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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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William Baker Ashton, First Governor of Adelaide Gaol

c. 1849
Henry H. Glover

watercolour on paper (frame: 43.0 cm x 38.0 cm, support: 21.5 cm x 15.5 cm)

William Baker Ashton (1800–1854) arrived in Adelaide with his wife, Charlotte, and their first three children in November 1838. A former soldier and member of the Bow Street patrol, and having risen to the rank of sergeant in London’s Metropolitan Police Service, Ashton had been appointed by the commissioners for South Australia to the role of Sub-Inspector of Police, one of two such officers tasked with establishing policing in the new colony. In January 1839, Ashton was appointed first governor of Adelaide Gaol, despite the prisoner population at this time being accommodated in a temporary stockade from which escapes were commonplace. In 1840, Governor George Gawler instigated the construction of a secure, sandstone prison building, the first half of which was ready for use by April 1841. Ashton served as the governor of the gaol for the next fourteen years and was assisted in his work by Charlotte, who worked unpaid for several years before officially being given the job of prison matron. The gaol became known during the period of their tenure as ‘Ashton’s Hotel’, perhaps because of William’s well-documented generosity to inmates, such as providing them with Christmas dinner each year at his own expense. Ashton was also known as a judicious manager and was commended in the press for the ‘efficient manner’ in which he performed his duties. He was the target of misconduct allegations nevertheless and in early 1854 was accused of transgressions including drunkenness, misuse of government property, trafficking with prisoners, stealing rations and withholding prison earnings. It was in the midst of the legal proceedings relating to these charges that Ashton died, as a result of cardiac failure, in April 1854. Adelaide Gaol is still held by some to be haunted by his ghost.

This watercolour is one of a number of depictions of Ashton by Henry Glover senior (c. 1810–1858), who emigrated to South Australia in 1848. In addition to his work as a publican, Glover produced paintings of Adelaide streets and scenes as well as portraits. The State Library of South Australia holds three of his portraits of William Ashton, including a group portrait titled The Governor and staff at the Adelaide Gaol 1850, which includes a portrait of Ashton’s son, Albert, who was his father’s ‘constant companion’.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2011

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Henry H. Glover (age 39 in 1849)

William Baker Ashton (age 49 in 1849)

Subject professions

Government and leadership

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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