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Gill, Walter (1851–1929)

from Advertiser (Adelaide)

Mr. Walter Gill, F.L.S., who retired from the position of Conservator of Forests in 1923, died at his home at Dover-street, Malvern, yesterday afternoon in his 78th year. By his death another prominent figure among those who performed useful and loyal service for the State has been removed. He has left a lasting memorial of his work in the forest plantations of the State. During his term of office 10,672,000 trees were planted, and the number of trees issued under the system of free distribution to landholders, schools, and public bodies was 9,500,000.

Mr. Gill was a son of the late Rev. Walter Gill, Independent minister, of Parkstone, Dorset, England, and was born at Welford, Northamptonshire. He came of a line of tree-growers. The basis of his study of forestry he attributed to the early teaching given him by his mother, who was an enthusiastic botanist, and taught her son to love plants. When a young man in England he was in a bank for seven years—he thought nothing of walking 10 miles of a morning in search of flowers before going to work, and in the afternoon, after banking hours, he would again ramble the countryside for specimens. In December, 1876, Mr. Gill came to South Australia, to go upon a station property owned by an uncle. After gaining pastoral experience he became overseer for Mr. John Howard Angas at Mount Remarkable, a famous station in those days and for years later, but now cut up for the settlement of soldiers. In 1884 Mr. Gill was appointed inspector of credit lands. During his travels, covering many thousands of miles throughout the State, he was invariably on the lookout for botanical specimens to send to the then Conservator of Forests, Mr. J. E. Brown. In 1886 he was given the position of chief forester at Wirrabara, and four years later, on the departure of Mr. Brown for New South Wales, Mr. Gill was appointed Conservator of Forests in his stead. Mr. Gill was the first in South Australia to utilise successfully the Remarkable pine (Pinus Insignis) for commercial purposes. This tree matures in South Australia in half the time that it takes in Europe, and makes excellent timber, especially for the manufacture of fruit-packing cases. He gave special attention to the cultivation of eucalypts, pines, and other trees in this State. Being a practical photographer, he applied the art to illustrate the operations of the Woods and Forests Department in annual reports and in lectures on forestry. This widely increased the public interest on the subject.

Mr. Gill was, in December 1890, elected to the fellowship of the Linnean Society, and six months later was made a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society of England. He leaves a family of four. They are Miss Hilda Gill, the well-known singer; Messrs. F. Gill (Somerville, Victoria), E. A. Gill (Sydney), and W. E. Gill (Keith). He was connected with the Malvern Methodist Church for many years, and was for some time a trustee. He was a justice of the peace, and consulting forester to South Australian Perpetual Forests, Limited. Mrs.Gill died in 1916.

On the occasion of the retirement of Mr. Gill in December 1923, the Commissioner of Forest Lands (Mr. J. Cowan), at a farewell gathering, said— "Mr. Gill, you have a record of which any man might justly be proud. You can be happy in the knowledge that you have made your work a success; that you have won the appreciation of the Government, and the friendship and esteem of all with whom you have come into contact." Mr. Cowan then, at the request of the officers of the department, asked Mr. Gill to accept a Morris chair and coffee service as a token of their respect and esteem, and expressed the hope that in the years to come he would enjoy all the good things that life could give. Mr. Gill, in reply, said that many years ago a young man wrote to Thomas Carlyle and asked for some advice as to how to succeed in life. Carlyle wrote him a long letter in reply, in which he said, among other things:—"Study to do faithfully what ever in your actual situation there and now you find either expressly or tacitly laid to your charge; that is your post; stand in it like a true soldier, silently devour the many chagrins of it, as all human situations have many, and be your aim not to quit it without doing all that it at least required of you." These words had always been a great stimulus to him: while, in addition, he had ever had the concrete exemplification of the abstract idea in the noble example of the grand old Civil servant long since passed away, to whom it was written. Fidelity to duty had always been the driving power in all valuable service, and as long as the officers of the service were guided by this principle, so long would South Australia continue to possess, as she now did, a service not to be excelled in the number of men of integrity and ability it contained.

The Chief Secretary (Mr. Tassie), referring to the death of Mr. Gill, said he knew the deceased gentleman well and had a great appreciation of his work. He was a most efficient officer, and while Conservator of Forests was devoted to his duty. The credit for the fine position that South Australia occupied in forestry activities was due largely to the excellent preliminary work of Mr. Gill.

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'Gill, Walter (1851–1929)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gill-walter-14561/text25668, accessed 25 November 2017.

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