S.T. Gill and the goldrush

Learning intention

Students explore how the works of artist S.T. Gill provide us with an insight into the experiences of diggers on the Victorian goldfields.

Students will:

  • Understand the impact of the gold rush as a significant event on the colony (ACHHK095)
  • Identify points of view in the past and present (ACHHS123)
  • Identify and locate a range of relevant sources (ACHHS101)

Background

For a time, S.T. Gill was one of the best known artists in Australia. Before photography became widespread, artists such as Gill were like photo-journalists, recording the experiences of diggers as they really were, for the miners themselves and for people in Melbourne and the rest of the country.

For more information about S.T. Gill, his life and significance, go to S.T. Gill in the Explore History section of this website.

Resources

Relevant primary sources in the State Library of Victoria catalogue:

Winners and losers

Gill created a collection of paired images that showed the extreme highs and lows faced by diggers. One the one hand, luck, success and wealth and on the other, dire poverty and even death.

Day to day life

S.T. Gill lived on the goldfields for many years and was accepted and even respected by local diggers. This gave him access to places and experiences hidden from casual vistitors to the fields. He understood the controversy and difficulty of the gold licence, the ups and downs of making and keeping a claim and the service tents and shanties that kept diggers going.

Mining techniques

Gill recording different mining techniques used by diggers. To find out more, go to Prospecting methods in Golden Victoria.

  • Puddling - Shows two diggers 'puddling'; one has just deposited a wheelbarrow-load of soil into a broad shallow tub, while the other pours water over it and breaks it up with a spade
  • Puddling, 1852 - Shows how diggers used beer barrels cut in half to wash the dirt in the process of puddling. A constant supply of water was needed to get the best results
  • Fossicking - Shows two miners using a sharp fossicking knife to go over a heap of earth abandoned by a previous miner 
  • Cradling - Shows two diggers working a cradle. One man rocks the cradle back and forth to shake up the excavated earth while his mate pours water over it. The man rocking the cradle also holds a stick which is used to break up clods of earth. A wheelbarrow full of earth for cradling stands nearby
  • Cradling, Forrest Creek - Shows two diggers working a cradle
  • Nuggetting - Shows a man lying on his side in a deep pit, using a knife blade to scrape at the dirt, a small bundle of broom beside him; bucket, spade and pick resting against the wall of the pit behind him
  • Tin dish washing - Shows a man holding a wide pan of soil and water, sifting the alluvial gold from the soil
  • Deep sinking (shaft mining)

Activities

Choose one or more of the following image study strategies to explore the themes and primary sources above.

More to explore

S.T. Gill - Australian Dictionary of Biography

Gill Collection - National Library of Australia

Gill's Australian Sketchbook - National Mueseum of Australia

A city of Melbourne solicitor, chalk lithograph by S.T. Gill.