Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hill, Samuel Prout (1821–1861)

by Harry Buckie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Samuel Prout Hill (1821-1861), by William Nicholas

Samuel Prout Hill (1821-1861), by William Nicholas

National Gallery of Australia, 67597

Samuel Prout Hill (1821-1861), poet, lecturer, artist and public servant, was the son of James Hill, barrister, of Devonport, Devonshire, England, and his wife Eliza. He migrated to Australia and in August 1841 appeared as leader in an historical debate at the Sydney School of Arts. He visited Hobart Town next July, but soon returned to Sydney where he was accountant of the Sydney Banking Co. which failed in 1843. Much of his time, however, was devoted to public causes. He was secretary of the popular Commercial Reading Rooms and Library, helped to form the Australian Clerks' Benevolent Fund Society, and served on the committee of the Mechanics' School of Arts, lecturing often and becoming its secretary and librarian in 1845-48. He also practised as a marine painter and wrote much poetry. His painting 'A Frigate at Anchor in Plymouth Sound' was hung at the Sydney Exhibition in 1847. In Sydney he published his Tarquin the Proud, and Other Poems in 1843 and A Monody on the Death of Sir George Gipps in 1847; his poem 'Australia' was included in W. H. Wells, A Geographical Dictionary in 1848.

Hill moved to Hobart where early in 1849 he was employed by the Survey Department as a draughtsman, on probation because he did not come up to the expectations of the surveyor-general, Robert Power. After two months he applied for a vacant clerkship in the same department and was appointed, again temporarily, at 5s. a day. On 21 April 1849 he married Louisa, widow of John Odell, special magistrate of Port Maria, Jamaica.

In July 1850 Hill was promoted to a permanent post at a salary of £100. In 1851 he resigned to go to Victoria, claiming that his salary was insufficient for him to support his wife and mother and sister, who had come from England to join him, and that unless he gained better employment he would become insolvent. Although he denied any intention of going to the goldfields, he was refused a testimonial from the surveyor-general who thought that the flow of public servants to Victoria had to be stopped. Unable to establish himself on the mainland, he was back in Hobart by May 1852, humbly seeking re-employment in government service. He was placed on the waiting list, but was not appointed as a third-class clerk in the Survey Department until August 1853. His frequent absences from duty once again displeased the surveyor-general, and he had to be persuaded against leaving Van Diemen's Land in October 1854.

In the late 1850s Hill acquired some reputation as a political writer to the Mercury, and this, with his popularity as a speaker, helped win him fourth place in the closely fought House of Assembly elections of 1861 in Hobart. He campaigned on a protectionist ticket, but before establishing himself as a parliamentarian he died of a stroke on 23 October 1861. He was buried in St George's Church of England cemetery.

Hill's reputation as a poet and lecturer was high, judging by contemporary notices and reviews. A very good speaker, he gave many readings from Shakespeare, Dickens and others, as well as recitations of his own poems. There are few recorded comments on his paintings. The Hobart Town Courier, 28 October 1848, mentioned favourably a small exhibition of his water-colour sketches of local scenes and of the Terror, which had brought Hill from Sydney the month before, as she appeared off Tasman's Island and Cape Pillar in Storm Bay. The three examples of his work in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery show that he copied the style of Skinner Prout and Simpkinson de Wesselow, accomplished water-colourists working in Hobart at the time. At his best, Hill equalled the skill of Skinner Prout, but generally his work, though good in colour, was weak in tonal values.

Select Bibliography

  • Hobart Town Courier, 2 Apr 1849
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 12 June 1849
  • correspondence file under S. P. Hill (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Harry Buckie, 'Hill, Samuel Prout (1821–1861)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hill-samuel-prout-2183/text2807, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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