Offered at Marion Antique Auctions on April 6, it depicted the inner harbour of the colony. The 10½in x 19in (2ft 3in x 4ft) watercolour was sketched by Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80) in 1848. It was signed with the artist’s initials and dated to the lower left.
Gill, who was born in Minehead, Somerset, the son of a Baptist minister, had arrived in Adelaide with his family nine years earlier. Setting up a studio in Adelaide’s Gawler Place before later moving to Melbourne and then Sydney, he produced a series of portraits, animal paintings and, most commercial in terms of the current market, views of the Australian landscape and settlements.
Many of the latter were published as lithographs from the 1850s onward. While some of his earlier drawings are now in the National Gallery of South Australia, his watercolours in particular are regarded as important pieces of the historical and topographical record and, while examples do occasionally come to auction, the emergence of this one in the US was deemed a notable opportunity.
It was consigned by the New Bedford Whaling Museum and was among a small group of objects being deaccessioned from its collection. The museum is about 12 miles from the Marion saleroom and this picture had come to the institution from the Kendall Whaling Museum, also in Massachusetts, which merged with New Bedford in 2001.
As Port Adelaide was not a whaling port nor a calling port for US or British whalers, the watercolour was deemed surplus to requirements and it was sold to raise funds for acquisitions and restoration.
Port Adelaide lies on the northern tip of the modern city, dating back to 1836 (it was separate from Adelaide at the time it was founded) but began to expand quickly and later rose to prominence during the Australian gold rush which began only a few years after this picture was painted.
Given the subject matter and with Gill being one of the best-known artists in Australia during this period, the $5000-10,000 estimate attracted seven phone bidders on the day – four from Australia, one from New Zealand and two from the US – before it was knocked down at $30,000 (£22,910) to a bidder in Melbourne (plus 20% buyer’s premium).
While the artist’s auction record for a single picture remains the Aus$90,000 (£41,900) for a view of Sydney from the North Shore sold at Christie’s Australia back in 1992, the sum was the second highest for an Adelaide scene. It stands only behind The Beehive, Corner King William and Rundle Streets, Adelaide that took Aus$55,000 (£27,150) also at Christie’s Australia in 1994.