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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.

William Robertson, 1866

Thomas Adams Hill

albumen paper carte de visite (support: 9.8 cm x 6.3 cm, image: 8.2 cm x 5.9 cm)

More images of this artwork

William Robertson (1798–1874), pastoralist and entrepreneur, was a key player in the early settlement of Victoria. A farmer’s son, Robertson came to Van Diemen’s Land with his brother John in 1824. He initially took up land near Hobart before, in 1832, establishing Robertson Brothers, an emporium and importer of fine homewares, fabrics and other furnishings. In Campbell Town in September 1834 he married Margaret Whyte (1811–1866), the daughter of Scottish free settlers. By this time Robertson had amassed sufficient capital to join a number of other investors, including John Batman, in a scheme to expand pastoral activities into the unclaimed districts across Bass Strait. The consortium financed Batman’s exploratory trip to Port Phillip in 1835, during the course of which he made a ‘treaty’ with the Aboriginal people that he later used as the basis for a 600,000 acre land claim on behalf of the syndicate – the Port Phillip Association. Robertson travelled to Port Phillip in 1836 and again in 1837 to select his share of the land, his holdings by the late 1840s concentrated in the area around Colac. Robertson stocked his properties with ‘the best bulls and cows that could be got in the colonies’ as well as making return journeys to Britain to select livestock for export. He oversaw the operation of his pastoral empire from his home, Melrose, in Battery Point, until retiring from his Hobart business in 1852. The family settled permanently at Robertson’s Colac property, Corangamarah, later known as The Hill, in the early 1860s. On his death in 1874, Robertson was described as a ‘founder’ of Victoria’s fortunes: ‘He took an important part in its early struggles for existence, and never ceased his exertions in it until by his acumen, energy, and perseverance, his lands became a vast possession and himself a millionaire.’

Thomas Adams Hill was one of several photographers who emigrated to Victoria in the 1850s. Arriving in Melbourne around 1855, he worked with Townsend Duryea and Archibald Macdonald before setting up his own practice in Collins Street in 1856. Moving to a studio next door to the GPO on Bourke Street, in 1858 he advertised the implementation of various ‘improvements’, his services including daguerreotypes and ambrotypes as well as hand-painted photographic miniatures on ivory. For a while he worked in partnership with Montagu Scott, who was employed ‘to facilitate the execution’ of this ‘new style of PORTRAIT, combining the brilliancy of an oil painting with the invariable accuracy of a photograph.’ Hill is perhaps best known as the creator of the photographs of Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills which were taken shortly after both men had been appointed to the Victorian Exploring Expedition. Soon after their deaths were confirmed, The Argus reported that ‘we have received two excellent photographs, on a small scale, one of Burke and the other of Wills, which are now on sale at Hill’s Gallery, next the Post-office, in Bourke-street.’ Hill’s photographs of the explorers subsequently became the basis for the many commemorative portraits issued in the wake of their deaths.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2018.28

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Thomas Adams Hill

William Robertson (age 68 in 1866)

Donated by

Malcolm Robertson (16 portraits)

Related portraits

1. William Robertson, c. 1852. All Thomas Bock.

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.

Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86
Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86
Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86
Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly), 1885-86

Brothers on farms

Magazine article by Malcolm Robertson, 2011

Malcolm Robertson tells the family history of one of Australia's earliest patrons of the arts, his Scottish born great great great grandfather, William Robertson.

Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill

Carte-o-mania!

Previous exhibition, 2018

Drawn from the NPG’s burgeoning collection of cartes de visite, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the wit, style and substance of the pocket-sized portraits that were taken and collected like crazy in post-goldrush Australia.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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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.