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Thomas Gill (1849–1923)

by E. L. D. Durward

This article was published:

Thomas Gill (1849-1923), public servant, was born on 23 February 1849 at Glen Osmond, South Australia, son of Thomas Gill, labourer and surveyor, and his wife Marie, née Selby. He was educated locally and in 1865 became a messenger with the Volunteer and Reserve Forces. Gill then worked at the Destitute Asylum, the Audit Office from 1871, in the Agent-General's Office, London, in 1879-80 and from 1883 at the South Australian Treasury as accountant; in 1894 he became under treasurer of South Australia; although due to retire in 1919, he was asked to continue for another year. On 5 October 1874 at Port Wakefield he had married Louisa Jane Bristow.

Gill suffered only one major set-back in his career: his failure to become deputy commissioner of taxation in 1884. He has been regarded as a major influence on the formation of the Civil Service Association in South Australia in 1885; he was a member of its first council and one of the honorary secretaries in 1888-94. A loyal public servant, he was nevertheless critical of low salaries and unsatisfactory junior appointments.

Thorough, dedicated and tireless as under treasurer, Gill was also comptroller of Imperial pensions, public debt commissioner, executive officer of the Public Service Superannuation Fund and active on several boards. After retiring he was government representative on the Municipal Tramways Trust and chairman of its finance committee: he was made a trustee of the Savings Bank of South Australia in 1920. That year his appointment to a royal commission to investigate the public service aroused some criticism.

Gill was an enthusiastic collector of Australiana, reflecting his interest in Australian history and geography, Aboriginals, exploration and the history of his State. He compiled his Bibliography of South Australia (1886) and Bibliography of the Northern Territory (1903) largely from his own library. He was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1921.

Gill was also a governor of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia from 1896 until his death, and a member of the Library Association of Australasia. The Transactions and Proceedings of the association's Adelaide meeting include a paper by him, 'A few notes respecting the statistics of suburban and country Institutes of South Australia' (1901). He wrote The History and Topography of Glen Osmond (1905) for the Glen Osmond Institute. Gill was treasurer of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia from its inception in 1885 until his death. The society's acquisition of the valuable York Gate Library was largely due to his energy and enthusiasm. His library was sold to the society for £300 as his will directed. The society's Proceedings contain several of Gill's papers, some of which were also published separately, including an enlarged edition of A Biographical Sketch of Colonel William Light (1911). His paper, 'Phenomenal sounds in the interior of Australia' (1913), was published in the Report of the Melbourne meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, of which he was also a member.

Gill was kind, courteous and unassuming. He was appointed a companion of the Imperial Service Order in 1903 and C.M.G. in 1918. He died on 21 July 1923 after being knocked down by a tram-car on the previous day and was buried in Glen Osmond cemetery. Predeceased by his wife (d.1915), he was survived by three daughters and two sons. The premier, Sir Richard Butler commented that 'South Australia never had a more loyal, devoted and trustworthy public servant'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of South Australia, vol 2 (Syd, 1890)
  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • P. Mander-Jones, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) Inc. (Adel, 1981)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch) (Index v 1-40, 1885/86-1938/39)
  • Public Service Review (South Australia), 1 (Feb 1893), no 7, p 60
  • Observer (Adelaide), 27 Feb 1915
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 8 June 1918
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 July 1923
  • G. N. Hawker, The Development of the South Australian Civil Service 1836-1916 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1967)
  • Gill family records, PRG 170 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

E. L. D. Durward, 'Gill, Thomas (1849–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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