Samuel Gillott was born on 29 October 1838 in Yorkshire, England, and was educated at Sheffield Grammar School. He arrived in Melbourne at the age of 17, in 1856, and was employed by the legal firm Vaughan, Moule & Seddon. He meanwhile studied law at the University of Melbourne, securing the Chancellor's exhibition in 1860-61 and a gold medal in 1861-62. He was admitted to practice in 1863 and immediately became a partner in the business. Gillott married Elizabeth Jane Hawken in September the same year; they had no children.

Gillott worked for many years as a successful lawyer, and increased his wealth by shrewd property investment in the city. In 1896 he was elected to the Melbourne City Council. In 1899 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly seat of East Melbourne. By 1900 he was president of the Law Institute. In the same year he was elected Mayor and held the position for the following two terms. His timing was impeccable. With the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visiting Melbourne and the advent of Federation, Melbourne was in the spotlight in 1901. He entertained his royal guests lavishly, and in return was given the title 'lord mayor' and a knighthood.

Gillott was a minister in the second Turner government and remained in the subsequent Peacock ministry. Under Thomas Bent he became chief secretary, and was minister for labour from February 1904. He became embroiled in a gambling controversy - it was suggested that he was responsible for illegal off-course gambling as chief secretary - and hastily introduced a gaming suppression bill. It was on the way to becoming law when the Truth accused him of lending money to Melbourne's leading madam. Gillott was denounced by demagogue reformer W.H. Judkins, and hastily resigned, citing health concerns. He left for England and remained there for a year.

On his return to Melbourne Gillott resumed his seat at the Melbourne City Council and continued his work on the committee of the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital. In 1911 he became president of the Working Men's College.

While on another visit to England with his wife in 1913, Gillott fell down a flight of stairs at night and was killed. His body was returned to Melbourne for burial.

Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Pers. Comm. Peter Gillott 21/11/2011

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