Close message Scootle will stop supporting resources that use the Adobe Flash plug-in from 18 Dec 2020. Learning paths that include these resources will have alerts to notify teachers and students that one or more of the resources will be unavailable. Click here for more info.

Image 'Splitters', 1865

TLF ID R3381

This is a coloured print, measuring 19.4 cm x 25.2 cm, by the famous colonial artist Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80), published in 'The Australian Sketchbook' in 1865. It shows two splitters cutting slabs from the felled trunk of a tree using wedges and mallets. A bullock dray stands nearby, stacked high with slabs, and the driver, with his stockwhip in his hand, is in conversation with the splitters. A long two-man saw and an axe can be seen beside the campfire. The artist's initials, 'STG', are inscribed in the bottom left-hand corner, and the title (not shown) appears below the print.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset illustrates timber being logged, probably in Victoria or New South Wales - Gill travelled from South Australia to the Victorian gold fields in 1851 and from there to Sydney in 1856; he probably saw many examples of land-clearing during his travels.
  • It depicts timber felling with a two-man saw and an axe - the splitter chose a tall, straight tree and cut out a section to determine the grain; the tree was then ringbarked and cut on the leaning side; once the saw was jammed, an axe was used to cut a wedge from the underside of the cut; the wedge was inserted back into the cut to prevent the saw jamming further, and then the other side of the trunk was cut.
  • It demonstrates how timber was split with a wedge and a mallet - iron wedges were hammered into the logs with heavy mallets and bound with metal strapping to prevent the heads splitting.
  • It illustrates finished timber, used for slab houses, fences and roof shingles - timber used for hut cladding was often left in the rough split state, while posts and structural timbers were usually dressed using axes or adzes.
  • It includes a bullock dray piled high with slabs - the two- or four-wheeled drays could carry heavy loads and were the 19th-century equivalent of today's semitrailer.
  • It reveals aspects of the splitter lifestyle - splitters remained in the forest until their dray was filled; they slept rough and were sustained only by dry biscuits, salt beef, damper and black tea.
  • It shows splitters' work clothing - the blue Crimean shirt (which was a garment without buttons and with a wide V-neck and collar, long sleeves and slits at each side) was worn either loose or with a sash or belt, usually outside the pants, and was often completed with a knotted scarf and a cabbage tree hat.
  • It is an example of the work of S T Gill that depicts colonial life in the mid-19th century - after becoming bankrupt in South Australia, Gill tried prospecting in Victoria but found he could make a better living working at his art; for 15 years he recorded the lives and occupations of people on the gold fields before spending eight years in Sydney; his many artworks provide an insight into the lives of the pioneers.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

Learning area
  • History
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: National Library of Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
    • Author
    • Date of contribution: 1865
    • Name: Samuel Thomas Gill
    • Remarks: artist
    • Author
    • Date of contribution: 1865
    • Organisation: Hamel and Ferguson
    • Remarks: printer
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
    Access profile
    • Device independence
    • Hearing independence
    Learning resource type
    • Image
    Browsers
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
    • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
    Operating systems
    • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
    • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
    Rights
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements