Sydney Architecture Images-Sydney Architects

Edmund Blacket (and Cyril and Arthur Blacket)

At the time of Lewis' departure, there were two candidates for his succession. The first was the perennial William Moir, Lewis' trusted assistant who had applied for the post as early as 17 September 1849. However, the successful candidate was Edmund Thomas Blacket, a private architect who had achieved a reputation in designing church architecture (Fig 14).

On 1 December 1849, the Colonial Secretary wrote to Blacket…. "His Excellency, the Governor, having being pleased to appoint you to the office of Colonial Architect, I am directed to request that you will immediately assume the charge of the Department, and receive from Mr Lewis, all plans, specifications, contracts or other documents in that gentleman's possession." 

The new Colonial Architect had arrived in Sydney in November 1842 as an emigrant settler from England. He was largely self taught in art, painting, sculpture, music and architecture. Blacket requested from the Colonial Secretary a Clerk of Works to assist him with his projects, and James White was appointed to become the Department's Second Officer. Other members of Blacket's staff were Mortimer Lewis Jnr as the Second Clerk of Works for Maitland Gaol, John Thomas and John Sharkey as First and Second Forman of Works, and Mortimer Lewis' other son, Frederick George Lewis as Draftsman. The two office clerks with the official chimney sweep and office messenger completed the office numbers. In reorganising the office Blacket was seen as a very fair minded person.
Blacket completed some of Lewis' work at the Australian Museum and erected the Water Police office at Circular Quay in 1851. He demonstrated design ingenuity with the design construction of the Victoria Bridge at Maitland where he used a new design approach incorporating large timber trusses. Some of the concepts for these new approaches to timber trussed bridges had been brought back from England by the Surveyor General, Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell credits much of the design of the Victoria Bridge to Blacket's assistant, William Weaver. Weaver's training as an engineer certainly gave him a better understanding than architect Blacket of the engineering aspects of the bridge. Weaver had been appointed Foreman of Works on 1 November 1851 to replace John Thomas. (Fig 15)

Morton Herman's 1963 book on the Blacket's describes Edmund as…. "one of the great makers of Australia's history." It seems that Blacket was a quiet person who had great respect from everybody who knew him. "He was shy and self-effacing." Herman saw him as a very important architect…. "He was certainly the most prolific, and perhaps the best, architect Australia had produced." This was however substantially through the work outside his role as Colonial Architect. 

During his time as Colonial Architect, Blacket kept a handsome calf bound diary in which he recorded all the activities he was involved in with neat lines of writing, exquisitely horizontal across each page. Blacket was well mannered, courteous and a pleasant personality, although shy and retiring. He was often unwell and his diary records entries such as "at home most of the day being unwell." (Fig 16) 

In 1853, Blacket moved from his house in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst across to the Glebe. This meant virtually moving into the country. Herman recalls that one report indicated that Blacket used to go home from the office by ferry to Ferry Road on Glebe Point and then employ an escort of four men to take him through the heavy timber to his new house. 

Blacket began to become dissatisfied with his duties as shown when he gave evidence before a Select Committee formed to enquire into…. "The propriety of placing the construction, management and control of the public works and buildings of the Colony under a Board of Public Works." The suggestion contained a degree of merit as by the end of 1853, the Colonial Architect's Department was too small to implement the large number of public works that were now required across the State. The gold discoveries had necessitated new roads, bridges, watch houses and public buildings of all descriptions.

Blacket suggested to the enquiry that a system of regional offices be established to enable simpler supervision of works across the State and also proposed to institute public competitions for the design of special projects such as the intended new General Post Office for Sydney. Blacket saw that this process would have "the advantages of the best architects in Sydney without permanently increasing the strength" of the Department. 
This was one of the earliest acknowledgements by a Colonial Architect of the growing strength within the private architectural profession in Sydney. It also begins a continuing competitive streak between the private sector, who demanded more access to the design of public buildings and the Colonial Architect's office. The Committee was impressed with this proposal and gave it prominence in its report produced on 21 November 1854. 

Blacket became increasingly disenchanted with Government service and found a new opportunity emerged with the need for the establishment of the Colony's first University. Blacket resigned on 10 June 1854 to take up the work of designing the new University buildings at Gross Farm. On 25 August, he eventually left the office and nominated William Weaver as his successor. The next year, while Blacket was supervising the construction of the Great Hall at the University, he found one of the masons was able to read plans and assist him communicate the design to the craftsmen on the site. Blacket elevated the young mason to the position of Clerk of Works, and this was one of the key steps that moved James Barnet into his career as an architect and ultimately to becoming the State's longest serving and most prolific Colonial Architect.

William Weaver took over as Colonial Architect on 1 October 1854. He was an engineer by profession, trained in the office of Brunel in England. After working in other engineering and architectural jobs, he fell into problems with a coal mining venture which was unprofitable. This led to Weaver immigrating to New South Wales where he fairly quickly gained a position in the Colonial Architect's office under Blacket. Weaver was the logical successor at the time of Blacket's resignation. Weaver still had Mortimer Lewis Jnr in his office and a number of the other older members from Blacket's staff.

A number of new comers joined the office including Alfred Cook, who filled the vacancy caused by Frederick George Lewis' resignation in 1851. Cook was to remain in the Colonial Architect's office for 36 years. Another important addition was William Edmund Kemp, who was appointed First Foreman of Works on 13 November 1854. Kemp had been articled to Blacket and later achieved significant recognition for his own design work, particularly for school buildings and technical colleges. 

The Governor took no action on the report of the Select Committee's, recommendations for public competition for public buildings. At the same time, however, the Colonial Architect was prevented from increasing his staff members. 

In 1855, Weaver's main project in Sydney, a new Government Printing Office, was designed and completed in the following year (Fig 17). He continued Blacket's initiatives in constructing a number of timber bridges across rivers in the country areas. Despite Weaver's success in bridge building, he managed to incur the Governor's displeasure over irregularities arising out of the completion of the Dead House contract in Sydney. In trying to resolve the problems, Weaver instructed further work to be done, which the Colonial Secretary's office refused to pay for. 

Weaver responded as follows…. "They amount in effect to a withdrawal of that confidence which must be accorded to the head of this department. I regret to have to request that His Excellency will be pleased to relieve me of a responsibility which, under such circumstances, I'm not prepared for, and to accept the resignation of the appointment I now hold." 

Weaver only held the office of Colonial Architect for 18 months. His offer of resignation was delayed for some time, but accepted on the 31 March 1856. Like so many of his predecessors, Weaver was required to resign under doubtful circumstances.

Some months before Weaver departed in December 1855, Governor Denison observed that the Colonial Architect seemed to have too much responsibility as the range of works covered the Colony's roads and bridge construction as well as public buildings. Denison proposed to reorganise this situation and have the Colonial Architect's Department only responsible for public buildings. Little happened, however as in 1855 Queen Victoria had given Royal ascent to the New South Wales Constitution Act and in 1856 the Legislative Council and the Civil Departments were preoccupied with the necessary changes introduced by this Act. The urgency of the reorganisation of the Colonial Architect's Department was obscured for a short time. 

The replacement for Weaver was found in the person of Alexander Dawson, who had been a Clerk of Works in the Royal Engineer's Department at Hobart since October 1844. Dawson had held a position of Colonial Clerk of Works for Tasmania and come to the notice of the Governor of Tasmania, who at that time was Sir William Denison. Denison who was now Governor of New South Wales made an offer to his former Clerk of Works, whose work he was familiar with.

Dawson was keen to accept Denison's offer of the position, and on 23 February 1856 left Hobart on the steamer Tasman to sail to Sydney via Melbourne. Taking office, Dawson found insufficient staff to undertake the work he was expected to construct. This included not only roads and bridges, but also the implementation of a new water supply, sewerage and street planting for Sydney, as well as the normal public buildings. Dawson proposed an alternative to augmenting his staff, by suggesting all work other than public buildings be undertaken by others. 

On 6 June 1856, the first Ministry to administer the newly acquired benefit of a responsible Government was chosen and the Colonial Architect's Department came under the control of the first Minister for Lands and Public Works. 

In the overall organisation of Public Works separate sub-divisions were set up to cover firstly the grouping of railways, roads and electric telegraph under one Commissioner. Secondly, the Department of Harbour and River Navigation was headed by Edward Orpen Moriarty. And finally the Colonial Architect's Department was set up under Alexander Dawson, now relieved of its unwanted engineering works. Dawson was now successful in having his staff increased to the number he thought necessary. 

William Coles had the senior position of Clerk of Works and had been a Supervisor of Works under Captain Barney, the Colonial Engineer, who fully endorsed Coles' application for a position in Dawson's office. Coles won the position from 60 applicants and no doubt Barney's influence was instrumental in him winning the position. Coles remained in the Government Architect's office for 33 years.

Only two major buildings were completed during Dawson's term, the Sydney Observatory and the new offices of the Registrar General. As the Observatory began during Blacket's period, it is difficult to determine actual authorship, although this is generally attributed to Dawson. The design for the Registrar General's Office however, on the southern side of the Supreme Court was entirely his own (Fig 18). Dawson also became involved in an intriguing project to erect a pre-fabricated iron building purchased in Melbourne and shipped to Sydney to house the new Upper House. This was one of Dawson's first tasks as Colonial Architect.

The last important project carried out by Dawson was preparing competition documents for a proposal for a new House of Parliament in Macquarie Street. After much publicity, only 20 entries were submitted and Dawson's assessment of the cost of the two winning entries was at such an exorbitant level that the existing buildings continued to be used including the iron demountable building for the Upper House. 

On 30 September 1859, the Lands component was separated from the combined department and the Department of Public Works was created in its own right. Dawson still retained his role as head of the Colonial Architect's Department and was permitted to increase his staff by adding seven officers to the existing numbers.

On 4 August 1860, an additional second Clerk of Works was appointed. This was James Barnet, who was now beginning a career within the Colonial Architect's office that would last for 30 years.

Dawson resigned on 31 October 1862, possibly due to ill health and an unsettled period of architectural endeavour influenced by the evolution of a new Parliamentary system in New South Wales. James Barnet was appointed Acting Colonial Architect.

By any measure, James Barnet's period as Colonial Architect is one of incredible achievements. In the family tree beginning from Greenway, James Barnet must stand out as the star performer as Colonial Architect for 28 years. During his time as Government Architect there were 20 separate Parliaments, 16 Ministers and nine different Premiers, who often reappeared after being defeated by the Opposition to then come back in power again. Barnet built up a special relationship with Sir Henry Parkes, who headed many of these Governments, and who was the Father of Federation. Barnet produced over 1,350 works. He listed on his retirement 169 Post and Telegraph offices, 130 Courthouses, 155 Police Stations, 110 lock ups and 20 lighthouses. James Barnet was Colonial Architect at the time New South Wales had a growing sense of optimism, was booming economically and his office produced the buildings that epitomised this spirit. 

Barnet was born in Scotland in 1827 and trained in London, where he would come across the teachings of C R Cockerill, James Ferguson and John Ruskin. He was a tall and proud person who had worked his way up through study and through perseverance to have such a major impact on the city of Sydney and the State of New South Wales. During his studies, Barnet got to know the son of Charles Barry, who was one of the leading architects of the Italian renaissance style in England at the time. (Fig 19) Barnet continued his dialogue with Barry's son from NSW and no doubt continued an interest in the architecture of Europe and in classical traditions. 

On his arrival in Sydney on 10 December 1854, Barnet began looking for opportunities to ply his trade as an architect, but he could only get work as a small building contractor working with stone. He then proceeded to work for Edmund Blacket as Clerk of Works at Sydney University, where he produced some beautiful drawings of the angels on the trusses of the Great Hall (Fig 20). These simple drawings are in his field book in the Mitchell Library, which records his careful supervision of the stonework and of the timber carving. It is most likely that it was because of Blacket that he applied for a position in the Colonial Architect's Department under Dawson. Blacket gave him a reference which helped his appointment. Fairly quickly Barnet gained a reputation within the Colonial Architect's office and it was natural that he took over as Acting Colonial Architect on 1 November 1862. He was the head of the department and the title merely indicated he was required to serve a probationary period in that capacity. He was promoted over the head of William Coles, his fellow Clerk of Works. The next in line after Coles was Mortimer Lewis Jnr, still stationed at Newcastle to supervise works there.

So the family structure of the Colonial Architect was reinforced through Barnet's previous working relationship with one of his predecessor's, Edmund Blacket and with the continuity from Mortimer Lewis Jnr the son of another predecessor. 

Even before his appointment as Acting Colonial Architect, Barnet had begun the design of the Australian Museum additions and of the General Post Office in Sydney. He spent some time after his appointment reorganising the office. He established a system of rooms where key staff members would look after a group of staff who worked on particular building types. He still had staff members like Alfred Cook who had carried through under many Government Architects. He also suggested dividing the Colony into districts for the more efficient administration of contracts. He proposed that the three district offices should be under Lewis at Maitland and one at Goulburn and one at Bathurst. In the 1860s these were the towns that were establishing themselves as the centres of economic development in NSW.

Where his predecessors had been unable to advance activities for the Australian Museum, Barnet quickly produced a grand design for the Museum, Art Gallery and Library. He then proceeded to develop the first wing, which became one of his more impressive public projects. Where three previous Colonial Architects had attempted to design a General Post Office for Sydney, Barnett succeeded. Despite debate and controversy over his carvings, he produced a building of acknowledged quality.

Barnet had an early inspection of the Tarban Creek Mental Asylum and decided he must commit himself to improving the lot of mental patients. In working with Frederick Norton Manning, the Inspector General for the Insane, he developed the Kirkbride block at Callan Park as an impressive buildings that pursued the principals of 'moral therapy'. He believed that architecture had a role in shaping a civil society.

The Garden Palace was one of Barnet's major achievements, an enormous building, 400 metres long with the fifth biggest dome in the world, designed, documented and built within a nine month period. It was a remarkable achievement even by today's technology based standards.

Barnet built numerous Courthouses, Police Stations and public buildings throughout the State. In Sydney, the Lands Department, the Chief Secretary's Department (Fig 21) and the Australian Museum, along with the GPO, are acknowledged as being amongst his best. To carry out these works, Barnets staff were increased from 19 when he took over to 30 1880, and by the time he retired in 1890 his staff numbered 64. Head of most of the office and second in charge to Barnet was William Coles, who generally managed the country works and the Lunatic Asylums. 

James Barnet's Chief Secretary's building designed in 1878.

Alfred Cook still directed the draftsmen and converted rough sketches into architectural drawings. The drawings were then checked by Coles who arranged them for Barnet's final approval and his signature as seen on so many of the drawings of the public buildings of the State. (Fig 22)

Louis Robertson assisted Coles and wrote specifications for major contracts. He was one of Blacket's pupils and had been in Government service since 1860. The remainder of the staff were headed by three assistant architects, Edmund Spencer, Edwin Colley and Edward Rumsey. Spencer looked after most of the post offices including the General Post Office; Colley concerned himself with Defence works; and Rumsey the general range of projects and also the suburban and country Court Houses. 

These three officers were responsible only to the Colonial Architect, and they must share a significant amount of credit for the quality of the works the office produced. Colley had been a stonemason on the first University buildings when Barnet had been stationed there as Clerk of Works. Rumsey was probably the better designer - it is possible that he is responsible for the Bathurst Court House as well as the Court House at Goulburn. 

In 1885, Barnet took a year of leave and travelled to Europe to look at architecture and to meet with relevant authorities (Fig 23). William Coles was put in charge of the office during this time. Towards the end of Barnet's time as Colonial Architect it was clear that he had become too powerful and in December 1886 a committee was convened to look at the possibility of retrenching staff and of undertaking a general review of the management of the office. This slowly built up to general concern about the influence of the office and its effectiveness. Barnet fought back on all issues and often had to defend his buildings.

In answers to questions raised in the report of 1887, Barnet pointed out the inadequacy of his office accommodation as a single storey building to the east of Hyde Park Barracks, which was "Built originally for pigsties." These are the offices that the Colonial Architect had occupied since 1833. Barnet found them convenient with his office being in the centre. It afforded him full supervision over all rooms in the building. A draftsman who worked in Barnets office, William Andrews did a watercolour view of the outside of the office 1883 and an internal view in 1886.(Fig 23A) He also indicated that his office undertook duties that he thought inappropriate including the supply of ballot boxes to the various electorates, emptying 'privies', supplying coffins for the burial of paupers, cleaning windows and carpets, repairing elevators, drains, paths and waterpipes.

The private sector architects also began to express concern about Barnet's strong control over public buildings. They called for architectural competitions, including one for the new State Parliament House. An initial competition for this was won by John Kirkpatrick. This led to calls for competitions being established for all public buildings. On 8 March 1889, a new Minister for Public Works, The Hon. Bruce Smith was appointed and he supported the position of having competitions. He called together seven leading practitioners and asked them to advise him about the procurement of public architecture.

The Minister accepted the advice from the practitioners who included Walter Liberty Vernon. This action combined with an intensively critical period in Barnet's career, led him to retire thus bringing to close an impressive career that had spanned 30 years. The Ministerial decision led to the Colonial Architect's Department being abolished on the day of Barnet's retirement. In his letter of resignation, Barnet gave an account of his long and distinguished career. 

In his resignation Barnet paid tribute to the members of his staff…. "…for their loyal support in assisting and enabling me to efficiently carry out the duties of the Department." . A lesser position of Supervising Architect was advertised as a replacement for the Colonial Architect's position, but did not attract candidates of a suitable quality. The Minister fairly quickly realised he needed to reinstate the Colonial Architect's office. To find a replacement the Minister held discussions with a number of practitioners and within one month of Barnet's departure, Walter Liberty Vernon was appointed as his successor.

Special thanks to 
Blacket served on the Borough Council for eleven years. From 1853-1870 he and his family lived in Glebe closer to the Allen Estate, now St. Scholasticas College. It was in Glebe that Sarah gave birth to five of his eight children and his son, Cyril, continued the Blacket architectural practice.

Edmund Blacket

Sarah Blacket

Glebe was still heavily forested in the1850s and it is reported that Edmund Blacket, on returning home from his city office by ferry (to the wharf once at the bottom of Ferry Road), would employ an escort of four men to see him safely through the bushes!