Image 'Gold digging in Australia 1852: bad results'

TLF ID R3385

This is the first of a pair of oval watercolours, measuring 20.2 cm x 26.4 cm, painted by Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80), a famous colonial artist. It shows two gold miners sitting dejectedly beside their mine, probably on the Victorian gold fields. Behind the men is a windlass, as well as their wheelbarrow, pick and spade. A large metal panning dish and a tin mug lie on the ground between the men. The painting has the artist's initials, 'STG', at lower left, and the title, 'Gold digging in Australia 1852: bad results', at lower right.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows discouraged miners - some diggers were able to return home with enough money to buy land and establish themselves, but the majority were barely able to pay the exorbitant licence fees of up to 30 shillings a month, imposed by the government to discourage the exodus of labour from the main towns and from pastoral properties.
  • It gives a realistic impression of the gold fields experience - the disappointment on the faces of the miners and their gloomy bearing depict the fate of many; exaggerated rumours abounded of fabulous Victorian gold strikes, but the reality for newly arrived prospectors was often different; the cost of accommodation, provisions and transport was crippling; flies, fleas, a pitiful diet, poor sanitation, disease, and dangerous, back-breaking work were common experiences.
  • It illustrates the first of a pair of oval mounted paintings - the second painting hints that perseverance yields rewards, as two miners are pictured holding a gold nugget.
  • It reveals the barren countryside caused by gold digging - the processes that the miners used to extract gold ranged from panning and prospecting the surface layers to digging open mine shafts; both caused considerable damage to the environment through erosion and the muddying of the streams in the area.
  • It pictures a mine shaft with a windlass - after the alluvial gold had been exploited, mining became much more difficult; gold had to be dug from shafts and tunnels, carried up the mine shaft in buckets, and taken by wheelbarrow to the nearest stream for washing in a pan or cradle.
  • It depicts the clothing worn by miners - this included long boots, moleskin or corduroy trousers worn in or out of the boots, blue or red Crimean shirts (garments without buttons and with a wide V-neck and collar, long sleeves and slits at each side) and various sorts of hats, including felt hats and cabbage tree or 'wide awake' hats, with a clay pipe completing the picture; there was very little variation in the miners' clothing.
  • It shows the store tent and a more permanent building - most structures were tents, easily packed and moved when the gold failed; the more permanent structures, like the one depicted at top right, were usually the post office or other government buildings such as the Gold Commissioner's office; the government had appointed gold commissioners to regulate the gold fields and administer the job of licence collections.
  • 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

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • The Arts
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Samuel Thomas Gill
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Samuel Thomas Gill
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements