The Art of the Victorian Goldfields (excerpt)

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William Strutt, On Route to the Diggings, 1852

The importance of sketches, paintings and prints as a record of everyday life on the goldfields can’t be understated, particularly as the use of photography was still in its infancy in the 1850s[i].  These images provide a lively and honest view of this period, and equally importantly, demonstrate how life in Australia changed irrevocably as a result of the gold rushes.


The impacts of the goldrushes on our fledgling colony, the country our indigenous people had lived in for many tens of thousands of years, have been far greater than we might at first realise.

Edwin Stocqueler, Gold diggings, Ararat, c.1855

These included:

  • Increase in migration, with a tripling of the population
  • Significant increase to wealth of the colony
  • The period known as “Marvellous Melbourne[ii]
  • Major changes to architecture and lifestyles
  • Support for the development of the arts, and a greater market for the sale of art, particularly watercolours and prints (such as lithographs and etchings)
  • An increase in exports
  • Increase in the breath of skills in colony
  • Boost to local business – from produce through to manufactured goods
  • Strengthening of regional centres
  • Increase in the development of public institutions
  • Improvements in transport and communication – the railway, Cobb & Co coaches, and the telegraph
  • Introduction of Collective bargaining – Eureka stockade
  • Source of the term “Diggers”
  • Introduction of the notion of mateship
  • Growth of a multicultural more egalitarian society
  • Introduction of the eight hour day
  • Opportunity for a more prosperous life for ex-convicts
  • Denudation and destruction of land
  • Changing the way in which indigenous Australians lived
  • Introduction of new species of animals and plants, including rabbits and blackberries
  • Devastation of rivers and waterways
  • Racism and the White Australia Policy

Gold was first discovered at Mount Alexander (between Bendigo and Ballarat) about the same time that Victoria was established as an independent colony in 1851.

Over the next few decades, hundreds of thousands of people poured into Victoria, including a number of professional artists who were drawn, like so many others, by the lure of gold.

John Skinner Prout, Night Scene at the Diggings, c 1852

These artists included Eugène von Guérard, William Strutt, Nicholas Chevalier, S.T. Gill, George Rowe and Edwin Stocqueler.

They joined local artists who at this time were painting in a Colonial style in what was still very early days in the establishment of an arts culture.

To provide some context, in England artists such as John Constable[iii] and J.M.W. Turner[iv] were prominent until about 1850, when new movements such as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848), the Anglo-Japanese style (c. 1850) and the Aesthetic Movement (c. 1850) were becoming popular. By the 1880s the Arts and Crafts Movement was becoming a trend across Britain and then internationally.

In France, Realism[v], which portrayed subjects of every day (particularly rural) life, by artists such as Camille Corot[vi], Gustave Courbet[vii] and Jean François Millet[viii], was a key artistic style from the early 1840s until about the 1870s. By the late 1860s artists such as Claude Monet were painting in an Impressionistic[ix] style.

In comparison, with the exception of those produced by a handful of artists, many of the sketches, painting and prints produced during the Victorian gold rush period in Australia appear almost naïve. Nonetheless, they are mostly truthful portrayals of what the artists were seeing, which adds greatly to their historic value.

The gold rushes contributed to the wealth of the colony and influx of professional artists and teachers, and with that the growth of professional art bodies, school and galleries.

By the 1880s the Australian artistic voice had begun to be heard, with significant improvements in the quality of art being produced. And with an increasingly middle class population, the desire to purchase artwork as a mark of success led to a more sustainable market for paintings, particularly landscapes and portraits. Prints, such as lithographs, which could be produced much more cheaply, increased in popularity.

Art and Artists on the goldfields of Victoria


Edward Roper, Christmas in the Colonies, A Christmas dinner at the Diggings

The style of art during the key decades of the gold rush period is known as Colonial[x] art and the subjects that were most popular were landscapes, seascapes, portraits (which drew valuable commissions) and views of townships and homesteads.

In particular, it was a period when the everyday life of those involved in the goldrush was portrayed. Little was idealised in the ‘romantic’ style of European art, except when painted by overseas artists such as Chevalier and von Guérard, who had studied in this style.​

These and other professional artists who attracted by the goldrushes were bringing with them their own values about art and art styles, as well as training in technique, composition, and colour, and this added to the development of art in Australia.

Not surprisingly, the professionalism of art in Victoria increased markedly between the 1850s and 1880s. This came about largely as a result of a push by artists who were strongly motivated both make a name for themselves, but also to establish a strong arts culture.  The increasing wealth in the colony, and a growing middle class, provided opportunities for an arts culture to flourish.   Most importantly, money was spent on public bodies which enabled this to occur.​

George Rowe, View of the City of Melbourne, 1858

Melbourne University was established in 1853, and began to admit women in 1880 (except in study of Medicine), the first town hall building was completed in 1854, the Public Library, now known as the State Library of Victoria, opened in Melbourne in 1859, and the National Gallery of Victoria opened in the 1860s, with the Government granting it the princely sum of £2000 to purchase art work.

This led to the establishment of the National Gallery School, private schools and galleries and budding art societies. (However, the trustees of public bodies were conservative men whose idea of high art was classical and academic painting and sculpture from England and Europe, making it more difficult for a younger generation of artists to develop a unique style more suited to country with a very different history and way of viewing the world.)

By the 1880s, artists such as McCubbin, Streeton, Roberts, Boyd, Sutherland and many others were becoming interested in representing an Australian impression of our landscapes, borrowing in part from French Impressionism. By the 1880s there was also a greater market for oil painters.

Paintings and Prints of the Goldfields

In reviewing the art of the goldfields, it’s clear to see that the value of much of the work lies in its recording of the miners at work, together with those in support industries. Some activities recorded faithfully, others with a touch of humour.

Many people in the camps wanted mementos or pictures to send home to family and friends or simply to collect for themselves. They were interested in easily transportable works on paper – watercolours, lithographs and etchings.

Other key subjects were larger scale works of camps, with families, shops, entertainment, hunting and animals.

William Bentley, Mt Alexander Gold Diggings, 1853

Paintings also record key activities that took place which shaped Victoria at the time, such as; massive immigration; the development of regional centres; improvements in transport and communication; the railway; Cobb & Co coaches; the telegraph; Eureka stockade; the building of Marvellous Melbourne; the impact on Aboriginals; racism toward the Chinese; denudation and destruction of land and the introduction of new species of flora and fauna.

A number of publications included prints from the goldfields, including the Illustrated Australian Magazine,  Illustrated Melbourne News, Illustrated Melbourne Post and the Picturesqure Altas of Australia (see above) which was produced in the 1880s. 


Artists from this period include:  Elizabeth Shepherd, Elizabeth Parsons, Tommy McRae, Samuel Thomas Gill, David Tulloch, George Lacy, George French Angas, Charles Doudiet, Edwin Stocqueler, George Rowe, William Strutt, Nicholas Chevalier,  Eugene von Guérard, Thomas Balcombe, Arthur Esam, Cyrus Mason, Edward Roper, Emil Todt, Ernest Decimus Stocks, George Browning, Henry John Douglas Scott, Henry Winkles, Horace Burkitt, J Anderson, J B Henderson, John Godfrey, Thomas Wright, Walter Mason, Walter Withers, William Taylor Smith Tibbits, John Skinner Prout, George Baxter, Julian Ashton, O R Campbell, R S Anderson, Samuel Calvert, T G Moyle, Thomas Wright, Henry Gritten

Numerous artists painted at the goldfields with varying degrees of proficiency. Unfortunately, I can only find two women professional artists, Elizabeth Parsons and Elizabeth Shepherd Woodmansey, who have extant paintings from this time. No doubt there were other professional and amateur women artists who painted related scenes, although during this period it would have been difficult for women to be supported as an artist, travel to the goldfields for the purpose of painting, and to receive acknowledgement and payment for their work.

Elizabeth Shepherd, Simmons Reef, Mount Blakwood, 57 Miles from Melbourne, Victoria, 1858

Elizabeth Shepherd

It appears that Elizabeth Shepherd may have lived on the goldfields as the owner of a shop, as the name ‘E Shepherd’ is prominently signed above the shop in her painting. Little is known about her except that according to the National Library she came to Victoria in September 1855 and lived there until February 1884. A similar version of this painting is signed by Elizabeth Woodmansey and dated 1882 – presumably her married name. (It’s possible that she married a John Woodmansey and travelled to the UK after his death in 1884.)

  1. Elizabeth Parsons, Chinaman’s Hut. Daylesford. c 1880
  2. Elizabeth Parsons, Upper Macedon
  3. Elizabeth Parsons, At Berwick, 1882

Elizabeth Parsons

Elizabeth Parsons (1831–1897) painter and printmaker,arrived in Melbourne from England in 1870 and she quickly established a name for herself – teaching art students from her home. Her landscape paintings were also represented in several major Melbourne and international exhibitions.

One of the first professional women artists to work in Victoria, she exhibited with Heidelberg School artists Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder. 

Parsons was the first and only woman to be elected to the prestigious Victorian Academy of Art council, a position she held for two years. She was also the only woman artist amongst those whose works were selected for inclusion in the Art Union of Victoria’s 1880 illustrated publication of Henry Kendall’s poem, Orara.[xi]

Tommy McRae

  1. Tommy McRae, Scenes from Aboriginal Life, Aboriginal dancers and animals, including emus and lizards, taking part in a ceremony
  2. Tommy McRae, Aboriginal man chasing Chinese man and Aboriginal men fighting

There was also at least one indigenous artist depicting the impact of the life on the goldfields – Tommy McCrae.

Tommy McRae (c.1835–1901), was the most prolific nineteenth-century Aboriginal artist from south-eastern Australia, who produced several books of drawings, and boosted his income from the sale of his artworks. His Aboriginal names have been recorded as Yackaduna or Warra-euea, and he was probably from the Kwatkwat people, whose country stretched south of the Murray River near the junction of the Goulburn River in Victoria[xii].

His books mostly recorded traditional Aboriginal life, such as ceremonies and scenes of hunting and fishing. He also produced a number of sketches which included squatters and Chinese. 

Samuel Thomas Gill

The artist who was probably the most prolific on the goldfields was S T Gill, producing numerous watercolours. On his headstone he is referred to as The artist of the Goldfields.

Samuel Thomas (S. T.) Gill (1818 – 1880) arrived in South Australia, from England, at the age of 21. He arrived with his parents and siblings on the Caroline in 1839, and almost immediately began his career as a watercolourist, illustrator and printmaker.

According to art historian Sasha Grishin, Gill may have learnt art from his father who was an amateur poet and artist, as well as from drawing masters within his family and at Dr Seabrook’s Academy, which he attended as a boarder. He also apparently received training in lithography and engraving in London.

Grishin writes that Gill may have worked as a carver and gilder in Plymouth and subsequently studied with artists in London, where it appears he worked as a draughtsman and watercolourist for Hubard Profile Gallery.[xiii]

Grishin observes that Gill’s early drawings are characterised by three features – a love of social caricature, precise attention to detail and a preoccupation with commenting on death and the struggle between virtues and vices.[xiv]

The first two of these features are particularly obvious in Gill’s recording of life on the Victorian goldfields. It appears he first arrived at the Mount Alexander in early 1852, and by August that year he published a set of 24 lithographs in Sketches of the Victoria Diggings and Diggers As They Are[xv], and these were supplemented by a second set of lithographs only two months later. These small lithographic prints received a warm review in the Argus.

What stands out particularly about S. T. Gill’s work is the way in which he sought to humanise and convey the drama of the goldfields, while at the same time accurately recording details, for example, the layout of the landscape, the clothing, tools and equipment of the diggers, the names of tents, and the dates of his drawings. At same time, while he might often describe positive aspects of a digger’s life, he also showed the converse.

Because of this his work can be considered to be a fairly accurate recording of what he saw and the changes to the landscape over such a short period of time. Aside from a short period in New South Wales, Gill spent most of the rest of his life in Victoria, where he died in 1880.

David Tulloch

S.T. Gill was not the first printmaker on the Victorian goldfields. In 1851 illustrator and engraver David Tulloch was commissioned to make sketches of the diggers and the diggings. These illustrations appeared in Thomas Ham’s Illustrated Australian Magazine, first published in July 1850. By January 1852 Tulloch had finished five sketches, which Ham published as Ham’s Five Views of the Goldfields of Mount Alexander and Ballarat in the Colony of Victoria, Drawn on the Spot by D. Tulloch. These are among the earliest known views of the Victorian diggings.

Little is known about his background, other than that he arrived from Scotland in 1849. In 1852 he set up his own business and went into partnership with a map engraver, James Davie Brown, in 1853. Their work, including several maps and specimens of commercial engraving, won awards at the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition at the Victorian Industrial Exhibition.

In 1889 Herbert Woodhouse, of the Victorian Lithographic Artists and Engravers Club, called Tulloch “an excellent engraver on steel and copperplate of both artistic and mechanical subjects, besides being a good draftsman”.[xvi]

  1. David Tulloch, Great Meeting of Gold diggers Dec 15th 1851
  2. David Tulloch, Golden Point, Ballarat 1851, 1852
  3. David Tulloch, Golden Point, Mt Alexander, 1852
  4. David Tulloch, Mining camp, c 1855-60

The second drawing was made only a few months after gold was first discovered in Victoria, and already you can see felling of trees and large dugouts.

George Lacy

Another artist who has some similarities to S. T. Gill was George Lacy, (c.1817-1878)

but Lacy often made light of the hardships faced by the mining community and this was reinforced by his use of humorous titles, often several lines in length. He was almost exclusively interested in depicting activity scenes and conflict between authority and the underdog[xvii], tending to sketch in backgrounds with broad, sweeping strokes.

Although little is known about his background, Lacy was a painter, illustrator, writer and teacher, who is thought to have had some formal art school training in England. He arrived in Sydney in 1842 on the Wilmot before moving to Victoria around 1855, where it’s believed he sold his paintings at stores at the diggings.

Including his goldrush paintings, he is known to have painted 100 drawings of the early days of Australia’s inland settlement and bushranging activities, particularly those in New South Wales. (He is undoubtedly the artist identified only as ‘G.L. of Wollongong’ who contributed ten works to the second Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Australia exhibition held at Sydney in 1849.[xviii]) All Lacy’s surviving works are in watercolour, wash and ink or, occasionally, pencil. 

Unlike many other artists in the goldfields, Lacy had great interest in painting activities which involved families, adding to our sense of the difficulties they faced.

Lacy produced illustrations for the Illustrated Sydney News, Illustrated Melbourne News, Illustrated Melbourne Post and Sydney Punch in the 1860s, and published his reminiscences in the Albury Southern Courier.

He moved to Bathurst in 1876 where he died of heart disease two years later, aged 60.

George French Angas

In the 1850s’ Lacy contributed to a portfolio of prints, Sketches In Australia: Plates From G. F. Angas – Six Views Of The Gold Field Of Ophir (Published by) Sydney, Woolcott, And Clarke, 1851, and Original Sketches By G. Lacy[xix]. Also included in that publication were works by George French Angas.

George French Angas (1822-1886) was naturalist and painter who studied in England for a time under Waterhouse Hawkins, a natural history artist.

Angas sailed for Australia in 1843 in the Augustus, arriving in Adelaide. He continued to travel within Australia and overseas for several years, producing a number of drawings and watercolours which were reproduced as lithographs in publications such as South Australia IllustratedThe New Zealanders Illustrated, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand, Six Views of the Gold Field of Ophir (Sydney) and Views of the Gold Regions of Australia.

  1. George French Angas, Forest Creek, c1852
  2. George French Angas, Eaglehawk Gully, Bendigo, 1852-3
  3. George French Angas, Goldwashing at Summerhill Creek, 1851

Aside from his paintings of the goldfields, Angas was essentially a naturalist, with interests in ethnology and conchology, although his oeuvre was quite broad.  A gifted draftsman with a concern for detail, he took care to depict native vegetation accurately. In his landscape paintings he applied colour with gently gradated tints, demonstrating a feeling for space.

  1. George French Angas, Australian Native Dwellings
  2. George French Angas, The Aboriginal Inhabitants, and Native Weapons and Implements, 1847

In 1853 Angas was appointed secretary to the Australian Museum in Sydney, a position which he held until 1860. Whilst there he supervised the work of classifying and arranging the first public collection of Australian specimens, especially shells[xx]. He returned to London in 1863, where he died in 1886.

Charles Doudiet

Another artist to arrive at the beginning of the goldrush in Victoria was Charles Doudiet. He came from Canada in 1852, with a sketchbook given to him by his father to record his time in Australia[xxi]. Little is known about any artistic training he may have had.

His “Australian Sketchbook” records the period from February 1853 in Melbourne to September 1855 in Ballarat, two years before he returned to Canada.

  1. Charles Doudiet, Burning of the Eureka hotel, 1854
  2. Charles A Doudiet, Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross, Ballarat, 1864, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
  3. Charles A Doudiet, Eureka Slaughter 3 December 1854
  4. Charles A Doudiet, Gravel Pits Ballarat, 1854

About half of the work in the original sketch book is now in the collection of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.  While the watercolours are clearly amateurish, they are important as the record the events at the Eureka Stockade. They include Eureka RiotSwearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross and Eureka Battle (Eureka Slaughter 3 December).

Edwin Stocqueler

Edwin Roper Loftus Stocqueler (1829-95) was born in Bombay and educated in England before travelling to Australia with his mother, Jane. Unforturnately nothing is known about his artistic training, but Stocqueler came to the goldfields with the specific intention of making money from art, rather than digging for gold.

Stocqueler and his mother were on the Bendigo diggings by 1853 and made Sandhurst (now Bendigo) their headquarters, and according to Dr Martha Sear, travelled up and down the Murray River, Goulburn River and Ovens River in a canvas boat.

 “He was interested in natural history and in recording the landscape of those places, and he also recorded his encounters with Aboriginal people”[xxii].

Digging for Gold shows just how quickly the land was decimated around Bendigo at the beginnings of the goldrush. Another interesting aspect to this painting is the large scar tree to the left in the foreground. It shows that part of the bark has been stripped away, possibly to be made into a canoe by local Aboriginals, and this simple inclusion in the painting demonstrates how the goldrush must have impacted local tribes.

In 1857, Stocqueler created a panorama in Bendigo called The Golden Land of the Sunny South. His father had been a narrator for a panorama in London, and Stocqueler thought he could create something similar.

The painting took about four years to complete and was one mile (1.6 kilometres) in length.  It was presented in two parts, each consisting of at least twenty-five paintings. The first half mainly comprised views of Melbourne, Sandhurst, the Bendigo goldfields and the Goulburn River country, while the emphasis in the other half was on north-eastern Victoria, mainly around Beechworth but concluding with several views of Castlemaine[xxiii]. People paid to hear a narrator, accompanied by sound effects, describing the scenes as the paintings on canvas were unfurled from a spindle.

Residents of the newly established town on Bendigo creek flocked to the exhibition, which later travelled to Melbourne, but overall it didn’t attract the audiences he was hoping for.  

Like many of this works, it’s not known if this panorama still exists. Visiting his studio in 1857, a reporter from the Bendigo Advertiser noted some seventy paintings of native birds and animals and referred to other ‘very numerous and interesting sketches and paintings’, and the location these is also not known.

Stocqueler remained in Australia until about 1870. Unfortunately, he died penniless at the age of 65 in London, where he had been reduced to chalking art on the pavement trying to make a living.

George Rowe

George Rowe (1796-1864) painter and lithographer, arrived in Melbourne in 1857 at the age of 60, and although he only stayed for three years, he painted a number of panoramas of the goldfields as well as around Melbourne. As a master lithographer, he had been one of England’s most successful producers of picturesque and topographical views[xxiv].

Like many others he came to Australia in search of gold to rebuild his family’s fortune but was unsuccessful as both a miner and a storekeeper, so returned to his earlier vocation as an artist, and his work proved to be very popular.

His early watercolours of the diggings were generally small in size, for example Australian Settlers’ Tents painted in 1853. He painted an average of two pictures a day, and charged between one and five guineas for each painting[xxv].

  1. George Rowe, Australian Settlers Huts, 1853
  2. George Rowe, Parker and Macord Potato Salesman and General Fruiterers, Bendigo, c 1857

Like the Romantic artists of Europe, such as Henry Fuseli who was painting in the late 1700s, Rowe expressed the romantic concept of the insignificance of humans compared with the majesty of nature. He also demonstrated a strong empathy with Australia’s first people.

In 1857 he exhibited 50 of his watercolour views of Bendigo, Castlemaine and Forest Creek for an Art Union. The Bendigo Advertiser reported with enthusiasm and at length:

In every instance the artist has succeeded admirably in a correct delineation of the scenes he has undertaken… Of all the pictures enumerated, which, with others, are all of well known localities in the Bendigo district, we feel it is impossible to speak in too high terms of praise”.[xxvi]

  1. George Rowe, Aborigines in an Australian Landscape
  2. George Rowe, First Metropolitan Gold Fields Handicap, Ballarat, Victoria, 1861
  3. George Rowe, The End of the Rainbow, 1857, Bendigo Gallery
  4. George Rowe, Melbourne from Observatory Hill, c1858

In 1858 Rowe undertook a sketching tour of the Western District of Victoria (its spectacular mountain scenery also attracted such artists as Eugène von Guérard and Nicholas Chevalier). He was particularly taken by the views from Mount William, the highest peak in the Grampians Ranges. Rowe recorded the visit in his diary, “I sketched the scene and treasured up in my memory the glorious effects which I was privileged to witness, and hope someday to find time to depict them in another fashion[xxvii].

George Rowe, Victorian Race Meeting at Sunbury, 1858

Interestingly, Rowe also painted horse racing scenes, with the first running of the Melbourne Cup being during the goldrush period, in 1861. (By 1880, 100,000 people travelled to Flemington to attend the Cup. As Melbourne’s population was only 290,000 at the time, this attendance was quite phenomenal.)

Whilst on the goldfields Rowe also painted flags used to identify businesses, dwellings and claims wrote writing letters for the many illiterate diggers.

After he returned to England, Rowe exhibited ‘Six watercolour paintings of scenery in Victoria’ in the International Exhibition, London in 1862. Rowe was the only artist to be awarded a medal, which the jurors stated was: “For faithful and beautiful delineation of the country, workings, and other relations of the gold fields[xxviii].

William Strutt

The Victorian goldfields attracted several other professional artists, including William Strutt (1825 – 1915).  Born in Devon, England he had studied in Paris in the atelier (studio) of Michel-Martin Drölling and at the École des Beaux Arts. He also studied artworks at the Louvre in Paris.

It’s clear that Strutt was influenced by the French Academy which considered that large, dramatic canvases of narrative scenes were the highest form of art during the 1700s. A conservative approach to neoclassicism and romanticism were the dominant styles at that time. After seven years in the academic system, Strutt demonstrated his ability to paint large complex compositions of outdoor scenes and of the human figure.[xxix] He was both an excellent draughtsman and illustrator and was perhaps the most highly trained artist in the colony at the time of his arrival in Victoria.

Strutt had decided to emigrate to Australia after suffering from eye problems, which appear to have eased by the time he arrived in Melbourne in 1850, just a year before the goldrush started. He was employed by the Ham brothers and produced engravings for the Illustrated Australian Magazine. He also painted a number of oil portraits of notable Victorians, as well as miniature watercolour portraits of Aborigines, police and bushrangers.

William Strutt, Black Thursday, February 6th, 1861, 1864

Strutt stated that he wanted to create epic pictures for what he saw as an age rich ‘with splendid subjects[xxx]’. His dramatic painting of the bushfire that raged across Victoria on the 6th of February in 1851 is an example of the style of work being painted in France, by such artists as Ernest Meissonier.[xxxi] Not immediately recognisable as a painting of an Australian scene, it nonetheless captures the horror and fright of those fleeing from the fire, amongst the devastation from the 1850 drought.

Strutt visited Ballarat in 1851 and painted a number of depictions of goldfields life, some of which were later printed as lithographs.

William Strutt, Victoria the Golden, c.1851

He wrote:

Here, indeed, was an extraordinary sight. A piece of ground about two or three acres in extent sloping down gently towards a moderate-sized creek was perfectly honeycombed with holes, some just beginning to be dug, but in most of them the diggers were deep down below getting out the auriferous soil, which others were hauling up in buckets to carry in barrows to the cradles, where this washing stuff, as it was called, was most thoroughly washed at the side of the creek by being rocked to and fro in the sieve, [and that] which falls through to be collected from the bottom of the cradle. The creek was lined as thick as it could be packed. Every claim holder had a right to a space in front of the running stream where his cradle stood … The whole field of operations reminded one of a huge ant hill, just disturbed, with the distressed insects hurrying about hither and thither to set things in order once more”[xxxii].

With his academic training, it is not surprising that attempted to persuade the government leaders of his day to take some interest in historical record. For example, he made several studies of the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition in 1860-6, including their preparations at Royal Park, Melbourne, and at its first camp at Essendon[xxxiii]. He then collected first-hand accounts from the rescue party and from King, the expedition’s sole survivor, upon their return.

The portraits, detailed studies and annotations that Strutt executed on the scene provided material for his works in oil, watercolour and engraving over the next five decades following his return to England in 1862.

Strutt had been a founder of the short-lived Victoria Fine Arts Society in 1853 and together with Eugene von Guerard, Ludwig Becker, Nicholas Chevalier and James Smith, it was revived, renamed as the Victorian Society of Fine Arts. They held several ‘conversaziones’ and an exhibition in December 1857 before disbanding it once again for lack of support.

In 1862 Strutt returned to England where he was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. Over the next 30 years he regularly exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy.

Nicholas Chevalier

Born in Russia of Swiss descent, Henry Chevalier (1828–1902) had studied architecture, drawing, lithography and watercolour in Europe and England before being sent by his father to the Victorian goldfields in late 1854 to attend to family business.

Nicholas Chavelier, Buffalo Ranges, 1864

He was a highly admired artist, and his oil painting The Buffalo Ranges was the first one purchased for the National Gallery of Victoria after being elected as the best painting by a resident Victorian in an exhibition sponsored by the government in 1865.

In 1863 a Fine Arts Commission had been appointed to begin purchasing works for the future National Gallery of Victoria. They announced that they would devote part of their funds to the purchase of a painting (or paintings) by an artist resident in Australia, provided that it should ‘compare favourably with the works of eminent living artists in Europe[xxxiv]’.

Similar to both Strutt and von Guerard, Chevalier was interested in painting epic paintings in the romantic style, although perhaps his technique was not as strong as these two artists.

Nicholas Chevalier, Memorandum of the Start of the Exploring Expedition, 1860

For example, like Strutt, he also painted the departure of Burke and Will on their expedition. However, note how the size of the horse in the foreground is out of proportion – it appears far too small in comparison to the camels almost directly behind it.

Chevalier was known to be a stimulating personality, particularly interested in cultural activities in Melbourne, and his home was often the centre for artists, writers, musicians and academics[xxxv].

He contributed to the newly-established Melbourne Punch and later the Illustrated Australian News – his wood engraved cartoons became one of the most popular features in Punch. He also introduced chromolithography[xxxvi] to Victoria where it became an important and flourishing art[xxxvii]. (In 1865 he published a portfolio of 12 landscape chromolithograph prints.)

  1. Nicholas Chevalier, Wentworth River Diggings
  2. Nicholas Chevalier, Emigrants Landing at the Queens Wharf, Melbourne
  3. M Chevalier, Grassdale Near Casterton, 1863

Chevalier visited New Zealand in 1865–66, exhibiting in Christchurch and Dunedin. He also exhibited in Melbourne at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866–67 and later at the Paris Salon in 1868. He returned to England in 1871, where he exhibited annually at the Royal Academy between 1871 and 1887 and in 1895. Chevalier also was appointed by the Art Gallery of NSW’s trustees to its London Selection Committee in 1874, with responsibility for purchasing watercolours by living British artists. He served in this role for more than 20 years until his resignation in 1897, by which time ill health had forced him to give up painting.

Eugene von Guérard

Like Chevalier’s early works, the landscapes of Eugene von Guérard (1811-1901) are also reminiscent of Europe in style. The colours and foliage, in particular, are not always immediately identifiable as representing the Australian bush.

Eugene von Guérard, Warrenheip Hills near Ballarat, 1854, National Gallery of Victoria

He was born in Vienna and learnt to paint, initially, from his father who painted miniatures. In Rome, von Guérard studied in the tradition of the great seventeenth-century landscape artists such as Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin, and then later at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art in Germany, one of the leading art schools in Europe.

It appears that he may have spent some time in the Californian goldfields in the late 1840s and by 1852 von Guérard had arrived in Australia, almost immediately setting off for the goldfields around Ballarat with a large group of companions. He staked several claims starting at Eureka Hill and Gravel Pit, then moving on to other areas around Ballarat including Warrenheip, Canadian Gully, Little Bendigo and Black Swamp. 

Two entries from his diary read:

“Jan. 18th.

After travelling for a week we have arrived at Ballarat… Ballarat consists of a camp of tents, and some buildings constructed of boards. One building, made of the trunks of trees, constitutes the prison, and is often the temporary abode of bushrangers, and also of diggers who can’t – or won’t – pay their licence.    

Jan. 25th.

Yesterday we went to peg our our claims at Eureka Hill. Our nearest neighbours are Chinamen, Englishmen and Americans. We afterwards went on towards Gravelpit, and repeated our pegging there. Two of our company remained at each claim. Digging was begun in four-hourly shifts, to continue day and night.”[xxxviii]

Von Guérard’s first diary, which he kept between 1852 and 1854, contains sketches of the landscape, activities and people of the goldfield and these detailed sketches provide a sincere record of every day life. Although returned to the goldfields many times, he had no success in his search for gold, and was reduced to selling his pictures by lottery.

  1. Eugene von Guérard, View of Victorian Goldfields
  2. Eugene von Guérard, Stoneleigh, Beaufort near Ararat, Victoria, 1866

However, he became successful in obtaining commissions from wealthy land owners and businessmen, including gaining the patronage of Governor Henry Barkly who commissioned a series of sketches of the Western District of Victoria.

Eugene von Guérard, Ballarat in 1853-54

Travelling through the wild mountainous country of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, von Guérard made numerous sketches which he painted as grand romantic landscapes.

Together with Strutt, Chevalier and others, he formed the Victorian Society of Fine Arts in 1856 and then in 1870 was active in the formation of the Victorian Academy of Arts. In the same year he was appointed to the first master of painting at the National Gallery School in Melbourne. However, he was criticised for his outmoded techniques as a teacher, which restricted students to copying academic masters in the gallery’s collection. He proved to be a stultifying influence on the school which led to a fair amount of criticism. Von Guérard was also appointed Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria – and he held positions until 1881, when he returned to Europe because of ill health.

The Changing Nature of Art, and the Goldfields, from the 1880s

The formation of the art societies, Victorian Academy of Arts, National Gallery of Victoria and National Gallery School, together with a number of privately run art schools, between 1850 and 1870, all indicate that art had become serious business and part of the cultural pursuits of many Victorians.

This was leading to a new generation of artists, who while they still had a strong focus on landscapes and portraiture, had a more nationalistic approach to their work. For example, these works by Walter Withers, painted in 1893, have quite a different feel to them, and are ones that we more easily identify as being ‘Australian’.

  1. Walter Withers, Fossicking for Gold, 1893
  2. Walter Withers, Panning for Gold, 1893

Withers was part of the Heidleberg School, who from the mid 1880s travelled painting au plein air around Melbourne – along the coast (Mentone, Brighton, Mentone, Beaumaris), at Box Hill, and around Heidelberg (Templestowe, Eaglemont, Charterisville). Their style became known as Australian Impressionism[xxxix].

The Heidelerg School [xl]was not a movement as such but a group of artists and friends, many of whom studied at the National Gallery Art School of Victoria, who painted together. It was the era of Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, Emma Minnie Boyd and Jane Sutherland, and a number of other artists, and it is from about this time that paintings become more integrated into our popular art history discourse.

By this time also, photography had begun to overshadow paintings as a record of life on the goldfields.

And although gold continued to be found for some in reasonable quantities decades, it was the end of the heyday of the gold rush period, and by the early 1890s boom had turned to bust, brought on largely by overinvestment in real estate and the collapse on property prices.

You’ll find the full story, with much more information about life on the goldfields, at

Andrea Hope, February 2021



[ii] Read more in the article: Emma Minnie Boyd, Art and Opportunity in Marvellous Melbourne



[v] Andrea Hope,

[vi] Hope

[vii] Hope

[viii] Hope

[ix] Hope

[x] See Australian Art History at

[xi] More than a memory—the art of Elizabeth Parsons | Geelong Gallery

[xii] Carol Cooper, Tommy McCrae, deutscherandhackett,

[xiii] Sasha Grishin, S T Gill and his Audiences, 2015, National Library of Australia, Canberra, p24

[xiv] Grishin, p26.

[xv] Sketches of the Victoria Diggings and Diggers As They Are Published by H.H. Collins & Co.: and Piper Brothers & Co., London 1853

[xvi] Design & Art Australia online

[xvii] Callow, M. W.; McDonald, Patricia R.,George Lacey, Design and Art Australia Online,

[xviii] Callow, M. W.; McDonald, Patricia R.,George Lacey, Design and Art Australia Online,

[xix] Held at the State Library of New South Wales, Adlib Internet Server 5 | Details (

[xx] E. J. R. Morgan, ‘Angas, George French (1822–1886)‘, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966

[xxi] Margaret Rich,

[xxii] Dr Martha Sear, curator, National Museum of Australia, Digging For Gold: The artist who tried to make a fortune from his paintings in 1850s Victoria

[xxiii] Frank Cusack and Peter Gill, Edwin Roper Loftus Stocqueler, Design and Art Australia online, 2021

[xxiv] David Thomas, Deutscherandhackett.Com, George Rowe, (1796 – 1864) George Rowe At The Diggings Near Ararat, C.1858, Catalogue notes;

[xxv] George Rowe, letter to the artist’s daughter, August 1853, quoted in Blake 1982, Blake, S., George Rowe, Artist and Lithographer1796-1864, Art Gallery and Museum, Cheltenham, United Kingdom, 1982, cat. 165 (illus.) p. 27

[xxvi] ‘The Bendigo Art Union’, Bendigo Advertiser, 15 May 1857, p. 3

[xxvii] ‘A Leaf from the Diary of an Artist. The Ascent of Mount William’, Age, Melbourne, 23 April 1858, p.4

[xxviii] ’Awards of the Jurors’, Department of the Colony of Victoria, Australia, International Exhibition of 1862, London, cat. 476

[xxix] Matthew Jones, Heroes and villains: Strutt’s Australia, State Library, Victoria

[xxx] Jones ibid

[xxxi] Hope, Ernest Meissonier,

[xxxii] As quoted in Victoria the Golden, Old Treasury Building, Victoria,


[xxxiv] Christopher Allen, From Colonization to Postmodernism, Thames and Hudson, London, 1997, p42

[xxxv] Jean Campbell, Australian Watercolour Painters, 1780-1980, Rigby, Adelaide, 1983, p58

[xxxvi] Chromolithography is a printing process where coloured lithographs are produced by a series of stone or zinc plates, each of which carry different portions of the picture to be printed, and are inked in different colours

[xxxvii] Marjorie J. Tipping, ‘Chevalier, Nicholas (1828–1902)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969

[xxxviii] A pioneer of the fifties: leaves from the journal of an Australian Digger, 18 August 1852-16 March 1854 by Johann Joseph Eugen von Guerard. “”

[xxxix] Hope, Australian Art History,

[xl] Read more at Australian Art History,


Allen, Christopher; From Colonization to Postmodernism, Thames and Hudson, London, 1997

Beechey, Desley; Eureka! Women and Birthing on the Ballarat Goldfields in the 1850s, Thesis, 2003

Blainey, Geoffrey; The Rush That Never Ended. Melbourne University Press, 1963.

Blainey, Geoffrey; Black Kettle and Full Moon, Daily Life in a Vanished Australia, Penguin, Camberwell, 2003

Campbell, Jean; Australian Watercolour Painters 1780-1980, Rigby, Adelaide, 1983

Carboni, Raffaello; The Eureka Stockade, Melbourne, 1855

Clark, Deborah; Art of the Goldfields, from Gold and Civilisation, Art Exhibitions Australia & The National Museum of Australia, 2001.

Davidson, Graeme; The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, University Press, Calton, 1978

Garden, Don; Catalyst or Cataclysm? Gold Mining and the Environment, Victorian Historical Journal Vol 72, No 1-2, September 2001.

Gordon, Nick; The making of Victoria: From Sullivan Bay to the Gold Boom, March 20, 2020 (published by Academy Travel)

Grishin, Sasha; S.T. Gill and his audiences, National Library of Australia, 2015

Grishin, Sasha; Australian Art History, Miegunyah Press

Kerr, Joan; The Dictionary of Australian Artists – Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992

Hope, Andrea; Australian Art History,

Horne, Donald; The Story of the Australian People, Reader’s Digest, Sydney 1985

Jones, Matthew; Heroes and villains: Strutt’s Australia, State Library, Victoria

McDonald, John; Art of Australia Vol1: Exploration to Federation, Pan McMillan, Sydney, 2008

The Origins of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria; practical science in the wake of the gold rush – Introduction and Acclimatisation of plants and animals to meet the material needs of the people, Historical Records of Australian Science, V6, No3, Dec 1986.


Academy Travel;

Hope, Andrea; Australian Art History,

National Museum of Australia;

SBS Gold;

State Library of Victoria; Get started – Gold miners and mining – Research Guides at State Library of Victoria (

State Library of New South Wales;

Victoria Collections;

Visit Victoria


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