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image icon 'Homeward bound: dinner-time'

'Homeward bound: dinner-time'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an oil painting (58.7 cm x 76.0 cm) created by J A Gilfillan (1793-1867). It depicts the end of a day for a group of early settlers in colonial South Australia. A bullock wagon is being unloaded, wood is being gathered, a fire has been lit, and food and cooking utensils are being unpacked ready for the evening's meal. Relaxed family groups and the apparent ease with which one of the settlers talks to two Australian Indigenous people suggest that colonial settlement for this group, and others who might have been thinking of immigrating to Australia, was well worth the risk and investment.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • illustrates aspects of the experience of European migrants in Australia in the mid-19th century
  • was one of the first paintings produced in Australia dealing with the theme of emigration - J A Gilfillan's paintings are the earliest and most elaborate of Australian works of the period to deal with this theme; they are possibly as early as any works on similar subjects painted in Britain
  • demonstrates a style of narrative painting popular during the Victorian era - the overall style is realistic, but everything is posed as if on a stage; the composition is built around the central figure of the mother, positioned in the style of a Madonna in an Italian renaissance painting; parents playing with their child in the background and a settler talking with two Aboriginal people confirm the relaxed mood
  • is the work of an artist who made a significant contribution to the Adelaide art scene of the 1840s - the Adelaide art scene was the liveliest in Australia until the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s attracted many talented artists from the various colonies (including South Australia) and from overseas, who went to try their luck on the gold fields
  • portrays a subject with which the artist would have identified closely - Gilfillan left his Isle of Jersey home as a cabin boy and in 1847 migrated with his family to New Zealand; six years later he settled in Australia
  • is one of a pair of paintings - its companion piece is 'Outward bound: dinner-time', painted in about 1852, presents an optimistic image of life for newly arrived settlers in South Australia; the pair represented Gilfillan's tribute to his adopted country and to the benefits of emigration
  • implies that colonial settlement in South Australia was peaceful where relations between British colonists and Australian Indigenous people were concerned - recent histories of the contact period reveal that colonial settlement was at times violent and racist
  • depicts details of settler life in this period - for example, the food eaten and the kinds of transport (bullock wagon), cooking utensils and clothing used.