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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Horatio Spencer Wills

c. 1859
an unknown artist

1/6 th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in a brass matt in leather case (closed: 9.2 cm x 8.2 cm depth 1.7 cm, sight: 6.7 cm x 5.4 cm)

Horatio Spencer Howe Wills (1811–1861), pastoralist, politician and newspaper proprietor, was born in Sydney, several months after the death of his father, Edward Spencer Wills, a merchant and shipowner who'd arrived in New South Wales under a life sentence for highway robbery in 1799. When Horatio was twelve months old, his mother, Sarah, married George Howe, the publisher of the Sydney Gazette. At age twelve, Horatio was apprenticed to his step-brother, Robert, who'd inherited the Gazette on George Howe's death in 1821. Over the course of his apprenticeship, Wills absconded at least three times, at one point taking his stepbrother master to court on allegations of ill treatment. Despite the bitterness of his association with Howe, Wills took over the running of the Gazette following Howe's death in January 1829; later, in 1832, he established his own newspaper, the short-lived Currency Lad. By 1834, now married, out of the newspaper trade, and able to claim his inheritance, Wills had gone into farming, acquiring his first property, Burra Burra (south of present-day Queanbeyan) in the early 1830s. In December 1839, Wills left Burra Burra for the Port Phillip district, ultimately selecting a 120,000 acre run near Ararat, which he named Lexington. After selling Lexington in 1852, Wills and his substantial family (the first six of his nine children were born between 1834 and 1852) moved to Point Henry, near Geelong. Wills was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council in 1855 and the following year joined the first Legislative Assembly, serving as the Member for South Grant until 1859. Having undertaken two journeys to Queensland in search of further farming opportunities, Wills leased Cullin-la-ringo, near Emerald, in 1860. Overlanding from Brisbane with a party of some 25 stockmen, servants and their families (and 10,500 sheep), Wills reached Cullin-la-ringo after an eight-month journey in early October 1861 and immediately set about establishing a station. Less than a fortnight later, he and eighteen others were murdered when a group of Aboriginal people mounted a violent raid on the property. The new arrivals' transactions with the locals had hitherto been peaceful, and it is now thought that Wills and his party were the victims of an attack meted out in revenge for atrocities committed by a neighbouring squatter against the local Gayiri people. Reprisal for the Cullin-la-ringo killings was swift, indiscriminate and brutal, with some historians estimating that 370 Aboriginal people were killed as a result of revenge attacks carried out over the next several months.

Wills' sons retained leases on Cullin-la-ringo until 1877; the property was sold for grain production in the late 1940s, and was broken up altogether when the venture subsequently failed.

Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Horatio S. Wills (age 48 in 1859)

Donated by

Terry Wills Cooke (7 portraits)

Related portraits

1. Horatio Spencer Wills, c. 1870. All Wilmot & Key.

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Tom Wills, c. 1870 by William Handcock
Tom Wills, c. 1870 by William Handcock
Tom Wills, c. 1870 by William Handcock
Tom Wills, c. 1870 by William Handcock

Secure the shadow ere the substance fade

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2015

The tragic tale of Tom Wills, the ‘inventor’ of Australian Rules Football.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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