painter, was born in Liverpool on 8 November 1803. His real name was Holland and his father, James Holland, was a river pilot on the Mersey. In the early 1820s William moved to London and worked for the well-known publisher and printseller, Rudolf Ackermann; many years later the Hobart Town Chronicle (23 March 1833) reported that he had been one of Ackermann’s 'best draughtsmen’. He took painting lessons from William Mulready R.A., who had a strong interest in seventeenth-century Dutch art – a factor that played a significant part in Gould’s Van Diemen’s Land paintings.
W.B. Holland (Gould) married when aged about twenty-one, then put his art training to work at the Staffordshire potteries. He settled in Burslem and is likely to have worked at the famous Spode factory, presumably painting scenes and flowers on their china. By mid 1826, however, he had deserted his wife and child, adopted his new name and fled to Northampton. After being gaoled for a minor offence, he was arrested a second time, charged with stealing some clothing and on 8 January 1827 sentenced at the Northampton Quarter Sessions to transportation for seven years. He reached Van Diemen’s Land aboard the Asia on 7 December 1827. During the voyage he painted portraits of the ship’s officers and befriended a fellow convict artist, the sculptor and monumental mason Daniel Herbert .
On arrival at Hobart Town Gould was put to work tending the pottery ovens. He was constantly in trouble with the authorities, largely due to a propensity for alcohol, which remained with him for the rest of his life. In August 1829 he was an innocent party to a mutiny aboard the brig Cyprus . Marooned with other convicts and the military guard at Recherche Bay, Gould made a valiant effort to raise the alarm. By way of reward Lieutenant-Governor Arthur assigned him to Dr James Scott, the colonial surgeon and amateur botanist. Scott, apparently a sympathetic and understanding master, had Gould make watercolour studies of the botanical specimens he collected in the bush around Hobart Town. Thus Gould gained his first opportunity to paint in Van Diemen’s Land. On 23 March 1833, the Hobart Town Chronicle reported that Scott had 'one of the most splendid collections of inimitable drawings, not only of plants, but most of the birds of island hitherto discovered, among which are several hundred nondescripts … for the most part drawn and coloured by Gould’. The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery holds 177 of these, dispersed from three sketchbooks, while the Allport Library and Museum has a fine watercolour on Bristol board study of a native orchid. One of Gould’s fish studies, The Poisonous Toad Fish of Van Diemen’s Land , engraved by Charles Bruce , appeared in the Hobart Town Almanack for 1832 to accompany an article by Scott.
At the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement in 1832-33 Gould was again assigned to a medical man, William de Little, and made further detailed studies of fish and marine life (Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts). Together with his botanical specimens, these marine studies represent the artist’s finest work, providing a decided contrast to some of his clumsy and poorly-drawn oil paintings. While at Macquarie Harbour Gould also drew caricatures of Aborigines, painted a fine topographical study of the prison-island and presented a pair of fruit and flower paintings to G.A. Robinson , 'Conciliator’ of the Aborigines.
Emancipated on 25 June 1835, Gould found work in Launceston with Henry Palmer, a coach-builder. His task was to paint armorial designs on the new carriages. He was also employed as a scene-painter in the town. When the melodrama The Bushrangers of Norwood Vale by Henry Melville was produced at Launceston in November 1835, it had a backdrop painted by the 'eminent Colonial Artist, Mr. Gould’. But his disrespect for the law and continual drinking again led to trouble and forced him to leave Launceston. Returning to Hobart Town, Gould married Scott’s former convict servant, Susan (known as Amy) Reynolds, in Old Trinity Church on Boxing Day 1836. This second marriage signalled the real beginning of Gould’s painting career. During the following seventeen years he painted prolifically, embracing a wide variety of subjects including still life, portraits, landscapes, seascapes and caricatures. On 3 May 1837 the Colonial Times advertised that 'A collection of drawings of Flowers, Fruit, Native Plants, Shrubs, Birds, Fishes &c., by that celebrated and eccentric genius “Gould”’ was on sale at George Peck 's Repository of the Arts in Elizabeth Street. He also continued to produce theatrical scenery, painting the backdrops for the 'grand, romantic melodrama, “Frankenstein”’ at the Hobart Town Theatre Royal in 1837.
Gould, however, is best known for his fruit and flower oil paintings done in a seventeenth-century Dutch manner. Such works, together with his oft-repeated compositions featuring game birds and rabbits, would have had wide appeal to the citizens of Hobart Town as decorations for the walls of their homes. Although a contemporary of such artists as John Glover , Thomas Bock and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright , Gould was the only artist in Van Diemen’s Land to specialise in still-life oil painting.
William and Amy Gould had five children. The family lived in poverty, moving about Hobart from one rented dwelling to another. During this period Gould served several gaol sentences for stealing, continued to drink heavily and eventually suffered ill health. His only income was from the sale of his paintings and their quality varied alarmingly. He died from natural causes at his home in Macquarie Street, Hobart Town, on 11 December 1853. A reputed self-portrait painted in 1838 depicts a youthful idealised gentleman (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery); Thomas Bock sketched him more realistically.