Image Concert room at Ballarat, 1855

TLF ID R3388

This is a watercolour, measuring 22.8 cm x 31.9 cm, by Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80), a famous colonial artist. It shows Charles Thatcher (1831-78), a comic singer well known on the gold fields, performing popular songs on stage at the Charlie Napier Hotel in Ballarat with a female accompanist. The painting has the artist's initials, 'STG', in the bottom left-hand corner, where the title is also inscribed: 'Concert Room Charlie Napier Hotel, Ballarat, June, '55, Thatcher's popular songs'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset reveals a popular form of entertainment on the gold fields - evenings on the gold fields were filled with the sounds of revelry, campfire musicals and impromptu jam sessions with rudely fashioned instruments; travelling musicians, theatre parties, music hall concerts, dances and balls were also popular.
  • It depicts a musical performance by Charles Thatcher - Thatcher was originally a flautist, but went to the gold fields seeking his fortune and won £1,000 in a gold strike; despite this, he ended up earning a living serving the needs of the miners; drawing from his London music hall experience, Thatcher composed topical lyrics that he applied to popular tunes, winning the approval of his audiences; his themes depicted the hardships and joys of the diggers' lives with insight and humour.
  • It illustrates a typical music hall atmosphere - the artist conveys the impression of a noisy audience, smoking and drinking, with patrons moving around chatting; the publican is serving drinks to customers and spectators are sitting on the stage.
  • It shows the ineffective operation of prohibition laws - alcohol is being sold openly at the concert; the penalty for breach of the law was a £50 fine (easily retrieved from profits) or seven months' jail; grog shops proliferated when the government refused to license the sale of alcohol on the gold fields; diggers paid a little above the advertised price for common goods at the shops and received, in return, a glass of grog, called a 'nobbler'.
  • It indicates what people wore when going out on the town in the winter of 1855 in Ballarat - some individuals are wearing their best clothes, while others are wearing their working clothes; one woman is wearing a paisley shawl.
  • It shows the presence of women in the audience – 4,023 women were living on the Ballarat gold fields in 1854, one woman to every three men; most men left their families behind, but women too were caught up in gold fever, or else they simply packed up and followed their husbands; only 5 per cent of women on the gold fields were single.
  • It illustrates the Charlie Napier Hotel, a wooden building that was burnt down in 1861 - the spartan nature of the room and the rough construction of the ceiling reflect the living conditions of the gold fields; the accompanist plays an organ rather than a piano; candles were the only lighting, with gas lighting not coming to Ballarat until 1858.
  • It shows 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

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

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
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements