The Port Phillip District was settled in 1835, and the Governor of New South Wales sent the first Police Magistrate in 1836. Public buildings were supervised by the Clerk of Works, who was appointed by the New South Wales Government Architect. The first person to occupy the position was C.F. Leroux.

Clerks of Works

C.F. LEROUX (1837-38 Clerk of Works)

Leroux was an engineer in the Colonial Engineer’s Office. He had worked with his father, who was a District Surveyor in London. In Sydney he worked as a surveyor and architect, and also spent time in Perth where he was engaged in the construction of the barracks and powder magazine.

As Clerk of Works in the Port Phillip District he worked in co-operation with Captain William Lonsdale, the Police Magistrate. During Leroux’s short term of office, work was undertaken on the prisoners’ barracks, the police office, custom house and bonded warehouse. Although he was not dismissed until 1838, he was effectively in the job for only six months and died in his bed in 1839 at the age of 34, in a state of advanced alcoholism.

ROBERT RUSSELL (1838-39 Clerk of Works)

Russell trained in Edinburgh under Richard Burn, an architect and surveyor. It was claimed that he worked on extensions to Buckingham Palace under Ogden Nash. He had a great interest in art, studying under Louis Buvelot and acting as a guide in London art galleries. He emigrated to New South Wales in 1833, working in Sydney as the Assistant Town Surveyor, and in 1836 was involved in surveying the site of Melbourne. After his appointment to the position of Clerk of Works for the Port Phillip District, construction proceeded on the Mounted Police huts, the watch house, Police Magistrate’s house and Clerk of Works’ office.

JAMES RATTENBURY (1839-46 Clerk of Works)

Originally from London, Rattenbury had been Clerk of Works superintending the construction of Berrima gaol and court house in southern New South Wales. There was a spate of building activity in Melbourne and regional centres during his term of office. Watch houses and cells were built in Williamstown, Portland, Geelong and Port Fairy; police court houses and offices at Portland, Alberton and Geelong; and Border, Native and Mounted Police quarters at Mitchells Town, Broken River, Grange (later named Hamilton), and Goulburn. Custom houses were built at Geelong and Melbourne.

Plans were sent from Sydney for a powder magazine for Melbourne, where work was proceeding on government offices and a permanent gaol. The first section of the bluestone gaol in Russell Street dates back to 1841; the other sections were built in stages: the long block (1851-3), the central hall (1860), the chapel and entrance (1860s). When Pentridge gaol opened, buildings were transferred there from Russell Street. Today the long block, which serves as a museum, is the only remaining section of the Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street. As Clerk of Works, Rattenbury was assisted by Thomas Reid up until 1844, and then by Joseph Burns.

HENRY GINN (1846-51 Clerk of Works, 1851-54 Colonial Architect)

Born in 1817, the son of a military engineer, Henry Ginn worked for a building firm before emigrating to Australia in 1839-40. He returned home after fifteen months but re-emigrated in 1842. In that year Ginn was appointed to the position of Clerk of Works in the Colonial Engineer’s Department in New South Wales.

He was made redundant in 1844 because of financial cutbacks, but an appointment as Clerk of Works in the Port Phillip District in 1846 restored him to his former salary of 250 pounds. During this term of office, Ginn wrote to Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe, noting that the Clerk of Works could now be known as the Supervisor of Public Buildings because a new position of Superintendent of Bridges had been created. He also complained that he had received no communication from the New South Wales Colonial Architect for two years.

After Victoria was declared a separate colony in July 1851, Ginn was appointed as Colonial Architect on a salary of 400 pounds and an allowance of 30 pounds. By 1852 he had a staff of nine. In 1851 the short-lived Victorian Architects’ Association was formed, with Ginn elected as President. The building fervour increased during his term of office as Colonial Architect. Emphasis was still on watch houses, gaols and court houses, but there was a new interest in accommodation and services for the destitute and infirm. The expanding postal service also required a network of new post offices.

The beautiful bluestone buildings of Portland are a lasting monument to the work of Ginn’s department. The Custom House was built in 1849-50 and alongside it, in Cliff Street, the Court House was built in 1853. The former court house in Goldsmith Street, Castlemaine was also built during his term, around 1852.

CAPTAIN CHARLES PASLEY (1854-1857 Colonial Architect and Engineer, 1857-59 Inspector General of the Public Works Department )

Pasley was born in 1824, the son of Sir Charles William Pasley, a military engineer. He entered the military profession with the Royal Engineers. In April 1853 he was appointed as Colonial Engineer for Victoria. The following year, when the Colonial Architect’s office was absorbed into his department, he became Colonial Architect and Engineer.

In 1854 Pasley took part in the attack on the Eureka Stockade; and also was nominated to the Legislative Council of Victoria. Once the new constitution had been introduced, he accepted the position of Commissioner of Public Works in the Haines ministry, thus assuming political as well as administrative control of the newly created Public Works Department, but relinquished political involvement in March 1857 when he resigned his seat.

In 1857 Pasley was appointed Inspector General of the Department. A Royal Commission in 1859 decided that the department should be controlled by a “non-professional”. William Wardell was appointed as Chief Architect and Pasley was given leave on full pay to resume his military career, which he continued with distinction, along with engineering in New Zealand and Britain. Pasley maintained his links with Victoria when he became a commissioner for the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1879. He died in March 1890.

It has been said that Pasley’s role in the department was chiefly supervisory, and that the influences shaping Victoria’s architecture came more from his staff. There was a wealth of talent in architects such as J.J. Clark, whose Government Printing Office was built during Pasley’s term of office. During this period open competitions were held to select designs for proposed public buildings such as the Post Office. A.E. Johnson’s design was selected for this building and he joined the Public Works Department to work on the project. He claimed that it was radically changed by the time it was completed in the 1880s; the top storey was added and tower heightened by Peter Kerr.

John Knight and Peter Kerr contributed to the design for Parliament House and the Custom House, for which tenders were called in 1856. Other buildings constructed at this time were Victoria Barracks and Pentridge Gaol both constructed in bluestone. The gold rushes created a demand for gold offices and sub-treasuries: tenders were called for their erection in Beechworth, Castlemaine, Ballarat, and Sandhurst (Bendigo). Similarly there was a demand for electric telegraph stations in Castlemaine, Sandhurst, Gisborne, Kyneton, Dunolly, Creswick, and Maldon. In 1856 tenders were called for the post office in Portland and court house in Ballarat.

WILLIAM WARDELL (1859 Clerk of Works, 1860-78 Inspector General of Public Works)

Wardell was born in England in 1823. After working in the office of an engineer and surveyor and then in an architect’s office, he was employed in survey work for the developing British rail system. His conversion to Catholicism began a long involvement with church architecture. This was the basis for his private architectural practice from 1846 to 1858.

Wardell’s health problems with tuberculosis necessitated a move to Victoria, where he was successful in an open competition for the position of Clerk of Works and Chief Architect. He had been employed on his arrival by the Catholic Church, and immediately began work on St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He was the first migrating architect to come with the title of Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. A year after his appointment to the Public Works Department, he became Inspector General of Public Works. Despite vocal criticisms in the early 1860s, Wardell was given the right to pursue his private practice on the condition that he would not be involved in any construction work related to it. Like Pasley before him, his role was largely supervisory, but he is reputed to have been more closely involved in daily procedures than his predecessor.

During his term of office, work proceeded on asylums, country court houses and post and telegraph stations. The construction of jetties, docks and water supplies was also his responsibility. In Melbourne work proceeded on the Treasury (1858-72), the Custom House (1858, 1876), the General Post Office (1859-59, 1888-90), the State Government Offices (1859-1876), and Government House (1872-6). The construction of the Supreme Court proceeded, after a competition won by Alfred Louis Smith in 1873. Wardell’s architectural staff in 1862 included three Class 2 and three Class 3 Clerks of Work and Draftsmen; by 1875 he had a staff of 22. Wardell was retrenched in 1878 and traveled to Europe, but returned to settle in Sydney where he resumed practice as an architect until his death in 1899.


John George Knight (1852-1860)

Son of a stone and marble merchant and engineer, Knight was born around 1824 in the London area. After serving his articles with a dock and railway engineer, Knight joined the firm and worked on road and drainage works as well as gas and waterworks, docks and quarrying. Migrating to Victoria in 1852, he joined the Central Roads Board as Clerk of Works under the Chief Architect. He became Chief Clerk of Works, then resigned for a brief period in 1854 when the right to private practice was challenged. From 1856-1861 Knight was very active in the Victorian Institute of Architects, and was its founding president. He returned to the Public Works Department and served as Chief Architect, but left in 1860.

During most of his term of office he was able to operate a private practice with Peter Kerr. After leaving the Public Works Department, Knight became a professional organiser of exhibitions. He was responsible for the Victorian Exhibition of 1861, for which he designed a building resembling the Crystal Palace, and the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition (1866). He also staged Victoria’s exhibits overseas - at the London International Exhibition, the Dublin and then Paris Exhibitions. In 1865 he took up an appointment as lecturer in Civil Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Knight was a founding member of the Athenaeum Club formed in Melbourne in 1868, but left Melbourne society in 1873 to take up duties in the Northern Territory. The remainder of his interesting life is recounted in chapter 9 on the justice system and the section of the Appendix dealing with South Australian Government Architects.

Peter Kerr (1866-92)

Kerr was born in Scotland in 1820. He served his articles with an Aberdeen architect and became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1852 he migrated to Melbourne. Here, in partnership with John Knight, he prepared the designs for Parliament House (1855-6). The main block, built in 1856, accommodated the two chambers and offices. The next stage, the library was built in 1860, and Queen’s Hall and the vestibule added in 1879. Plans for a tower and subsequent ideas for a dome were abandoned. The extent to which the original design was actually achieved in the building when it was finally finished in 1892 is, unfortunately, unclear. Kerr worked on the project until it was suspended in 1860. He also contributed to the design for the Flinders Street Custom House which commenced in 1858 with the Market Street section. In 1863 the William Street section was built and a rough finish left on the central section. It was completed in 1876.

Kerr pursued other interests after his partnership with Knight terminated in 1860, but he returned to the Public Works Department in 1866, remaining there until 1892, and rising to architect, first grade in charge of the principal metropolitan buildings. From 1877 he supervised the completion of the Houses of Parliament, the Post Office, Government House and sections of the Law Courts. He died in 1912.

John James Clark (1852-78)

Clark was born in Liverpool, England, in 1838. At twelve years of age he drew and coloured a map of the city of Liverpool and showed considerable promise as a lithographic draftsman. Because of this talent he was employed by the Public Works Department when he arrived in Melbourne at fourteen years of age. He designed Geelong’s Custom House (1855), the Old Treasury Building (1858-62), Government House (1872-6), Royal Mint (1869-72), Government Printing Office, Titles Office (1874-89), and Melbourne City Baths, (1903-4). In addition to his Public Works duties, Clark worked with Joseph Reed on designs for competitions, and also worked with architect Alfred Louis Smith and his partner Osgood Pritchard, whom he regarded as his mentor. He reached the position of Assistant Architect before being retrenched in 1878. He subsequently worked for the public works departments in Queensland and Western Australia before returning to Melbourne in 1902 (see paragraph in Queensland Government Architects).

Arthur Ebden Johnson (1859-73)

Born in 1821 in the south of England, Johnson studied at the Royal Academy and RIBA and won the Soane medal. He arrived in Victoria in the early 1850s. His design for the Melbourne GPO was successful in a competition, and in 1859 he began work in the Public Works Department as a draftsman. In 1862 he was promoted to Clerk of Works and draftsman Class 3. As judge of the competition for the Law Courts in 1873, he awarded the prize to a design by Alfred Louis Smith. Resulting accusations of complicity in the design led to his resignation in 1873. He then went into practice with Smith. He became the President of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1893, and died in 1895.


The government was in financial trouble because of the withholding of supply at the time of Wardell’s departure. Peter Kerr and Charles Barrett were appointed as architects in the restructured Public Works Department, which moved to the Government Offices at 2 Treasury Place. The 1880s was a boom time for building: in 1885 the department was structured into sections representing regions. The team for the central division included G.W. Watson, who designed the Bendigo Law Courts (1892-96), and Post Office (1883-87). The eastern division was served by J.B. Cohen, A.J. Macdonald, J.T. Kelleher, and J.R. Brown, who designed the Traralgon court house and post office (1886). The western team included J.H. Marsden, and in the north-west S.E. Bindley created buildings such as the Nhill Post Office (1887). Bindley also worked on metropolitan buildings which included the Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages (1900-1904), and the Supreme Court offices and Crown Law offices (1890). Barrett resigned as Chief Architect in 1885, after 28 years of service. Henry Bastow, who had joined the service in 1866, took over the position. It is difficult to find biographical details about the staff who did such fine work, but the life of A.J. Macdonald is documented by Anne I. Neale in her paper presented at the Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 1986.

A.J. MACDONALD (1889-1897)

Alexander James Macdonald was born in Fitzroy, Victoria, in 1864. The family returned to Scotland, where he trained in Edinburgh with the architect Charles Johnston. Macdonald had returned to Victoria and was in partnership with another architect by 1888. In 1889 he joined the Public Works Department as an Assistant Architect, producing picturesque designs, which reflected the influence of Scottish Baronial, Romanesque, and Queen Anne styles as well as the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. The court house at Bairnsdale (1892-4), is a startling example of the Romanesque style. The depression of the 1890s limited the output of work, and Macdonald resigned in 1897.


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Files of the Heritage Council, Department of Infrastructure, Victoria. Freeland, J.M., The Making of a Profession, Angus & Robertson, 1971. Harvey, Anthony, The Melbourne Book, Hutchinson Group (Australia), Richmond, Victoria, 1982.

Ikin, E., A History of the Old Melbourne Gaol. History of Architecture Research Essay, Department of Architecture, University of Melbourne, [?]. Lewis, Miles, Australian Architectural Index (Microform), 2nd edn, University of Melbourne, Department of Architecture and Building, 197?-, Parkville, Victoria.

Lyall, Donald Sutherland, The Architectural Profession in Melbourne, 1835-1860. thesis for the degree of Master of Architecture, University of Melbourne, 1965.

Neale, Anne I., A. J. Macdonald: Enigma and Romance in the Public Service, paper delivered at the conference of the Society of Architectural Historians (ANZ), 1986.

Roennfeldt, Angela, Public Buildings in the Port Phillip District, 1836-1851, History Research Report, thesis for the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, 1987. Tanner, Howard (ed.), Architects of Australia, Macmillan, 1981. Trethowan, Bruce, The Public Works Department of Victoria, 1851-1900. An Architectural History, Department of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, 1975.

Watson, Donald, McKay, Judith, Queensland Architects of the 19th Century, Queensland Museum, Brisbane, 1994.