Image 'Gold digging in Australia 1852: fair prospects'

TLF ID R3387

This is a watercolour, the second of a pair, measuring 20.2 cm x 26.4 cm, by Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80), a famous colonial artist. It shows two gold miners standing near a mine shaft, inspecting a handful of gold, at the edge of a creek. One of the men is leaning on a pick and a panning dish is lying on the ground nearby. Above the mine shaft is a windlass with a bucket attached. The painting has the artist's initials, 'STG', at lower left and the title: 'Gold digging in Australia 1852: fair prospects' at lower right.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows two successful miners, probably on the Victorian gold fields - it gives an impression of a subdued conversation between the two men and conveys a feeling of expectation that perhaps they have discovered a rich seam.
  • It depicts the miners inspecting their find - their demeanour is restrained, suggesting perhaps the need to keep the discovery secret, or possibly that they have learned from past experience not to expect too much.
  • It pictures the second in a pair of oval mounted paintings - the second painting shows that perseverance pays, as two miners are pictured holding a gold nugget, quite unlike the first which shows the disappointments of gold mining; the occasional digger found nuggets or large pieces of gold; the majority found small traces which were collected by washing dirt in panning dishes or cradles; the overall yield, however, was substantial, with the New South Wales gold fields yielding 26.4 tonnes in 1852, and Victoria yielding 80 tonnes in 1853.
  • 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 open mine shafts; both caused considerable damage to the environment through erosion, and muddying of the streams and rivers of the area.
  • It portrays a gold field as people trekking up from Melbourne would have seen it - intending gold miner William Howitt described it as follows: 'hundreds on hundreds of tents were clapped down in the most dusty and miserable of places; and all the ground was perforated with holes, round or square, some deeper, some shallower, some dry, some full of water'.
  • It illustrates the changing nature of prospecting - once the alluvial gold had expired, the gold veins had to be followed underground and pits had to be dug, requiring timber to secure the tunnels; dirt had to be brought to the surface with buckets hauled up on winches and then transported to the water source for panning; it was back-breaking and dangerous work, requiring diggers to form teams to pool resources and labour.
  • 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

4; 5

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