|Chapter 3. HIATUS|
|Early Australian Architectural History|
|IN December 1792 Phillip returned
to England worn out in health by the toil and
the worries of his command. His supplies had been shockingly inadequate.
Food was short to the point of causing actual hunger; clothes and blankets
were unobtainable luxuries: and all he seemed to be able to get from the Home
Government were neglect, and yet more convicts. Only his tact, foresight, and high
ideals had sustained him through his five years of government.' He had worked
alone, for he could not rely on his Lieutenant-Governor, the controller of the military
force. Although Phillip had absolute authority his power was not absolute
without the support of the army. Phillip wanted to develop the country and assist
settlement, whereas the army looked upon it as a military post where settlers could
be considered only as an unnecessary nuisance.
As soon as Governor Phillip had sailed from Port Jackson the new Lieutenant-
Governor, Major Francis Grose, instituted a policy which was diametrically
opposed to that of his predecessor. He was a brave soldier, but of such amiable
disposition that it was easy for his fellow officers to influence him to run the government
for the military and by the military. Under such conditions the civil courts
were disbanded, and landed estates and profitable trade became the preoccupation
of the officers. Convicts were no longer employed on public works, but were all
assigned to the ruling class, who extracted from them hinted at, but unspecified,
mountains of toil. As the officers' commercial projects prospered, the fumes of rum
began to billow across Australian history. By monopolistic control, rum became
not only an article of trade but the actual currency without which no transaction
could be completed.
Naturally all public agriculture and building was suspended, with but one
really-to-be-expected exception. On 29th April 1794 Grose reported to the
Colonial Office in London: "When Governor Phillip left this country the military
officers were suffering in huts of the most miserable description. I have now the
satisfaction to say that they are all in good barracks." This could have been but
little satisfaction to the Reverend Richard Johnson after his struggles to get even a
primitive church built.
At last the military felt they were getting some of the privileges to which their
lofty status entitled them. Gone were the days when, in the throes of establishing
the settlement, the officers even had to work. One had written in November 1788 of
the scandalous conditions, "You will hardly believe me when I say that we ourselves
have been obliged for the want of assistance to cut thatch and wattles for our
huts. . . ."4 All that was now, they felt, happily past.
Out at Parramatta, Elizabeth Farm was established on the pick of the land, the
farmhouse being ready for occupation in 1794 (4).It was a typical estate of the period
and was founded by Captain John Macarthur, that fiery and turbulent spirit who
was to be the bane of two dynasties-military and naval-of governors and who
was to make a deeply scored mark on history. He is so well known to all Australians
that it seems almost redundant to mention: the foundation of the wool
industry for which he was responsible.
Things were wonderful for him, and for his class, in that first half of the last
decade of the eighteenth century. They had the whole of the Colony's trade in
their hands, taking it in turns amongst themselves to buy up the complete cargoes
of all visiting ships, which gave them a position of wonderful advantage. "This
arrangement", it was naively written in 1795 by Mrs Macarthur, "prevents
monopoly, and the impositions that would otherwise be practised by masters of
Macarthur himself put on paper his own views: "The changes we have undergone
since the departure of Governor Phillip are so great and extraordinary that to
recite them all might create some suspicion of their truth. From a state of desponding
poverty and threatened famine, that this settlement should be raised to its
present aspect in so short a time is scarcely credible." After listing his wealth he
added: "In the centre of my farm I have built a most excellent brick house, 68
feet in front, and 18 feet in breadth. It has no upper story, but consists of four rooms
on the ground floor, a large hall, closets, cellar, &c.; adjoining is a kitchen, with
servants' apartments and other necessary offices."
Mrs Macarthur adds fulsome descriptions of vineyards and gardens, almonds,
apricots, pears and apples. She does say too, unexpectedly, that the farm was
worked by free labourers, former convicts, who asked exorbitant wages. This use
of free labour on an officer's land must have been something of an exception if
other evidence is to be believed.
With most of its former lands now gone, Elizabeth Farm house survives into the
middle of the twentieth century, the oldest Australian building extant, and a
charming example of the simple farm homestead of its period. The house was
altered five times during the first seventy years after its building, so that the old
wing can have but little of its original work left.
It was indeed the heyday of the officers-free from interference from above,
and with boundless opportunities to arrange the Colony to suit themselves. But
this halcyon period was not to last. For two years Grose was to govern in a way
that the army found eminently satisfactory, and for nearly a year after that Lieutenant-
Governor Paterson carried out the same programme. (He, however, added
a personal note by making more land grants to his friends in twelve months than
the prodigal Governor King was to make in six years.') But the next sixteen years
were to see one long struggle between the governors and the monopolists.
First came John Hunter-big-hearted, incorruptible, zealous; but a naval commander
and so not quite acceptable to the army. He had come out with Phillip in
1788, and when he left in 1791 the settlement was rapidly developing. In September
1795 he returned as Governor to find indescribable chaos: many settlers bankrupt,
officers rich, no church services, immorality and rum drinking rife throughout all
sections of the little community.
He started to clean up the mess, hampered at every turn by the inhabitants of
"this turbulent and refractory colony whom he sought to bring back to obedience
of law. Sydney he found to be "a mere sink of every species of infamy", with the
jails full, and the buildings generally mouldering into decay.
Hunter attacked this latter problem with vigour, amidst obstruction and difficulty. At first he could not .gather twenty men together from the government
gangs, even though more than a thousand were being fed from the government
stores. They were scattered about the Colony on the officers' estates. He was to
echo, constantly, Phillip's complaint about lack of tools, but nevertheless he made
progress. He set people to picking up shells, which were burnt into lime, so that all
the brick buildings with their mud mortar could be plastered over and thus secured.
Bloodsworth's Government House on the east side of the cove was treated in this
way, even though its lime mortar would have made the walls stronger than usual.1°
As popular opinion holds that every early Australian building was convict built,
it is interesting to record that, in order to push through his building programme
in 1797, Hunter employed all the free settlers he could. He also hired
soldiers for the same work, but whether in their free or duty time we do not
St Philip's Church
St Philip's Church on Church Hill was commenced, a windmill, a storehouse,
and surgeons' quarters at the hospital were built, and, most astonishing of all,
Hunter gave Sydney its first skyscraper in the form of a clock tower 150 feet high.
Unfortunately it was built of soft bricks, and the southerly winds so eroded its walls
that in a few years a violent storm tumbled it into ruins.
The church was necessary because Johnson's original wattle-and-daub chapel
was wilfully burnt down in 1798, not long after the jail had suffered a like fate. A
turbulent Colony indeed! A Government Order offered £30 reward to anyone
who could trace the destroyers of the church. Convicts were offered the additional
reward of freedom and passage away from the Colony if they would reveal the
St. John's Church Parramatta
At Parramatta, St John's Church was commenced, and a new Government
House, "strong and elegant", replaced Philip's lath and plaster structure.14 Who
the designers of all these buildings were we do not know. Bloodsworth was so
active as Superintendent of Buildings, but could not have designed them all; other
unknown builders and designers were at work.
This was by no means a bad record for a Governor who was finally defeated by
his subjects-those monopolistic traders who were much too smart for him. He
could build with vigour and pleasure, but was weak when faced with strong men.
After all he was "a pleasant, sensible old man" who had previously been in subordinate
positions. How could he hope to tame the wild-cat of New South Wales ?
He was followed in 1800 by Phillip Gidley King of the wayward temper and the
amiable habit of manufacturing new "instructions" from the Home Government
when the real ones failed him. His attacks on the rum trade were ill planned and
desultory, so that the wily men led by John Macarthur had no trouble in outwitting
Under his rule the Colony enlarged its area and new settlements were formed
in Tasmania, and at Newcastle, where coal had been found in 1796 by fishermen
in a boat that had been driven northwards along the coast by bad weather.
King pushed on with essential building including, firstly, the necessary repairs
to Government House, which was "not inhabitable until new roofed, and the
rotten doors and window frames replaced by new ones"." The white ant was
revealed as just another hazard to those who sought to build in New South Wales.
The year 1804 was an important one for the growing village of Parramatta, for
it was to see at one end of the town the church opened for the good people; at the
other end of the town the stone jail ready for the bad people; and in between, the
brewery operating for, presumably, all sorts of people. This brewery was intended
not to undermine sobriety but to induce it, for it was believed that changing the
drink of the populace from rum to beer would have a salutary effect. Alas, the
beer seemed pale and insipid stuff after the fiery rum of the monopolists and the
project failed, even though the new brew was most reasonably priced at 6d. a
gallon wholesale and 6d. the full quart retail.
King made architectural history by ordering the manufacture of Australia's first
exportable prefabricated buildings, which were shipped to Newcastle and Tasmania.
But his main energies were absorbed in fighting enemies within the Colony.
He had external enemies, too, of whom he was fortunately ignorant. He would
have been most disturbed had he known that the French expedition under Nicolas
Baudin, which he had entertained so hospitably in 1801, had recommended to
Paris that the settlement at Sydney should be destroyed as soon as possible. Had a
French colony been located in the adjacent seas this laudable object would certainly
have been achieved!'
The fear of annihilation was constant and grave. When, in 1804, a native
reported that an armed ship was in Botany Bay, the only reason that could be
assigned to its putting in there, instead of to Port Jackson, was a projected attack
upon the settlement from the landward side. The town was alerted, all outposts
warned, troops mobilized, and Major Johnston, apparently with skirmishers, went
forward into the scrub to reconnoitre, followed by the Governor in the second
wave. The "enemy" was found to be the Mary of Boston, a ship so very small that
fears were soon put at rest. Her four guns and fourteen men were no threat. A
letter from her master, Captain Balch, fulfilled the civilities and explained his
mission. He was on his way to Manila, and sought permission to sell some spirits,
which he did after bringing his ship round to Sydney Cove. For 1000 gallons of
rum, loo gallons of brandy, and 100 gallons of gin he received 2500 Spanish dollars,
which currency would be very useful where he was going. Just before she sailed
the Mary was searched, and six would-be excursionists were returned to shore and
lodged in the jail.
A Frenchman who stands out clearly in this period is Francis Barrallier, an
ensign of the New South Wales Corps. He had a taste for exploration and penetrated
139 miles into the Blue Mountains- as far west as the Blaxland
and Lawson party was to go eleven years later. Barrallier, however, was not able to
find his way down the western escarpment of the range, and had to return with
final victory beyond his grasp. He left us the chart of his journey, which is lodged
in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, as well as charts of the Hunter River, and of
Barrallier was appointed Engineer and Artillery Officer at the salary of 7s. 6d. a
day, and his chief work was the construction of the citadel above Dawes Battery
on the site where Sydney Observatory now stands. Indeed, the mound under the
general platform is Barrllier's work, the foundation having been laid in August
1804. However, this small hexagonal fort in an obscure colonial town may not
have been his most important work, for he possibly designed one of London's best
known landmarks: Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square has been attributed to
In 1804 advertisements for the sale of houses often included the phrase, "well
shingled and glazed throughout", from which we may infer that unglazed windows
and thatched roofs were still common. In that year a Richard Robertson opened
his eating house in Pitt's Row, Sydney, and we can only regret that no details have
been preserved of the design of Australia's first restaurant.
At Green Hills on the Hawkesburv River a brick church of respectable size was a
completed in record time. It was 101 feet long by 24 feet wide and had a school
and schoolmaster's quarters incorporated in its two storeys.
Under King, the slow geographical and social growth of the settlement begun
by Hunter was continued, but all this was in spite of, rather than because of, the
political activities of the time.
In 1806 a new Governor came to Sydney in the person of William Bligh, who,
having survived the mutiny on his Bounty in 1789 and the mutiny of the whole
fleet at the Nore in 1797,was to be the last naval Governor to attempt to tame the
wild and unruly New South Wales.
In between his political skirmishes he had erected some not very important
buildings. St Philip's on Church Hill was being finished at last, to become what was
justly described as the ugliest church in Christendom. But eight bells were hung in
the ghastly tower and, though small, their ringing added a marked cheerfulness to
the little town. The bells were made by Thomas Mears and Sons, bellfounders of
London, which firm is still making Australia's bells the better part of two
Government House was, as usual, "in so rotten a State; wants to be New". The
old prefabricated hospital on the west side of the cove was "rotten and decayed;
not worth rep'g.". A long list of buildings showed the same decrepitude, for
although Sydney Town was not yet twenty years old, already it was mouldering
away.2a Expediency and making-do were obviously not good enough; there would
appear, after all, to be more to architecture than mere building. The town had been
cobbled up by amateurs, so it is not surprising that results were amateurish. The
principle of trial and error was proving to be mostly error, and a professional hand
was badly needed.
One little building, privately built, fared much better than those in Sydney.
Along the glorious Hawkesbury River, north of what was to become the town of
Windsor, Scots settlers were farming the land, and building houses and a church.
On the high ground above the lovely Swallow Rock Reach the little stone chapel
of Ebenezer was commenced in 1807. The main fabric was completed two years
later, although the final fitting-out and completion of the design was not accomplished
until 1817. It is said to have been designed by Andrew Johnston, an eminent
settler and a reputed architect, but corroboration is lacking. With the addition of
a small porch on the southern end and some alterations to the roof and the interior,
Ebenezer has survived and is the oldest church standing in Australasia.(6)'
It is a most elementary building, with four simple walls and a gable roof that
used to show the typical pseudo-pediment treatment at the gable end. The walls, 2
feet thick, are of stone, pierced by four window openings on each of the two long
sides; the two central doors have been blocked up in favour of the entrance at the
end. In the light of history and romance, Ebenezer is important, but architecturally
it can hardly be said to exist at all.
Since the church was placed close to the river, funeral processions to it were
most impressive and unusual when, as very often happened, they came by water.
A lead boat would tow the "hearse", and boats of mourners from the riverside
would join into the single file of the cortege as it passed their properties. "The quiet
of the river, preserved by the use of muffled oars, must have added a note of
gentleness to a solemn occasion."
Ebenezer Church, Wilberforce, near Windsor.
Meanwhile, Bligh was deeply involved in his struggles with the oligarchy, without
there being any hope of a red solution. Fresh from their victories over two
governors, the monopolists were truculent in their demands for complete freedom
to do as they pleased? The irascible Bligh was not the one to dissuade them from
their views. It is doubtful if an angel from Heaven could have achieved that, and
Bligh certainly had few heavenly qualities.
The breach became so wide that there finally broke out an armed insurrection
known to history for ever afterwards by the comic-opera name of the Rum Rebellion.
It was a rebellion founded on rum, and it had an aura of rum, for, the
day of the insurrection being hot, the officers suitably primed the four hundred men
for the stern duty before them. The noble army was seen to stagger somewhat as
it mounted Sydney's Bridge Street hill to Government House, there to overturn,
arrest and depose its overlord.
It was a poor end to a good try. Bligh in his own domineering way bad sought
sincerely to straighten out the affairs of the Colony, but it was only in his failure
that he succeeded. The rebellion forced the Home Government to pay attention,
and the sluggish Colonial Office had at last to take red action that was to start a new
era in Australian affairs.
It also turned up one other interesting item in the reappearance of Lieutenant-
Colonel Joseph Foveaux, who was yet another temporary Lieutenant-Governor
of the Colony. A Regular Army man, Foveaux sided with the military, but nevertheless
he attempted to tighten discipline a little. On taking command he had been
shocked to find "Public Buildings of every description in a shameful dilapidation or
rapid decay1'.31 Foveaux was antipathetic to Bligh and blamed him for the neglect,
but the evidence produced by the Lieutenant-Governor was inaccurate: "nothing
seems to have been attended to but the improvements at Government House . . .
and at Captain Bligh's private farms". Actually Bligh did not even repair Government
House whilst he was in it. All the other buildings needing repair had received
attention by August, but not Government House, so that Foveaux's statement
was exactly the reverse of true.
However, he himself was energetic and he built a barracks and a commissariat
store, firmly claiming the credit for the designs for himself. The very curious
original drawings of these buildings, bearing Foveaux's signature, are the oldest
Australian plans extant, and are now in the Mitchell Library. The most interesting
is the "Plan and Elevation of the Intended Stores at Sydney', dated 20th February
1809. This building was on the waterfront on the west side of Sydney Cove, and it
survived long into the twentieth century. Its conspicuous position made it a
familiar sight to Sydney's travelers for over a hundred years.
The stores, on the site of the Museum of Contemporary Art
It was a simple building of stone; and one gathers from Foveaux's drawing that
he left all the constructional details to the men on the job. It is the original design
that is shown in the accompanying drawing (7). During building operations the
proportions were varied and doors were introduced on every floor at the centre of
the building. Later the quay was taken right across the front.
Foveaux's barracks formed part of the large Wynyard Barracks. His plan of
them also exists, and a view of the completed building can be seen in Eyre's views
of Sydney in 1810."
Building of a store at Parramatta which he had designed was commenced, but
events did not allow its completion. Circumstances were changing, and two
things were happening that were eventually to have spectacular effects on New
South Wales: Lachlan Macquarie was coming; and the architects were coming.
|This section is based on the excellent book Early Australian Architects and Their Work (Angus & Robertson, Syd, 1954); Herman, Morton, (1901-1983). Illustrated and Decorated by the Author.|