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John Alexander Gilfillan


John Alexander Gilfillan settled in Whanganui with his wife Mary and their six children in late 1842. Gilfillan was a gifted artist and his work provides a valuable record of Whanganui’s early colonial history. The family arrived in Wellington on Christmas Day 1841 and secured an allotment of 110 acres (45 ha) in the Matarawa Valley near Whanganui, moving onto it in late 1845. Their farm was attacked by a group of upper-river Māori in April 1847. Mary and three of the children were killed.

John Gilfillan and his surviving children moved to Australia. He initially settled in Sydney, where he used sketches from his time in Whanganui to complete the painting Interior of Putiki Pah, which was hung in the New Zealand Court at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

Gilfillan moved to Adelaide in 1851 and then went to the Victorian goldfields in 1853. Some of his sketches from this time appeared in the Illustrated London News. In 1856 he moved to Melbourne, where he worked for the Customs Department. He retired in 1861 and died two years later, aged about 70.

This photo of John Gilfillan and a woman - probably his daughter - was taken in Melbourne around 1856.


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/2-070343-G
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image

How to cite this page

John Alexander Gilfillan, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated