Gilfillan, a Jersey-born Scottish artist, emigrated to New Zealand with his second wife, Mary Bridges, and their four children in 1841 to farm on the New Zealand Company's settlement at Wanganui on the North Island. He continued to paint in New Zealand, sketching Maori figures and scenes, portraits of officers from the local garrison and landscapes which reveal he travelled to other parts of the North Island. With Strutt, he was the only other artist to paint and exhibit pictures of the Maori in the mid-19th century. His New Zealand sojourn was abruptly ended when the Gilfillan farm was attacked by Maoris in April 1847 and his wife and three of his children killed. He emigrated to Sydney at the end of 1847 with three of his surviving children, leaving behind his married daughter, Georgina Allison, in Wanganui. He settled in Australia for the rest of his life, working up New Zealand subjects from his sketchbooks into pictures, notably his Interior of a Native Village, or 'Pa' [allegedly the Putiki-whare-nui Pah], painted in Sydney in 1849, exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 (subsequently destroyed), and lithographed in a small edition for issue within New Zealand and in England to encourage mission work. Extant New Zealand sketchbooks are in the Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin and a collection of pictures, including family portraits and Australian subjects, is in the Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui.