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painter and public servant, was born in Edinburgh, son of James Neill, a printer, and his wife Ann. Neill senior dissolved his partnership with his cousin in the family printing business in 1818 and the two operated rival establishments until the Neill family migrated to Van Diemen’s Land. Robert arrived at Hobart Town in the Skelton on 27 November 1820 with his parents, brother James and sister Ann. He spent his working life as an employee of the British Army’s Commissariat. In 1826 he was offered the position of assistant surveyor but continued in the Commissariat because of the pressure of work, a course of action which he later claimed was greatly to his disadvantage. His salary was lower and he had to sell a land grant to meet financial commitments entailed in providing for his parents.

The Neill family had a long-standing interest in natural history, an interest mentioned in his father’s obituary after he died in April 1829. Robert was a member of the Van Diemen’s Land Society, a body formed in 1829 to promote the publication of local and scientific information and establish a museum and botanic garden. He maintained a lifelong correspondence with his father’s cousin and former partner, Patrick Neill, a respected naturalist, and sent specimens back to Edinburgh.

Neill served at Hobart Town, Launceston, Maria Island and Port Arthur. The salt diet at the two latter places adversely affected his health, and he returned to Hobart Town in June 1833. He was posted to Launceston about 1835 and promoted deputy assistant commissary-general in January 1837. In August 1839 he left Launceston to go to the Swan River settlement (Western Australia). By 1842, when stationed at Albany, King George Sound, Neill was anxious to be relieved, yet was forced to spend over five years more in Western Australia, being promoted assistant commissary-general in December 1846 as some compensation.

Having collected fish and reptiles at Albany in 1841 he proceeded to make a series of paintings from these. 'The outline of nearly every specimen was taken from actual profile , by laying the fish upon the paper’, he stated. At the suggestion of Sir George Grey , Governor of South Australia, Neill in 1845 presented these watercolours and accompanying manuscript notes to the British Museum (now Natural History Museum, London). There were 58 paintings of fish, eight of reptiles and one of a mammal. Sir John Richardson’s 'Catalogue of reptiles and fish found at King George’s Sound by Deputy Assistant Commissary General Neill’ was included as an appendix to E.J. Eyre’s Journals (London 1845) and Richardson used Neill’s collection for further work published in 1850 and 1851.

Neill also provided illustrations for Eyre’s Journals , including views of both Eyre’s departure from Adelaide in June 1840 and his arrival at King George Sound over a year later: a portrait of Wylie, the Aboriginal boy who accompanied Eyre for a large part of the journey, and Kangaroo Dance of King George’s Sound . However, when Neill’s drawings were engraved for Eyre’s publication, John Edward Gray, keeper of zoology at the British Museum who wrote the introduction to the Journals , misread the signature as John Neill and the engraver compounded the error, the plates acknowledging the artist as 'J. Neil’.

In both Van Diemen’s Land and Western Australia Robert Neill took a particular interest in the Aboriginal people. He collected Aboriginal artefacts (later presented to the University Museum, Edinburgh) and sketched Aboriginal subjects. In his diaries George Augustus Robinson refers to an 1828 portrait of an Aboriginal woman which Neill presented to him at Port Arthur in March 1833 (unlocated), and Robinson also owned a 'coloured drawing of Cape Barren Geese’ inscribed R. Neill delt. July 1830. Neill’s Indigenes des Deux Sexes, Van Diemen was published as a lithograph in Dumont D’Urville’s Voyage de la Corvette Astrolabe , while a small vignette, Natives of Van Diemen’s Land appeared in Ross’s 1830 Hobart Town Almanac (hand-coloured proof, National Library of Australia). Three pencil drawings of Tasmanian Aborigines are in the Mitchell Library; a drawing titled Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land was exhibited at Hobart Town in March 1851.

An oil on board painting showing 'Natives Unloading the Catch’ by 'R. Neill’ (22.5 × 30 cm) dated 1828 was sold by Phillips, the London auctioneers, in 1989. Four watercolour views of the Maria Island penal settlement (two Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, two Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts) are now considered his work although formerly attributed to Jane Brownell, daughter of the surgeon on the island in 1831 when Neill’s brother James was storekeeper there (she was far too young to have drawn them). Neill also painted stage scenery on at least one occasion. The Hobart Town Courier of 4 July 1834 noted that at a concert at the Freemason’s Hotel the scenery had been painted 'in a bold and pleasing style by Mr Offor and Mr R. Neil [sic]’.

In November 1834 Neill married Helen Story in St David’s, Hobart Town. By April 1842 their sixth child was expected but only Robert, born 17 December 1836, had survived infancy. Neill was recalled to Britain in 1848 and appointed to the Windward and Leeward islands in the West Indies. He served as assistant commissary-general until September 1852 when he, his wife and four children, died at Barbados of yellow fever.

Glover, Margaret
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