Wills fell into obscurity after his death, but has undergone a revival in Australian culture since the 1990s.
He was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and has inspired works across the arts.
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According to biographer Greg de Moore, Wills "stands alone in all his absurdity, his cracked egalitarian heroism and his fatal self-destructiveness—the finest cricketer and footballer of the age". May I be spared for him—that he may be useful to his country—I never knew a father's care.
Tom was a third-generation Australian of convict descent: his mother was born to convicts from Ireland, and his paternal grandfather was Edward Wills, an English highwayman whose death sentence was commuted to transportation, arriving in Botany Bay aboard the "hell ship" Hillsborough in 1799. He arrived in London after a five-month sea voyage.
After founding the Melbourne Football Club the following year, Wills and three other members codified the first laws of Australian rules football. Two weeks after their arrival, Wills' father and 18 others were murdered in the largest massacre of settlers by Aborigines in Australian history.
Wills survived and resumed playing sport upon his return to Victoria in 1864, and in 1866–67, led an Aboriginal cricket team on an Australian tour as its captain-coach.
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