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image icon 'Sturt's overland expedition leaving Adelaide, 10th August, 1844'

'Sturt's overland expedition leaving Adelaide, 10th August, 1844'
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a watercolour painting depicting a special event that took place in Adelaide, the capital of the then-recently established colony of South Australia, on the morning of 10 August 1844. It shows local hero Captain Charles Sturt and his party setting out on an expedition to explore the centre of the Australian continent. They are on horseback and are equipped with, among other things, a boat (on the right-hand side of the image) with which to navigate the inland sea that Sturt thought he might discover on his journey. The work, which measures 41.3 cm x 72.0 cm, is by one of colonial Australia's liveliest artistic talents, S T Gill (1818-80), who was at the scene to record the event. Gill depicts the stage-managed spectacle of the exploring party setting out on its big adventure, as well as the presence of ordinary townsfolk and Indigenous Australians who have gathered to enjoy the occasion. There are also a number of Adelaide buildings in the background.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an example of the reporting role that art and artists played in the early days of colonial settlement
  • is an accomplished work by S T Gill, one of Australian colonial art's liveliest observers of social life - Gill was one of the first artists to come to South Australia in the earliest years of settlement; apart from his topical views of Adelaide and its port, as well as his records of exploration, he is well known for his illustrations of copper mining in South Australia and of life on the Victorian gold fields
  • records a specific historical event - Captain Charles Sturt was one of colonial Australia's most notable and successful explorers, and this particular expedition was intended to solve the mystery of what lay at the heart of the Australian continent; despite being trapped by drought for six months at Depot Glen, Sturt and his party almost reached the centre; they returned 18 months later, to the great delight of the Adelaide community, who had given Sturt up for dead and conducted a funeral service in his honour
  • shows details of clothing and uniforms of this period, suggesting the differences in social class that operated at the time
  • shows how talented illustrators such as Gill used compositional devices to create visual interest - the fence in the foreground frames the official action, but it also positions the viewer as one of the crowd of onlookers
  • shows how Gill exploited the medium of watercolour to economically illustrate the drama of the event
  • suggests that explorers were seen as folk heroes in Australian colonial society.