South Australia

SIR GEORGE STRICKLAND KINGSTON (1839-1841 Colonial Engineer and Inspector of Public Works)

Kingston was born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1807. After training as an architect, he moved to London where he was appointed Deputy Surveyor General for the new province of South Australia. He arrived in the new colony in 1836 and was involved in the survey of Adelaide, but resigned in 1838. He became Inspector of Public Works and Buildings in the following year. After relinquishing this post, he practised privately, also serving as a member of the House of Assembly, and as chairman of the South Australian Mining Association from 1857 to 1880. Works achieved during his term of office included the south east wing of Government House, and the polygonal compound and eastern towers of the gaol. Other buildings constructed under his supervision but which no longer exist were the police barracks, a hospital, custom house, and government offices.

As the colony could not afford the services of an architect, Captain Edward Frome, the Surveyor General, administered public works from 1841 to 1949. Assuming the title of Colonial Engineer, he took on the duties of Civil Engineer and Government Architect as well as Surveyor General. Little public construction was undertaken because of the hard economic times, except for the completion of the gaol. Frome’s position of Surveyor General was taken over by Captain Arthur Freeling, who continued to supervise public works until 1851. The next position of seniority was the Clerk of Works who performed the duties of architect.

RICHARD LAMBETH (1849-1850 Clerk of Works and Architect)

Lambeth moved from Launceston to Adelaide in 1846 and took up the position of Clerk of Works under Frome. He soon resigned but returned for a short period of service as Assistant Civil Engineer before the appointment of Captain Freeling. In 1849 Lambeth became Clerk of Works and Architect for the South Australian government, and his main achievement was the Supreme Court in Victoria Square, which now serves as the Magistrates Court. He spent a brief period in private practice, but no trace of his future career appears in the colony’s records after 1851.

Freeling designed and called tenders for the initial buildings for the Mounted Police Barracks in 1850. They were completed in 1851.

WILLIAM BENNETT HAYES (1850 Clerk of Works and Architect, 1852-1855 Colonial Architect and Superintendent of Public Works)

Hayes migrated from London to Adelaide in 1849. The following year was appointed to the position of Surveyor of Main roads and then Clerk of Works and Architect. In 1852 he became Colonial Architect and Superintendent of Public Works. During his term of office the original section of the Legislative Council building in Adelaide was constructed to his design, when the winning design, chosen by competition, was rejected because of its cost. Hayes was responsible for additional buildings for the Mounted Police Barracks, consisting of the armoury and residential accommodation. Today the quadrangle forms an impressive complex, although only the armoury, part of the west building, and gateway of the original construction remain. As Superintendent of Public Works, Hayes was involved in the Adelaide to Port Adelaide railway and the construction of the Goolwa to Port Elliott tramway, as well as jetties at Willunga and Glenelg. He took out a patent on his own method for jetty construction. Hayes had other interests, including the development of an alternative way of making charcoal. He was dismissed in January 1856 after allegations that he had received money from the contractor working on the Willunga jetty.

EDWARD ANGUS HAMILTON (1856-1860 Colonial Architect and Supervisor of Works)

Hamilton arrived in South Australia in 1849 with his wife and two children. He joined the government service as Office Assistant in 1853 and became Assistant Architect in 1854. Hamilton took over the duties of architect when Hayes was absent in England in 1855 and was appointed as Colonial Architect and Supervisor of Works in 1856. In 1857 Captain Freeling was appointed as Commissioner for Public Works and Hamilton was responsible to him and, through him, to the new parliament. In a departmental report submitted by Freeling in 1857, the following buildings were listed as in progress: a custom house and boat shed at Robe, police stations at Wellington, Strathalbyn and Kapunda, a court house at Gawler, and additions to the Legislative Council chambers. That year there were seven staff in the architect’s office. Hamilton’s period as Colonial Architect saw the commencement of the Treasury building (1858-76), the South Australia Institute building (1860), the Port Adelaide Police Court and Customs complex (completed in 1861), the Goolwa police station (1859), and magnetic telegraph stations at Willunga, Port Elliott, Goolwa and Robe. Hamilton resigned in 1860 to go into private practice with his brother as architects and surveyors. He served as a member of the House of Assembly from 1870 to 1871, then emigrated to South America.

WILLIAM HANSON (1860-1867 Engineer, Colonial Architect, and Inspector of Railways)

Born in 1810, Hanson arrived in South Australia in 1855. He served as Engineer for the Adelaide to Gawler Railways Commission. The following buildings were under taken during his period of office from 1860 to 1867 as Engineer, Colonial Architect and Inspector of Railways: Wallaroo’s custom house (1862), police station (1862), lock up (1865), and court house (1866), Gawler’s post and telegraph office (1860-66); Port MacDonnell’s custom house, which also housed the post office and police station (1862); Wellington’s police station, court house and post office complex (1863-4); Port Adelaide’s post office, and the Adelaide Police Court (1867). Hanson retired in 1867 on the grounds of ill health and died at Glenelg in 1875.

ROBERT GEORGE THOMAS (1868-70 Government Architect)

Born in 1820, Thomas arrived in South Australia at the age of sixteen. He worked on early surveys and the plan of Adelaide, then joined the private firm established by Colonel William Light, who had resigned from his position as Surveyor to the colony. After returning to England to complete his training as a civil engineer and architect, Thomas came back to South Australia in 1860. He was appointed as Assistant Architect to Hanson in 1866 and Government Architect in 1868. During his period in office the General Post Office was commenced to plans modified from those of Wright and Woods. The Government Printing Office and the Local and Insolvency Court were also built during his term.

Thomas resigned in 1870 when the position of Government Architect was abolished, and he went into private practice. He served as Secretary of the Board of Health from 1874 until his death in 1884. He was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

GEORGE THOMAS LIGHT (1871-1874 Assistant Architect, 1874-1878 Government Architect)

Born in 1820, Light was probably sixteen years old when he arrived in South Australia. He served as a draftsman in the Government Architect’s office from 1857. After the abolition of the department in 1871, he worked within the Engineer in Chief’s department with the title of Assistant Architect. In 1884 he became Architect in the newly restored department, but returned to the position of Assistant Architect when Edward Woods was appointed Architect-in-Chief in 1878. After taking extended leave in 1880-1 he continued until retrenched in 1883. During his period in office the initial section of the Port Adelaide Institute was built (1876), and the General Post Office, the most expensive of the public buildings to that time, was built to the design of Wright, Woods and Hamilton, at a cost of over 52,000 pounds. Light died in 1911.

EDWARD JOHN WOODS (1878-1886 Architect-in-Chief)

Born in London in 1837, Woods served his articles with an architect, C.J. Richardson, before working with T.E. Knightly, architect. After migrating to South Australia in 1860, he worked for two months on a cattle station in Mount Gambier, then joined the firm of E.W. Wright, one of Adelaide’s few private architects. Wright took him into partnership for four years before Woods went into his own practice in 1869. Here William McMinn joined him as a partner. While continuing in private practice, Woods served as architect for the Council of Education. In 1878 he took the government position of Architect-in-Chief.

South Australia provided private architects with more opportunities to contribute to government architecture than the other colonies. Nevertheless, the government architect’s office still implemented their designs, often in a modified form. The department’s 1880 return indicates that there were seven permanent and 35 part-time staff in the office. During Wood’s term, R.G. Thomas’s winning design for the annexe of the South Australia Institute, now known as the Jervois wing, was built in modified form to house the library and museum, (1877-8). The Marine and Customs building was erected in Port Adelaide (1879), and the Torrens Building was completed in modified form to the winning design of M. Egan (1881). The North Adelaide Institute and Post and Telegraph Office were built in 1884.

The major project was the construction of the new Parliament House, for which Wright and Taylor designed the plans in 1873, and which now forms the western section of the building. When Woods was made redundant by the government in 1884, in response to economic depression, he was allowed to continue the task of supervising the construction. He returned to private practice, and in 1892 was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Walter Harvey Bagot joined the firm as a partner in 1905, and it continued as Woods and Bagot until Wood’s death in 1913.

CHARLES EDWARD OWEN SMYTH (1886-1920 Superintendent of Public Buildings)

There seems to be some discrepancy in the recorded dates of Woods’ departure and the appointment of Owen Smyth to the Department of Works and Buildings created in 1886. At this time South Australia was experiencing a severe depression compounded by a drought. From 1887-8, the department controlled the Labour Exchange, which engaged the unemployed in draining marshes, and breaking stone for ballast for the railways. Construction of schools and maintenance of existing buildings were the mainstay of the department’s building activities. Extensions were made to the museum, Adelaide Hospital, Port Adelaide Institute and a north extension was added to the General Post Office in 1891-2. The Elder Bequest for the Art Gallery enabled construction to proceed on North Terrace in 1898. The School of Mines was also built on North Terrace from 1900 to 1903 during the economic depression.

JOHN GEORGE KNIGHT (1873-75 Architect and Supervisor of Works, Palmerston, 1876-1890 numerous government appointments, 1890-92 Government Resident)

The Northern Territory, marked out in 1863, was administered by South Australia until 1911; the main settlement, which we now know as the city of Darwin, was named Palmerston. One of the leading figures of the time was John George Knight, whose early career in Melbourne is discussed in the section on Victorian Government Architects. During his career in the Northern Territory he made major contributions in many areas (discussed in the chapter on the justice system). It is interesting to reflect on his continuing interest in public buildings and his contribution to Darwin’s architectural heritage.

Knight arrived in Palmerston to take up the appointment of Secretary to the Government Resident, and was given the added responsibility of Architect and Surveyor of Works shortly afterwards. His duties extended beyond Palmerston to the goldfields and settlements at Pine Creek and Adelaide River. Most works undertaken at this time are no longer in existence, as the buildings were either prefabricated or built of poles and bark. They served as quarters for government officials such as medical officers, surveyors and mining wardens. Knight supervised the construction of buildings which were desperately needed for the basic survival of the settlement: police station, gaol, store, and telegraph stations. He was also responsible for the provision of vital services such as wells and water tanks, roads and causeways. His responsibilities as official architect ended when he was retrenched in 1875, but his involvement continued when he returned to official duties as Warden of the gold fields the following year.

Knight collaborated with Gilbert McMinn, the official South Australian Surveyor, to design Government House (1877-9). As Deputy Sheriff he probably contributed to buildings in Fannie Bay gaol in the mid 1880s. The town hall (1882-3), built entirely to his design, was destroyed beyond repair by Cyclone Tracy, but Brown’s Mart, which was built on the opposite site as a warehouse for a private citizen has survived. Although there is no conclusive evidence that the mart was entirely his work, he certainly made a major contribution. The Court House and Police Station building commenced in 1879 was built in stages, with Knight and McMinn each supervising at different times. There is no documentary evidence as to the designer, but experts agree that it bears Knight’s ‘stamp’. It has been fully restored, and is a fine example of the type of building which Knight considered suitable for the climate.

Early in Knight’s career in the Northern Territory he advised the government on suitable building procedures, emphasising the need for ventilation, water proofing and protection against white ants. He recommended the use of rubble stone coated with Portland cement for footings, and that walls be built of brick or rubble masonry. This construction was similar to that already in use in South Australia, but there it was made necessary by the lack of timber; in the Northern Territory it was needed to counter the threat of white ants.

Knight worked in the Northern Territory for the South Australian government in numerous capacities. Among the many duties which he performed, he gained particular pleasure from staging exhibitions. During 1887 and 1888 he had the opportunity to take charge of the Territory’s exhibit in the Adelaide exhibition, followed by that in Melbourne. In 1890 he was appointed as Government Resident responsible for all administration of the Territory. He died eighteen months later. His career was remarkable: Darwin is fortunate to have buildings which pay tribute to him.


Architectural Heritage, South Australian Department of Housing and Construction, June 1986.

Early Adelaide Architects, Edward John Woods, Royal Institute of Architects, South Australia Chapter, Bulletin, June 1970.

Early Adelaide Architects, Sir George Strickland Kingston, Royal Institute of Architects, South Australia Chapter, Bulletin, July 1970. Information from the South Australian Department of Housing and Construction.

Morgan, E.J.R., Gilbert, S.H., Early Adelaide Architecture, 1836 to 1886, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1969.