~ writing niche history



S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 5. 10 August 1844


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 … 




An Upturned Boat. Gone to the Dogs.


One aspect of Babette Smith’s theory particularly caught my attention. (See Episode 1 if you missed it.) It concerned the painting of Sturt’s expedition departing Adelaide on 10 August 1844. On that date, Smith’s “convict Gill” was still on Norfolk Island. Smith posited that therefore he painted scene this well after the historical event using descriptive newspaper reports. Last year I looked into Strutt’s Bushrangers which was painted three decades after the event using newspaper clippings. This seemed a similar case and that’s why it got my attention.


There are two versions of Sturt’s departure in the exhibition Australian Sketchbook: Colonial Life and the Art of S.T. Gill, at the National Library of Australia (NLA), Canberra, 29 June - 16 October 2016.


But more than that, I can find four STG paintings of this subject:

  1. Sketch – one man inside the fence
  2. Painting – three men inside the fence (based on above sketch); upturned boat foreground (not online but in exhibition)
  3. Painting – two men inside the fence (based on above sketch); upturned boat prominent (in the exhibition)
  4. Painting – upturned boat barely visible in the distance; later included in George French Angas’s “South Australia Illustrated" and when later reproduced looked more like a barbecue shelter.


I’ve included links to references, including the paintings, newspapers and this page, in a Trove list: - S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 5. 10 August 1844.


Smith’s attention is on the third of these four paintings. There is no doubt the two men inside the picket fence are a focus of this painting.

Smith: “STG has placed his doppelganger centre stage. Convict Gill, in his blue striped shirt stands talking to Gill the artist who wears a gentleman’s cream suit… The picture was painted immediately after Gill arrived in South Australia, when he was most conscious of his double identity.”


However this leaves a question of who the three men might be in STG’s other version. But beyond this speculation, Smith comments further on this painting: “It contained nothing that couldn’t have been any Adelaide crowd farewelling someone. The most notable feature was a bullock dray carrying an upturned boat … The bullock was pulling a dray with a boat on top [and] was reported in the newspaper. So he could have done it from that description.”


But far from being “any Adelaide crowd”, the day was set aside as a public holiday and the procession included more than 100 mounted colonists. It was a big thing.


I searched the newspapers for a description an artist might use. I could not find an upturned boat for STG to use, although the boat was described as being on a dray. The boat is frequently just mentioned in an itemized list of the expedition, as “one boat.” The newspapers actually reported the farewell breakfast for Sturt far more than they mentioned the departure procession. The best description comes from the Register newspaper on 14 August:


So much for the breakfast. In King William-street the well-loaded drays were ranged in order, one carrying a large boat… The day was fine, but the roads wet and muddy. Many a coat was well spangled, and many a face but little better for its morning wash. Halting—it was amusing to see folks with their faces half-daubed already, daubing them entirely in their vain attempts to remove the mud, and asking their neighbours—"Is it cleaner now?"


Arrived at the Dry Creek, the whole party paused, and took leave of the hero of the day with kindness and enthusiasm. He proceeded on his journey accompanied only by Mr. Poole, his first officer. All watched him out of sight, when loudly and clearly was heard a well-known voice— "Now, Gentlemen, for the hounds!" The little inn across the Creek, kept by Mr Hill, was gaily decorated with wreaths of flowers, and was soon full to overflowing… But now the horn was wound, and the gay red-coated sportsmen were in the saddle... Only one life, however, was lost, as far as we have heard—fortunately that of the fox.


The article is illuminating for two reasons:

  1. the muddy road and muddied processioners (at least beyond North Adelaide when trot turned to canter) have been ignored by STG who paints a dry sunny scene
  2. the hounds, the “gay red-coated sportsmen” and the dead fox. These all appear in STG’s “Winter.”


Smith posits that “Winter” may have been painted in the Shoalhaven by “convict Gill.” But here is solid factual basis for this scene being sketched in South Australia in August 1844. (Though in the absence of the inn’s floral bedecking, STG may have portrayed another Adelaide Hunt Club outing.)


An interesting artistic aside is that Sturt’s expedition soon moved on from Dry Creek to Gawler. “The Gawler Town settlers lined the banks of the river to witness the crossing of the teams; and it is to be regretted that the Author of South Australia Illustrated’ was not on the spot to introduce the enlivening scene amongst his sketches.” Artist George French Angas missed all the excitement by heading to New Zealand just a fortnight earlier. “It is to be hoped he may yet contrive to depict it by a very allowable anachronism.” Perhaps that’s why he needed STG to paint Sturt’s departure for "South Australia Illustrated"!


So, it seems STG did not paint from a newspaper report – unlike Strutt with Bushrangers – at least when it comes to the muddy besplattering. We can even go further and say that maybe STG sketched both the Sturt departure and the Dry Creek hounds on the same day – 10 August 1844.


I still have more to reveal in coming episodes.


David Coombe, 12 August 2016.


Postscript, November 2016: I have since discovered much more about these Sturt departure paintings and their context. However I want to preserve this episode in its original state and not update it with new research finds. Instead I will have More to Reveal in a biography (well underway) of S. T. Gill. 



  6. Are They Still Following Me?



CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2016, S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 5. 10 August 1844, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <>


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


 12/8/2016 (original), 17/8/2016 (updated), 14/11/2016 (postscript)