~ writing niche history



S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 8. A Mystery of Provenance


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 … 




Seasons, Months, John Rowe 1847 


The remarkable series of The Seasons and The Months are amongst the earliest watercolours painted by Gill in South Australia... The two sets ... were purchased in London by the National Library of Australia in 1933. At the time the vendor said that the paintings came to him through his mother-in-law who was related to a family named Rowe and that The Seasons had been in an album labelled “John Rowe 1847”. He understood The Months had been executed in one locality, possibly on a pastoral property which may have belonged to John Rowe. However, no reference has been found to John Rowe as a pastoralist in South Australia, and it seems more likely that the sets were composed from sketches made at different times and places during Gill’s travels in the settled areas of the colony. (Appleyard, p. 47)


So here was a challenge! What could I find about John Rowe 1847? Hello Trove!


Speaking of Trove, I suggest you open my Trove list for this episode: : - S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 8. Seasons, Months and John Rowe 1847. It includes links to references, including the newspapers, paintings and this page. Yes, you can check out the paintings in high resolution thanks to the National Library of Australia and Trove!


All mentioned paintings are included 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.


Before we get more onto John Rowe, take a good look at The Months – you’ll see them in my list. They don’t look to be painted on the same property – there is great variety in buildings, landscapes, people and activities. Appleyard and Grishin conclude the same. So we needn’t necessarily look for a pastoralist with extensive holdings by the name of John Rowe.


I enquired with the National Library of Australia who sourced a little more detail from their acquisition file. The vendor, Mr Bell, obtained the works from his late mother-in-law. Bell thought The Seasons had been

extracted from an album into which they were pasted by the edges. With them he sends a red morocco label with "JOHN ROWE, 1847" on it in gilt letters. He thinks this belonged to the said album or portfolio. His mother-in-law was related to the Rowe family. As several of the "month" series suggest being sketched in a single locality, a clue may be given thus to the date of the drawings and their provenance. Was Rowe a pastoralist, for instance? And are the letters R O on the wool bales his brand?

(Correspondence from National Library of Australia, 26 August 2016).


The letters RO and XI appear on the wool bales in November. (Zoom in!) I failed to find an RO wool brand. XI, of course, are the roman numerals for November.


On to John Rowe.


John Rowe, Teamster in the Government Survey Department


In 1847 John Rowe was a teamster in the Government Survey Department. He appeared as a court witness in 1846. After three decades in the Government service, in 1869 he suffered a stroke and lost his job. A petition was got up in parliament to provide him with a living, but the resolution failed to pass. As a working man living week to week, it seems unlikely he would be buying paintings in 1847.


Many John Rowe’s


One John Rowe was sentenced to two months hard labour for stealing bull calf. John Rowe, bullock driver, was fined for being drunk. There are actually too many contemporary John Rowe’s for me to want to disambiguate them with a biography each. But let’s consider some of them.


The 1845 “Memorial by the Colonists of South Australia against the Introduction of Convicts” was actually signed by three John Rowe’s: John Rowe, Reed Beds; John Rowe, Port Road; and John Rowe, Gilles Street. We can identify the first.


John Rowe, Reed Beds and Golden Grove


John Rowe wrote a letter back home to Truro, Cornwall. A year later, on Christmas 1847, the miner’s letter was published in the South Australian press.


South Australia, Dec. 8, 1846.

My dear Brother and Sister—I now write you this hoping it will meet in good health as it leaves us. My wife was brought to bed on the 16th November of a girl, and she is now well again. We have had four girls since we left England, and makes our number of children seven; John is the only boy, and he has been working with me at the mines for the last three winters, and for the last six months we have got between us four pounds ten shillings per week. I now intend to stop at home for I have bought a section of eighty acres of land, number 2156, and shall get a house built on it in about three months, and shall remove there to feed our cattle. We have got 30 head, 10 milch cows, 4 working oxen, the others are young cows; the price of cows are from £4 to £6; oxen, £10 to £12; wheat is 6s to 7s a bushel; barley, 3s 6d to 4s; it makes no difference to us about the price of corn, for we grow enough for ourselves on our present little farm. Common laborer's wages in this part are 30s a week. Miner's wages for some time has been £3 a week—the mines are all looking prosperous, and miners are likely to do well. I like this country so well that it is not likely I shall ever see England again. I should wish you to come out to us as we are doing so well, and you would be sure to do well too, and being my only brother I should do all I could for you. Write me when you receive this to say if you are coming, which we all hope you will do.—I am, your affectionate brother, JOHN ROWE.


The evocative letter had made the round trip to England, perhaps in the hands of one of John Rowe’s mentioned siblings. It contained a small error – Rowe bought section 2158 – not 2156 – in District A for £80. After his death in 1881, John Rowe's extensive estate at Section 2158, Golden Grove, was sold.


Although this John Rowe had clearly made a good go of emigration, I don’t see any reason to think that having saved to buy his eighty acres in 1845-46 – and in the process of building a house – that he would be buying paintings of rural scenes in 1847.


We need to find another John Rowe 1847. But first let’s see what was happening at the time for STG.


STG 1847


Artist Samuel Thomas Gill had recently returned from the Horrocks expedition. It was a tragic adventure with the death of its leader from an accidental shotgun wound. Gill’s paintings from the trip built on his growing reputation as an artist. In January 1847 he was busy showing these works, seeing them raffled, receiving paintings from other artists wanting to exhibit in conjunction with the annual Agricultural and Horticultural Show, and pursuing one more profitable (?) side to his art – the mines.


Mr Gill, the artist, who accompanied Mr Horrocks on his ill-fated expedition beyond the northern confines of settled location in this province, with a view to find more country adapted for the depasturing of sheep, &c., in a north-west direction, is now occupied in the production of a bird's-eye view of the Glen Osmond silver lead mines, in which the respective lodes and their appellations will be distinctly indicated. Although short of completion, it is already manifest that the drawing will be a faithful representation; and to parties in England it will vividly depict the far-famed and really beautiful locality.


A few months after the busy start to his year STG went on to paint mining scenes at the Burra for the South Australian Mining Association. It was news in August. (STG had previously painted Glen Osmond Mine, along with Kapunda Mine and Burra Burra Mine for the 1845 commission by James Allen. Glen Osmond is south-eastern suburban Adelaide; Kapunda about 50 miles north of Adelaide; and Burra a further 50 miles north.)


Mr Gill the artist has made seven interesting drawings at the Burra Burra Mines; two being surface views of the chief mining locality, one a view of the Association's town ship of Cooringa, and four sketches of subterranean excavations, and the mining operations therein. The drawings form very appropriate adornments for the wall of the Directors' Room, and have been so much admired for their truthfulness and the artistical talent displayed, that several sets of copies have been ordered from the artist by Burra Burra proprietors.


One with great impact is Pennys stopes, B.B. [i.e Burra Burra] Mine, April 12th, '47 – see it in my Trove list. The seven paintings are dated 12 April 1847. STG could not have accomplished all in a day, so perhaps this date reflects official completion of this commission. The success of this series was obvious in the demand for copies. This date – 12 April 1847 – had further significance.


12 April 1847


Monday 12 April 1847 turned out to be a disastrous date for John Rowe. On this wet day, he and Nicholas Ball were working together at the English Company's mine, North Kapunda, about 50 miles north of Adelaide. The two mates were working at a well and had just blasted a hole. Rowe went down the three fathoms – about 18 feet or 6 metres. By rope, Ball lowered a kibble or bucket; Rowe loaded it with the “stuff” – the blasted material – and Ball hauled it back up. The rain likely made Rowe’s work sodden and Ball’s work slippery. Another half full bucket was muscled up, but as Ball went to empty it he lost his footing, plummeting headfirst into the well. Desperately he reached out and managed to catch the rope. This now brought down the rope itself and its half bucket of stone. At the bottom Rowe was quick enough to get out of the way, only to have his mate hit the spot where he was just standing. Ball’s head struck the wall; the heavy bucket landed on his left leg.


When the rope stopped running the men composed themselves. Ball thought the bucket had landed on his head, but Rowe saw it clearly and its brutal result. Ball’s leg was badly broken – doubled over. With help yet to arrive, Rowe forced his mate’s leg back into place, but it came straight out again. Then others arrived at the top of the well. They rigged another rope and bucket, lowering it to the pair. Rowe helped Ball get his good leg into the kibble; Ball was hauled up, out and off to medical attention.


Ball’s condition deteriorated over some days until he died of mortification of the leg – gangrene. At the coroners inquest there were serious questions over the attentiveness and competence of the treating doctor. Despite his summons, Dr Coates arrived at the inquest only in time to hear the verdict. The coroner intended to commit the doctor for contempt. Dr Henry William Coates was subsequently charged with “manslaughter, in having, by his surgical neglect, caused the death of Nicholls Ball, during his treatment for a compound fracture of his left leg”. He was later acquitted.


During the coroner’s inquest enquiry was made as to whether the miners attending as witnesses could receive financial compensation. But although this was the practice for trials, there was an anomaly in it not being so legislated for inquests. The miners would have to make special application to the Government. John Rowe was one of those who applied for compensation for attending both the inquest and the subsequent hearing against Coates. “Rowe is a poor man with a family, and thus was the loser, by his attendance on these two occasions, of at least £5.”


Was it this “poor man” the John Rowe who bought STG’s The Seasons? I think not. 12 April 1847, 50 miles apart, STG’s mine paintings and John Rowe’s mine tragedy – no connection.


But this brings us to our final John Rowe 1847.


John Rowe 1847


John Rowe arrived in South Australia in January 1847 and the following month established his business as a “practical assayer”. With the South Australian mining boom, there was good demand for his profession – that of testing the mineral content of ores. Such analysis determined the incomes of miners and mine-owners alike. He reported “liberal patronage” in advertising a move of his premises in May. In June he wrote a knowledgeable letter to the editor of the South Australian responding to another correspondent in its previous number. The subject was an accident and safety at the Burra Burra Mine. In 1848 John Rowe was involved in a difference of opinion with another mineral assayer. The Burra miners were unhappy with the less generous assessment of their copper ore by Mr. Elphick.


This 1847 John Rowe seems to have had both the means and inclination to buy Gill’s art. With his interest in the Burra Mine, Rowe may have been delighted with STG’s paintings there in 1847 and perhaps even purchased a copy of the series. Or maybe The Seasons caught his eye on a visit to Gill’s rooms in Leigh Street, Adelaide.


But this John Rowe 1847 – it all seems to fit. I reckon the missing pastoralist is a mineral assayer.


Red Morocco


And then there is the red morocco with "JOHN ROWE, 1847" in gilt letters. Did Rowe have The Seasons bound then in Adelaide? Was the gilding the work of STG – himself identified as a gilder in his emigration application? Or perhaps the binding was done well after 1847 – possibly in London. I had thought that such detail would likely elude us. But a fortnight after writing this I came across an intriguing advertisement in January 1846.


MR G. B. GOODMAN begs to apprise the inhabitants of Adelaide, that on account of the unexpected demand for Daguerreotype portraits, he has now but fifty of the morocco cases in which they are contained left, and as there are no more in the colonies, and Mr G. cannot guarantee the safe transit of the pictures in open frames, he will, when these are consumed, close the Daguerreotype; he would therefore urge the necessity of an early application.


Perhaps The Seasons were not pasted into a “John Rowe, 1847” album, but instead were slipped into a beautiful morocco case, albeit one larger than that for a Daguerreotype.



David Coombe, 4 September 2016.



  9. Man Dead! News Murdered!!



CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2016, S. T. Gill (STG) ~ 8. A Mystery of Provenance, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <>


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


4/9/2016 (original), 20/9/2016 (updated)