Born: 28 October 1855, Little Para, South Australia
Died: 5 June 1912, Belair, South Australia
Francis James Gillenwas born on 28 October 1855, the eldest son of Thomas Gillen and Bridget (nee McCan). Commencing work as a postal messenger, he spent his career in South Australia’s Postal and Telegraph Department. In 1875 Gillen joined a party of newly appointed telegraph operators to staff telegraph stations on the Overland Telegraph Line. He served as telegraph operator at the Charlotte Waters station from 1875 until 1890, when he was promoted to manage the Alice Springs station, until his southern assignment to Moonta in 1899.
In Alice Springs, Gillen had a good rapport with the Arrernte people and the locals so was appointed both Sub-Protector of Aborigines and Special Magistrate. After meeting Walter Baldwin Spencer (AA 301) on the 1894 Horn Expedition (AA 139), the two developed a partnership, documenting Aboriginal culture and kinship.
During 1901 to 1902 Spencer and Gillen undertook an expedition, travelling by buggy and wagon with two Arrernte men, Erliakilyika (Jimmy Kite) and Parunda (Warwick) and a police-trooper, Harry Chance, from Oodnadatta to Borroloola. Their findings were published in The Northern Tribes of Central Australia in 1904.
Gillen married Amelia Besley in 1891 and they had six children.
The South Australian Museum Archives contains photograph albums, loose photographs, glass negatives, an 1875 diary, series of drawings by Erlikilyika (Jimmy Kite) and family historical material.