Collection Online
oil on canvas
63.5 × 52.2 cm
Place/s of Execution
Melbourne, Victoria
Accession Number
Australian Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Colonel Aubrey H. L. Gibson (Rtd) in memory of John and Anne Gibson, settlers (1887), 1967
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Vizard Foundation
Gallery location
Gallery 6
Level 2, NGV Australia
About the work

Coming south is a definitive image of the migrant experience, and can be seen to be Tom Roberts's first exploration of one of the great themes of Australian life.

Returning to Australia, Tom Roberts travelled aboard the S S Lusitania in 1885 after four years in Europe. His sketches of the crowded deck provided the basis for this painting. Note the dual sources of power, steam and sail. All saloon passengers paid more money for the privilege of space and privacy, ensuring a more comfortable journey. To relieve the monotony and the limited world of shipboard life their day time was spent in conversation, sketching, writing letters and diaries, playing cards and games and even shooting seagulls. Their evenings were spent enjoying formal meals in splendid dining rooms, amusing themselves with music and dancing.


Coming South 1886
J. & T. Thallon
95 Collins Street East,

The frame uses composition decorative elements on a wooden chassis. The torus ornament is conventional imbricated laurel leaves and berries, cross-banded at the centres and corners. Originally, all the surfaces were oil gilded except for the taenia and the slip, which appear to have been water gilded, the taenia burnished.


The original gilding had been covered with gold coloured paint and toned with a grey paint layer in a previous restoration. The frame was restored in a more sympathetic manner in 1997.

95.5 x 82.2 x 10.6 cm; sight 62.7 x 49.4 cm
Coming South 1886 Tom ROBERTS
Coming South 1886 (colourman) Tom ROBERTS
Coming South 1886 (colourman)

The frame is representative of a popular cassetta style used extensively by Thallon in the years following the middle 1880s.2 There is some ambiguity about the originality of this frame for the painting; it carries two Thallon labels of the same address but in different styles, suggesting the frame was in the workshop more than once. Another label associates the frame with a former owner but it seems likely this is the first framing of the painting. The frame forms an interesting companion to the near identical frame on Roberts’ Slumbering sea, Mentone, (A12-1980) one year later, and it is not unreasonable to think it was a choice of the artist following his return in 1885 from Europe, where frames in this form had gained popularity.


1 Hilary Maddocks, ‘Picture Framemakers in Melbourne c. 1860–1930’ in vol. 1, Frames, Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art, University of Melbourne Conservation Service, 1999.

2 A frame similar to the one on Coming South is found on Roberts’ portrait Annie Evans, c. 1885, in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.