During a visit to Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum, it’s hard to miss the influence of goldrush artist S. T. Gill. Samuel Thomas Gill was born in England in 1818, and migrated to Australia with his family in 1839 when he was 21. He lived in South Australia where he earned a living as an artist using his sketching skills. In 1852 he decided to walk to the Mt Alexander diggings (near Castlemaine). Here he tried his luck as a miner, but quickly returned to sketching to make ends meet. He also spent time in both Ballarat and Bendigo, observing and sketching what he saw on the diggings. These sketches of the goldfields have been invaluable in the creation of Sovereign Hill and deepening our understanding of 1850s goldrush life.
When we write history, we can only build a story based on available evidence. Nothing can be made-up, or guessed. While we should always think critically about the history that we read, as sometimes the historian has a bias (meaning they aren’t balanced and fair with the way they present the human story), most of the time historians are trying to be true to what really happened to people in the past. By looking closely at evidence, which can be in the form of a primary source (something that was created by people who lived in the time of study, i.e. a letter from a miner dated 1854) or a secondary source (something that was created after the time by people who didn’t live there/then i.e. these blogposts written by Sovereign Hill Education), historians can construct an accurate story of what has happened in the past.
Sketches by S. T. Gill (primary sources) help us tell an accurate story of life on the Ballarat diggings. Take a look at the images below. Here we can compare one of Gill’s famous sketches with the 1850s-style buildings (secondary sources) you see at Sovereign Hill. While our visitors often get distracted by gold panning and raspberry drops, every detail of our museum, from the buildings and gardens, to costumes and food, tell carefully-researched stories about life during the Ballarat goldrush.
Do you think we have represented 1850s Ballarat accurately? What differences can you see between Gill’s sketches and the reproduced buildings? Why do you think we sometimes choose to make our buildings slightly differently from those you see in Gill’s sketches?
You can see more of Gill’s sketches and the way we have used them to create Sovereign Hill through a visit to the Gold Museum.
Compare S. T. Gill’s “Ballarat Post Office & Township from Government Enclosure”, created in 1857, to Sovereign Hill’s Post Office in Main Street. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.
Compare S. T. Gill’s “Butchers Shamble”, created in 1852, to Sovereign Hill’s Butcher’s Shamble on the Red Hill Gully Diggings. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.
Compare S. T. Gill’s “Bushman’s Hut”, created in 1864, to Sovereign Hill’s slab hut near the Post Office Lake. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.
Compare S. T. Gill’s “John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant, Main Road, Ballaarat”, created in 1853, to Sovereign Hill’s John Alloo’s Chinese Restaurant. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.
Compare S. T. Gill’s “Coffee tent and sly grog shop, diggers breakfast”, created in 1852, to Sovereign Hill’s sly grog tent on the Red Hill Gully Diggings. Reproduced with the permission of the Gold Museum.
Links and references
A student-friendly biography of S. T. Gill’s life: http://www.egold.net.au/biogs/EG00290b.htm
Our very own Gold Museum on their collection of sketches by S. T. Gill: http://www.goldmuseum.com.au/s-t-gill-the-artist-of-the-goldfields/
A video on S. T. Gill’s “beautiful, original lithographs”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21PZTJm2_XQ
Wikipedia on S. T. Gill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._T._Gill
The Australian Dictionary of Biography on S. T. Gill: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gill-samuel-thomas-2096
A video of a lecture on S. T. Gill’s life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ6-IaVlePE