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George and Jemima Billet with family
, c.1852

by C.H.T. Costantini

watercolour on paper (frame: 38.7 cm x 34.2 cm depth 1 cm, sheet: 28.0 cm x 23.0 cm)

George Billett (1812–1885) was a farmer and landowner and the son of two ex-convicts. His father, a weaver, was found guilty of stealing silk and came to Sydney with the First Fleet; his mother was transported in 1790 for thieving silverware. Both were later sent to Norfolk Island, where they married and acquired land and, eventually, pardons. They were relocated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1808; around 1813, they moved to Pitt Water – present-day Sorell – where many other Norfolk Island ex-convict families had settled. George’s marriage to a daughter of one such family, Jemima Larsom (1818–1891), took place in February 1835; their first child was born the following year, and another eleven children followed between 1838 and 1858. George maintained an active interest in local political matters, served as a magistrate, and contributed significantly to farming activity in the district before retiring in 1880.

Charles Henry Theodore Costantini was a surgeon who was twice transported to Australia: to New South Wales in 1823, and to Van Diemen’s Land in 1827. After serving his time at Macquarie Harbour and Port Arthur, Costantini worked as an itinerant artist, creating ‘portraits in the most correct style, also, views, and sketches of gentleman’s farms, &c.’ between 1838 and his departure from the colony in the late 1850s.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2016
Accession number: 2016.44