Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Thomas William (Tom) Roberts



Personal Photo 1
Tom Roberts c. 1895

Tom Roberts came to live in Collingwood in 1869 as a boy aged 14 when his widowed mother emigrated to Australia with her three children. He first studied art and design in Collingwood, where he also developed an appreciation of the Australian landscape.  Over the years he became one on Australia’s best known painters.

Tom was born in Dorchester, Dorset where his father, Richard Roberts, was editor of the Dorset County Chronicle. Tom was educated at the Grammar School in Dorchester.  After his father’s death, the family moved to live in Collingwood, where Mrs Roberts’ mother and sister had settled in the 1850s. They struggled financially and Tom helped his mother to sew satchels after work.

He became interested in art and studied at the East Collingwood Artisans’ School of Design in 1873 while working as a photographer’s assistant in Smith Street. He also participated in the associated Collingwood Artisans’ School of Works, winning a prize in 1873. Tom’s address between 1871 and 1874 was Dight Street Collingwood. In 1874 he joined the National Gallery School and worked for a photographer in Bourke Street. He also attended anatomy classes at the University of Melbourne to improve his technique in painting figures. He soon recognised the special character of the Australian landscape.  Living in Johnston Street Collingwood in 1874, his appreciation of the local landscape dates from his walks in Dight’s Paddock (between Johnston Street and Dights Falls) and Studley Park just over the river. Here Tom introduced his friend Fred McCubbin to the delights of sketching the native flora. An early work of Tom’s, dating from the late 1870s, was a pencil drawing called ‘In Dight’s Paddock’, done in the picturesque style favoured by National Gallery teacher Louis Buvelot

He received a bursary to go to London and was the first major Australian painter to be selected to study at the Royal Academy of Arts which he attended from 1881-1884. He also travelled and painted in Spain and Italy. On his return to Melbourne he inspired other artists to paint the local landscapes en plein air, that is, outdoors.  The artists’ camps included Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor and Frederick McCubbin. They became known as the Heidelberg School.

He travelled in New South Wales and painted the rural scene, including his famous ‘Shearing the Rams’.  He married a former art student Lillie Williamson from Tasmania and they settled in Balmain Sydney in 1897.

He also became a noted portrait painter, which provided a major source of income. One of his local portraits, painted in 1889, hangs in the Collingwood Town Hall – Mayor Henry Walker, the very same mayor who in 1873 had handed young Tom his prize. A major commission was the huge official painting of the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament in the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings in 1901 – known as ‘the Big Picture’.

From 1903 he lived in London and finally returned to live in Australia in 1923. He and his wife settled in Kallista in the Dandenongs, his home until his death in 1931 aged 75.

While his reputation as an artist at times slumped during his lifetime, he has since been recognised as a most significant Australian painter and 2016 saw a major exhibition of his work at the Australian National Gallery, Ca

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
9 March 1856 Dorchester, Dorset, England
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson, 18??-1928 1896, East Kew Caleb, 1898-1965
Jean Irving Boyes 1928 None
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Dight Street Collingwood Not identified
113 Johnston Street Collingwood Demolished
Work Addresses
Work Street Work City Status of Building
Smith Street Collingwood Not identified
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
14 September 1931 Kallista, Victoria Illawarra churchyard, Tasmania

ADB Tom Roberts
Topliss, Tom Roberts, 1856-1931: a catalogue raisonne
Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruit.

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