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
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    • 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:
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    • Image
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    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements