mm-dd.


1839-06-24     Emigrant labourers application for a free passage to South Australia (see Data, below)

1839-12-17     Arrival at Port Adelaide on “Caroline” by “Mr and Mrs Gill and family”

1840-03-07     Advertisement for the artist

1841-03           South Australian Census (see Data, below)

1844-09-24     Convict Gill arrives Hobart aboard “Lady Franklin” from Norfolk Island

1844-10-29     “Out with Mr. Gill the artist who has come from town to take some sketches...” Diary of John Howard Angas

1844-11           Entry placed by then for 1845 South Australian directory, "Gill, S.T., artist, Carrington Street."

1844-12-20     Gill’s convict record notes “Absconded from Southport on the 20th Dec 1844 in a fisherman's boat. Supposed to have been lost at sea.”

1845-06-17     “I allude to Mr Gill.” This letter to the editor started its own art controversy!




Emigrant labourers application for a free passage to South Australia. The following applicants have the following in common: application date - 24 June 1839; address - Admiral's Place, Stonehouse; agent - Samuel Gill. The other details are:

5291 Gill, John Ryland, Accountant and Gardener, embarkation 3007, male aged 18

5292 Gill, Winifred Mary, Sempstress, embarkation 3006, female aged 15

5293 Gill, Samuel Thos, Carver and Gilder, embarkation 3005, male aged 21

The source is a register; the original forms no longer exist.

Appleyard includes house servant Emma Witheridge and house carpenters John Palmer & John Gidley in this group.


South Australian 1841 Census records:

GILL, John R, p. 232, line 23, District B, Over 21 & under 35*, 1 person

GILL, Samuel T, p. 232, line 24, District B, Over 14 & under 21*, 1 person

GILL, Samuel, p. 5, line 19, Adelaide: Carrington Street, Over 35 & under 50, 1 person

District B (a country district): south of Bay Road (now ANZAC Highway) and Greenhill Rd to 35°10’ (i.e., mouth of Christie Creek) and west of Mount Lofty.

* The source is a handwritten list; the original forms no longer exist. The ages of the brothers was reversed in error. (From 1841 South Australian census, Graham Jaunay, 2004).




Babette Smith brings a fresh perspective from her convict scholarship and stacks up considerable evidence and a very plausible theory.


But I see a hurdle in the 29 October 1844 diary entry of John Howard Angas, “Out with Mr. Gill the artist who has come from town to take some sketches...” (This is a very secondary source in Appleyard, but the microfilmed diary is in SLSA.) This diarised event is at odds with a December escape for convict Gill and even highly improbable, due to travel times, if instead he escaped straight off the convict transport in Hobart in September. On the other hand, Appleyard’s evidence for this is not the diary, but “research documents” from Angas’ Collingrove. (There is a microfilmed copy of the diary itself in SLSA.)


If Smith is right and there is a forged Gill “back story,” I wonder that it may be less the work of his Baptist clergyman father and more the work of “convict Gill” himself, aided and abetted by his younger brother John.


It is interesting that a letter to the editor of the South Australian newspaper on 17 June 1845 – “I allude to Mr Gill.” – started its own art controversy!


If historians have been tricked by STG for the past 175 years, so be it – it just shows how clever he was. If STG really was a free settler, we have nothing to lose by considering Smith’s alternative.


Missing from PROV : The inquest record for STG is missing. Its reference is 1880/898 Male and was once in Public Record Office of Victoria PROV Inquest Deposition Files, VPRS 24. It was reproduced in part for Keith Macrae Bowden’s 1971 book. Where is it now?


Digitisation wish :  It would be wonderful to have publicly available a digitised version of STG’s juvenile sketchbook. The book is in the exhibition. (S.T. Gill Sketchbook, 1835-1838, Art Gallery of South Australia, 659D34.)



  2. Why is the Sun Shining from the South?



CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2016, S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 1. The Controversy, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <>


or CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2016, S. T. Gill (STG), accessed dd mmm yyyy, <>


7/7/2016 (original), 12/10/2016 (updated) #HistoryAU #ozhist #STGill