William Timlin was born in Ashington, Northumberland, England. From his earliest days he was a most talented draughtsman. He studied art at Morpeth Grammar School and won a scholarship to Armstrong College. He came to Kimberley in 1912 and was apprenticed to the architect DW Greatbatch.
The town of Kimberley, established in 1873 was for some time largely a community of miners whose main pastimes took the form of light entertainment - sport, music hall and such legitimate theatre as was available. Organised cultural activity had its beginnings in June 1903 when the Athenaeum Club was founded. In 1914 as a recent settler and young artist-architect, William Timlin set about organizing an art section for the Athenaeum, the active membership of which shrunk considerably following World War I. The continuing organization and administration of art affairs was left to a very small group - the most notable protagonists of which were W Timlin, A Pett and FW Perkins supported by W Humphreys.
It was decided that the Art Section of the Athenaeum should create the nucleus of an art gallery for Kimerley and over the following twenty years the group sponsored a number of exhibitions and art functions to raise funds for the purchase for paintings.
Timlin was a prodigiously energetic and immensely versatile personality. He was a successful architect and with partner DW Greatbatch he was responsible for several major buildings in Kimberley such as the Kimberley Hospital, Boys' High School, Girls' High School and the Cenotaph. He was an active organiser and the moving spirit in local cultural events. He designed seals and decorations, theatre programmes and illuminations in Johannesburg and Kimberley. He also wrote stories, books and music, illustrated periodicals and produced a vast output of paintings, etchings and pastels as well as the watercolour fantasies for which he is best known.
Of all his fantasies the ones which retain significance are found among the studies for "The building of a Fairy City". This is an escape along whimsical paths leading from his profession as an architect. There is some fine structural drawing in this series and some imaginative architectural day-dreaming. His other enchanted woods are charming in their fairytale genre and the pictures form his book "The Ship that sailed to Mars" are talented illustrations.
Distressed by the accidental killing of a snowy owl whilst on a hunting trip, Timlin resolved to immortalize it in his work as his familiar emblem.