Jesse Jewhurst Hilder was born on 23 July 1881 at Toowoomba, Queensland and attended the Toowoomba North State School until in 1890 the family moved to Brisbane and he went to Fortitude Valley State School and to Brisbane Grammar School on a three-year scholarship. He had already developed a keen interest in drawing and painting, encouraged by the architect T. H. Addison and artist Walter Jenner.
In 1898 Hilder entered the Brisbane branch of the Bank of New South Wales; he was transferred to Goulburn, N.S.W. in February 1901 and to Bega in June 1902. A shy person, he found at Bega a congenial circle of friends, and made his first art sales. He began to frequent the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, particularly admiring the work of Arthur Streeton, Sydney Long and J. W. Tristram. Fred Leist advised him to show his water-colours to Julian Ashton, who was impressed. Hilder began to study at Ashton’s, giving the name of ‘Joyce’ for fear that the bank would disapprove of his artistic interests; similarly, he signed as ‘Anthony Hood’ on some of his paintings around 1905. At Ashton’s, Hilder made a few friends who subsequently helped to establish his reputation: Sydney Ure Smith, Bertram Stevens and Harry Julius. Being proud and touchy Hilder’s friendships were troubled due to his extreme sensitivity.
In March 1906 he worked at the banks head office at Sydney and at the William Street branch, but became very ill, learning for the first time of his tuberculosis. The remainder of Hilder’s life was a search for a dry, congenial climate. He first exhibited at the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1907 where his work created quite a sensation – Streeton hailed him as a genius. Illness dogged Hilder. He sent fourteen water-colours to the Society of Artists’ exhibition (1908) and all were sold.From mid-1911 his work began to sell steadily and increase in value. Between increasing bouts of illness Hilder continued to paint and made many sketching trips: to Valley Heights (1911), Berowra and Lake Macquarie (1913), and Dora Creek (1915).
He died of pulmonary tuberculosis at Inglewood on 10 April 1916, was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, survived by his wife and two sons.