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The Australian Sketchbook

At a glance

  • Artist ST Gill
  • Sketches of Australian life in the 1860s
  • Goldfields and rural scenes
  • Chromolithography process

About the book

The Australian Sketchbook is a collection of 24 chromolithographs by artist Samuel Thomas Gill. It was published around 1865 by Melbourne printing and publishing firm Hamel and Ferguson.

The scenes depict mostly rural subjects, including wool wagons, a shepherd, bushranging, lost children, diggers heading for the goldfields, a bush funeral, surveyors, a bush mailman, kangaroo and emu hunting, a corroboree and the native police. The book was extremely popular, running to several editions.

Title page of The Australian Sketchbook by ST Gill, 1865.
Title page of The Australian Sketchbook by ST Gill, 1865. National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.

The Australian Sketchbook was Gill’s first foray into the new process of chromolithography, and only the second book published in Australia using the technique, which allowed for the printing of multi-coloured images through the use of oil-based inks applied to a sequence of printing stones.

Click on the images below to view the pages of The Australian Sketchbook by ST Gill
  • Sketchbook cover
    Sketchbook cover
  • Title page of The Australian Sketchbook by ST Gill, 1865.
    Title page
  • Stockman
  • Kangaroo stalking
    Kangaroo stalking
  • The new rush
    The new rush
  • Emu sneaking
    Emu sneaking
  • Homeward bound
    Homeward bound
  • Squatter's tiger
    Squatter's tiger
  • Native Miami
    Native Miami
  • Night camp
    Night camp
  • Wool drays
    Wool drays
  • Surveyors
    Surveyors
  • Corroboree
    Corroboree
  • Overlanders
    Overlanders
  • Bushman's hut
    Bushman's hut
  • Bush funeral
    Bush funeral
  • Splitters
    Splitters
  • Native sepulchre
    Native sepulchre
  • Bush mailman
    Bush mailman
  • Attack on store dray
    Attack on store dray
  • Night fishing
    Night fishing
  • Cattle branding
    Cattle branding
  • Native police
    Native police
  • Prospectors
    Prospectors
  • The Duff children
    The Duff children
  • Attacking the mail
    Attacking the mail
  • Back cover
    Back cover

Samuel Thomas Gill

Samuel Thomas Gill (1818–1880) was a prolific artist and illustrator working in colonial Australia from the mid-19th century. Gill arrived in South Australia from England in December 1839, and within four months had established a studio in Adelaide offering 'to produce portraits of human beings, horses and dogs, and to sketch houses'. His artwork in South Australia includes drawings made on an exploring party to the Spencer Gulf and portraits of prominent South Australians.

In 1852, he went to the Victorian goldfields where he completed perhaps his best-known representations of every-day life on the diggings. He spent many years travelling in Victoria and New South Wales, sketching what he saw and producing lithographs intended to appeal to colonists and those in Britain with an interest in Australia. He returned to Melbourne in 1864 and soon published The Australian Sketchbook. Alongside Gill's depictions of the digger life, horses and bushmen were a commonly represented in his work.

Historian WH Newnham observed that Gill's 'fame and fortune was to last just about as long as the gold-rush period'. He died penniless on 27 October 1880.

National Museum collection

The Australian Sketchbook was acquired by the National Museum in 2013. The Museum's collection also includes a rare wooden printing block of ST Gill’s illustration Bourke Street West in the Forenoon. 

More on the printing block in the 1875 Melbourne Panorama collection highlight

Wooden printing block for Bourke Street West in the Forenoon, 1864.
Front and reverse of the wooden printing block for Bourke Street West in the Forenoon, by Samuel Thomas Gill, engraved by Frederick Grosse. Photos: George Serras.
Bourke Street West in the Forenoon
The print from the woodblock above: Bourke Street West in the Forenoon, 1864, published in Australian News for Home Readers. State Library of Victoria.

This collection highlight was prepared by curators Nicole McLennan and Martha Sear, People and the Environment, National Museum of Australia.