Van Dieman's Land / Tasmania

Early Days

Until transportation was abolished in 1853, Tasmania's public works were constructed by convicts. The Derwent and Port Dalrymple settlements each had an Inspector and a Superintendent of Public Works by 1807, although people occupying these positions did not necessarily have expertise in public works, and usually held several other positions. After 1814 the Lieutenant-Governor made a positive effort to encourage free settlers, who created a demand for government services. This led to major problems, as at least 40 per cent of government revenue was required for maintenance of convict facilities, and funds available for civic public buildings were limited accordingly. Despite this, Hobart's early public buildings, which still stand impressively in Murray Street, display the simple elegance of the Georgian style which influenced architecture in the early days of settlement.

An Engineer's Department was created by 1820, under the control of a soldier of the Royal Engineers, who was given civil jurisdiction. Lieutenant-Governor Arthur divided this into two in 1827: the department which became known as the Public Works Department in 1835; and a separate department for roads and bridges. Arrangements changed in response to economic viability; the two departments operated under one head officer in 1838, and then amalgamated into the one Public Works Department in 1848.

WILLIAM WILSON (1820-1824 Superintendent of Stone Masons)

Following his appointment in 1820, Wilson was sometimes referred to as the Government Architect. He built the original Supreme Court House on the corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets. It was used by the court even before it was completed, and later used not only for civil and criminal cases, but for public meetings and church services. Within its walls 302 people were sentenced to hang between 1826 and 1842. From 1858 the building served as the post office, with the original portico replaced by a colonnade and an arcaded loggia built along Macquarie Street. In 1905 the post office was moved and the open arches filled in to provide for the Tourist Bureau which then occupied the building.

DAVID LAMBE (1824-1827 Colonial Architect)

Born in London in 1803, Lambe sailed to Van Diemen's Land with Governor Arthur, arriving in 1824. He was appointed as Colonial Architect on a salary of 150 pounds. During his term of office the town of Richmond burgeoned, with the construction of a gaol, court house, post office, and granary. Its bridge, dating back to 1823, is the oldest in Australia. Lambe's court house (1825) was unique for its time. It accommodated a watch house and hall and was used in due course as council chambers when Richmond elected its first council in 1861. The post office (1826) was extended by a second storey in 1829. Although it has been adapted for other purposes, it is said to be the oldest surviving post office building in Australia. The commissariat stores in Launceston were also built during Lambe's term of office. Lambe was replaced by John Lee Archer in 1827 and turned to farming, although his efforts ended with a meeting of his creditors in 1842, a year before his death.

JOHN LEE ARCHER (1827-1838 Civil Engineer and Colonial Architect)

Born in Ireland in 1791, Archer trained with a London architect and then worked for five years with John Rennie, who designed three of the bridges over the River Thames. He returned to Ireland to work on architectural and engineering projects for eight years. In December 1826 the British Secretary of State for the Colonies appointed him Civil Engineer for Van Diemen's Land, and Governor Arthur appointed him to Lambe's position as well when he arrived in Hobart in 1827. He served for 11 years as Civil Engineer and Colonial Architect, and was relieved of responsibility for military construction in 1836, when officers of the Royal Engineers arrived. His position was abolished reluctantly in 1838 by Lieutenant-Governor Franklin, who appointed Alexander Cheyne to a new position of Director of Public Works.

Archer left a fine legacy of public architecture in Hobart. Unfortunately his court house in Launceston was demolished in 1941. One of his finest achievements was the custom house (1835), which was later extended in 1891 to become Parliament House. He designed the Public Offices on the corner of Murray and Davey Streets to accommodate police and convict offices (1833-35). This building was to become the Treasury. A building to connect it with the original court house was designed in 1837: it was constructed under Cheyne's administration, and a portico added later in 1842 to a design by James Blackburn. The chapel for the Campbell Street Penitentiary, built to his design in 1831-3, was converted to a criminal court in 1860.

While there was no doubt about Archer's architectural skills, the Governor expressed some reservations about his administrative and supervisory capabilities. In the early years Archer relied on unqualified and often unskilled workmen and was assisted by only one clerk. In 1832-3 around 200 artisans were attracted to the colony with a 20 pounds contribution towards their fare. Archer designed the east and west wings for the Richmond Gaol as well as the gaoler's house (1832). His work included government stores and churches, which were built by the government in the early days; notable examples are St. John's Church, New Town, St. Luke's, Campbell Town, and St. John's, Ross.

Archer was retrenched in 1838, and reminded the authorities that he had been appointed on a salary of 500 pounds for life, subject to his good behaviour. Accordingly he was appointed as Police Magistrate for the District of Horton, occupying the position until his death in 1852.

ALEXANDER CHEYNE (1838-41 Director of Public Works)

In response to economic stringencies, Governor Franklin abolished the position of Colonial Architect and appointed Alexander Cheyne as Director of Public Works in 1838. During his term work revolved around roads, drainage and bridges. Although these took priority over public buildings, Archer's plans for the building to connect the Court House and Police and Convict' Offices were executed. Cheyne was ably assisted by James Blackburn, an engineer transported to Van Diemen's Land for forgery. After Blackburn was pardoned in 1841, he went into private practice with James Thompson, another ex-convict, and then moved to Melbourne as City Surveyor. He designed several beautiful churches including Holy Trinity, Hobart.

WILLIAM PORDEN KAY (1843-1847 Colonial Architect and Surveyor of Bridges, 1847 Superintendent of Kings Way, 1848-1858 Director of Public Works and Director of Waterworks)

Born in England in 1809, Kay was the grandson of an eminent architect, William Porden. His father was also an architect and a founding member of the Institute of British Architects. After training with his father, Kay was employed by the New Brunswick Land Company and the government. He was invited to Van Diemen's Land by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Franklin, who needed an architect and was not prepared to give the position to either James Blackburn or James Thompson because of their convict backgrounds. Kay sailed from England as a private passenger on a convict ship and arrived in 1842. The Secretary of State vetoed his appointment as Director of Public Works in 1843, and he became Colonial Architect and Surveyor of Bridges under Major James Victor of the Royal Engineers. Victor's appointment posed problems for the Governor because he refused to co-operate with the civil authorities. The altercation between the Governor and Secretary of State over Kay's position continued until 1848, when he was officially confirmed as Director of Public Works and Director of Waterworks. In 1850 Kay's staff consisted of two draftsmen, a foreman of works, town surveyor for Hobart Town, clerk, and two toll collectors. Kay served on the Bridgewater Bridge Commission from 1846 to 1859, as the Commissioner under the Market Act in 1850, and as Director ex-officio of the New Norfolk Bridge Company in 1855.

Many small official dwellings, watch houses and offices were built during his term of office. A major project was the building of the Supreme Court along Macquarie Street to Franklin Square (1858). It was designed with a semi-basement and plain two-storied facade. The building housed a court for civil proceedings as well as the Executive Council Chamber and Governor's rooms. Kay also designed Government House, and the Lands Titles and Deeds building in Davey Street. Kay retired in 1858 on a government pension and returned to England, but the date of his death is unclear. Throughout his term of office Kay was ably assisted by Frederick Thomas, a convict who received a conditional pardon in 1852. After his assignment to the Public Works Department in 1842, Thomas rose to Clerk of Works in 1853 but was retired as a result of staff cutbacks in 1857.


The economic depression which lasted from 1858 until the 1870s resulted from several factors, including the financial crisis of 1857 in Britain and the exodus of large numbers of people to the Victorian goldfields during the 1850s. Henry Hunter, a private architect, contributed to public architecture in Hobart Town in the 1860s. In 1860 he won competitions for the Town Hall which commenced in 1862, and the museum and art gallery which commenced in 1861.

WILLIAM FALCONER (1859 Director of Public Works and Inspector of Telegraphs)

Falconer took up his position on an annual salary of 500 pounds. The depressed state of the economy was reflected in the low numbers of office staff. In 1863 he was assisted by a Chief Clerk and three temporary officers - a draftsman, and two foremen of works - but records for the following two years indicate further reductions. The year of his retirement is unclear, but his death is recorded in 1869.

In 1869 a Ministry of Lands and Public Works was established: the Honorable Henry Butler took up the position of Minister for Lands and Works as well as Commissioner for Crown Lands and Surveyor General. The Department of Lands and Public Works administered three branches- lands, mines and public works. The Director of the Public Works Branch supervised the Commissioner of Main Roads, Inspector of Roads, Engineer in Chief, Architect, Inspector of Buildings, draftsmen, engineers, accountants and clerks.

FRANCIS BUTLER (1871-1873 Director of Public Works and Roads, Superintendent of Surveys)

Butler was born in England in 1823, and the following year his parents emigrated to Van Diemen's land, leaving him in the care of his aunt. After completing his architectural studies he followed his parents to Van Diemen's Land. He served for two years as Director of Public Works, assisted by Chief Clerk James Gray, who had served under Falconer. In addition there was a second clerk and office keeper. At the time of his retirement Butler was Commissioner for Taxes. He designed the Commercial Bank of Tasmania in Macquarie Street. He died in 1916.

Records for 1875 show the Honorable William Moore as Director of Public Works and Director General of Roads. His staff consisted of two clerks, a draftsman, and two superintendents of works.


By the 1880s copper, tin, gold and silver mines were bringing wealth to the colony and railways were burgeoning. In 1881 the name 'Hobart' replaced Hobart Town. W.W. Eldridge came to office in the Public Works Branch during the 1880s, and designed the extension of the public offices along Franklin Square (1884-7), in sympathy with Kay's design. The building, which came to be known as the Executive Building, accommodated the offices of most parliamentarians in government, as well as the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Extensions were also made to the Lands Building.

In 1886 a Royal Commission recommended the establishment of separate branches for railways, roads, and for the Government Architect. Over the next few years public building increased in Launceston with the post office (1889), probably built to Eldridge's design, as well as the public buildings on the corner of St. John and Cameron Streets. The new Custom House in Hobart opened in 1899.

WILLIAM WATERS ELDRIDGE (1879-1892 Architect and Chief Draftsman)

Eldridge was born in Brighton, England around 1850 and began his career as a junior draftsman before working as an architect. He traveled to Australia in 1876, and joined the Public Service in Tasmania in 1878. The following year he became Government Architect on an annual salary of 350 pounds. After resigning in 1892 to enter private practice, he returned to government employment as Draftsman/Architect with the Tasmanian Government Railways. He died in 1933 and was buried at Cornelian Bay. Remembered as a short stern man, who sang lustily in All Saints Church, Macquarie Street, bouts of alcoholism and financial problems may have contributed to his premature departure from the post of Government Architect. An obituary described him as a familiar figure in Hobart, who was held in high esteem. He is remembered for his fine architecture, which includes the Government Offices facing Franklin Square, and Launceston's Post Office and Customs House. In addition the post offices at Campbell Town, Ross and Oatlands are attributed to him.

At the time of Eldridge's retirement William Hartnell was the Director of Public Works and Commissioner of Main Roads. Eldridge's position was not continued; J.G. Shield, who had served as Inspector of Public Buildings since 1879, continued in that role, and L.S.B. Forrest, who had been appointed in 1883, continued as draftsman. In 1893 Hartnell was serving as Director of Public Works and Commissioner of Main Roads, and was also serving as the Minister for Lands and Works. The Lands and Works Department consisted of the Department of Lands, Survey Department, Office of Mines, Government Railways, and Public Works Branch. Records for 1896 show Shield continuing as Inspector of Public Buildings, J.H. Hunt as Architectural Draftsman, and L.S.B. Forrest as Draftsman. Shield was still serving as Inspector in 1903, by which time Orlando Baker had become Architectural Draftsman, assisted by Forrest as draftsman.

ORLANDO BAKER (1891 ? - 1911 Draftsman)

Born in Gloucestershire, England, around 1834, Baker became a member of the Society of Architects. The dates of his arrival in Tasmania and subsequent appointment in Public Works are unclear. He served as principal architectural draftsman until his retirement in 1911. He is remembered for the fine architecture of the Hobart Customs House, 1902. He died in 1912.

JOHN G. SHIELD (1879-1909 Inspector of Public Buildings)

Shield was born at sea in about 1853. The family moved from Sydney to Hobart in 1855, and John was educated here at Trinity Hill School. He went on to an apprenticeship as a builder with his father, and for more than ten years continued in the family business, which was engaged in the construction of major projects in Hobart. For two years he worked for Hobart architect E C Rowntree. He served as Inspector of Public Buildings from 1879 until his retirement in 1909. He was responsible for the inspection of schools, post and telegraph offices, police premises, and court houses, as well as special projects such as the valuation of land and improvements in Strahan, Zeehan and Dundee. Following his retirement he became the Mayor of Hobart, and during World War 1 served as Master Warden for the Tasmanian Marine Board. He developed an orchard in the Huon Valley.and died in 1926.

The position of architect of government buildings in Tasmania was not given the status enjoyed by architects in comparable positions in other states. Despite their lower profile, the work they produced equalled that of any others in the country. Designs for government buildings were sometimes open to competition by private architects, who often campaigned for more opportunities in public architecture. Designs for town halls were invariably undertaken by the private sector,



Born in Nottingham, England in 1832, Hunter was the son of a builder. He studied at the Nottingham School of Design, and in 1848 emigrated to Adelaide with his parents and sisters. Following the death of his parents, he went to Hobart in 1851, and in the following year traveled to the Victorian goldfields. On his return to Tasmania he worked in the timber industry in the Huon Valley. He began to practise as an architect in 1855 and was a major influence on church architecture. He embraced the revival of the Gothic style, applying it to churches and schools. His major public building was the Hobart Town Hall, commenced in 1862. Although his original plans for a Gothic style of construction were rejected in the competition, he was given the contract, and the fine Renaissance-style building was erected by J. Gowland. Porticoes have been added since and doorways closed off. Hunter also won the competition for the Museum, which was commenced in 1861 by H.W. Seabrook and Son.

Hunter was active in community affairs: he served on the Hobart Board of Health, Tasmanian Board of Education, Board of Management of the Orphan Asylum, and was a Commissioner of the Government Asylum for the Insane at New Norfolk. He was appointed a magistrate in 1881. He moved to Brisbane in 1888 and practised there until his death in 1892.


Walker was born in 1864 in Hobart Town. He received his education here and in 1882 was apprenticed to Henry Hunter. He traveled to England to study at University College, London and was admitted as an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1888. He returned to Australia, where he practised in Melbourne, taking an active role in the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. He returned to Hobart in 1895. In the following years he practised with Douglas Salier and later Archibald Johnston. He served on the Tasmanian Association of Architects, the Board of Architects of Tasmania, and the Council of Arts Society. He was a keen metalworker and enameller. He is remembered for his design of the Hobart Post Office (1901), and Public Library (1904-06). He died in 1931.


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