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Image 'The claim disputed', c1852

TLF ID R3386

This is a watercolour, measuring 19.4 cm x 25.4 cm, by Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80), a famous colonial artist. It shows a well-dressed man - presumably the Gold Commissioner - arbitrating a dispute over a claim involving three diggers, probably on the Victorian gold fields. Two of the diggers are in animated discussion with the Commissioner, while the third is standing, arms crossed over his chest, looking intractable. The claim is seen marked out on the ground, with a survey peg at one corner. Another digger can be seen from the waist up, protruding from a mine shaft. The artist's initials, 'STG', are inscribed in the bottom left-hand corner and the title, 'The claim disputed', is in the bottom right-hand corner.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows pegs hammered into the ground that mark out the miner's claim and its boundary lines - the miner's licence fee of up to 30 shillings a month entitled diggers to a parcel of land or a section of creek 12 foot square (about 13 square metres).
  • It pictures a dispute between miners, possibly over claim jumping - boundary lines were often measured informally, leading to arguments, especially near productive claims.
  • It probably depicts a gold fields commissioner - these officials were often despised figures, whose role it was to administer justice on the diggings; they were accused of being inexperienced, autocratic, corrupt and incompetent.
  • It illustrates part of the role of the gold commissioners - responsible for administering government regulations on the gold fields, they issued and collected the miners' licences, allocated claims, settled disputes, punished minor crimes and even sent serious offenders to the High Court; their authority was backed by the police, the military, the Victorian Legislative Council and ultimately the Governor.
  • It shows the diggers' clothing - the Crimean shirt (a garment without buttons and with a wide V-neck and collar, long sleeves and slits at each side) in blue or red, often worn with a sash or belt around the waist, the handkerchief tied at the neck, the striped and often boldly coloured and patterned shirt under the Crimean, the moleskin or cord trousers and the felt hat; one of the diggers is wearing a striped cap, perhaps of convict origin, and the Commissioner seems to be wearing the popular cabbage tree or 'wide awake' hat.
  • It reveals the barren landscape caused by gold digging - the processes that the miners used to extract gold ranged from panning and prospecting the surface layers to digging deeply sunk open mine shafts; both caused considerable damage to the environment through erosion and the muddying of streams and rivers in the area.
  • 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