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George Lacy

The works of George Lacy (c1817-1878) shed a unique light on the lives of the diggers. Lacy was known as a painter, illustrator, writer and teacher, but little known about his history. He arrived in Sydney in 1842 on the Wilmot, made friends with some undesirable character and was "fleeced" as a result. He then travelled to the Hunter River where he took up taxidermy and preserving unusual native animals.

George Lacy
Moist weather – raod to the diggings.
New South Wales, c. 1852
32.4 x 38.8cm
By permission of the National Library of Australia

There is evidence indicating that Lacy contributed ten paintings to an exhibition held in Sydney in 1849, under the guise of G. L. of Wollongong. In the early 1850s, Lacy is on the gold fields of central west New South Wales, where his works centre on the local mining community. His portrayal of their lives and losses is often handled in a comical, humorous manner, primarily in watercolour. His work is often likened to that of S.T. Gill, but Lacy’s works often make light of hardship, reinforced by humorous titles. His I’m blessed if he hasn’t grabbed Harry is a key example of his comical tone depicting diggers trying to evade the police who are checking for mining licences. From the distribution of his works it is believed that he moved to Victoria around 1855 and he is thought to have sold his paintings at stores at the diggings.

Lacy’s, Sam, my son, I’m ashamed to see you in that state c1860, amusingly shows a drunken digger sitting up against a tree with other intoxicated men in the background. He did paint some more serious works such as Commissioners Barracks at Sofala – Diggers waiting for licences c1852 and Moist weather – road to the diggings c1852, but these seem to belong earlier in his career and soon gave way to the more comical works of c1860. His great interest in painting families of the diggers is evident in Digger’s wife in full dress c1852 and in a lighter manner in Oh! My goodness gracious, I’ll be off – Hold on, Poll my girl, all right c1860.


By Tony Ellwood

From Gold and Civilisation, National Museum of Australia 2001. Published by Art Exhibitions Australia Ltd and the National Museum of Australia.


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