Sydney Architecture Images- Central Business District

Burns Philp Building


A.L. and G. McCredie


located at the South Western end of Bridge St. Sydney


1899 - 1900




stone facade- finely executed sandstone carving and interior finishes


office building


  Above image copyright Simon Fieldhouse
The Burns Philp Building has state historical significance for its relationship, and continuous association from 1901-1997, with the Burns Philp Company, a major Australian maritime company who traded with the Pacific Islands. The be building is one of the few identified extant works of the firm A.L & G. McCredie, a major Australian architectural practice of the later nineteenth century.

The building has state aesthetic significance for its rare architectural quality, which includes the richly carved and modelled façade in the Romanesque style made popular by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and the finely executed sandstone carving and interior finishes. The building makes a major contribution to and is a key element in the Macquarie Place / Bridge Street Conservation area.

The building is of state technical significance as one of the first uses of composite construction and is a landmark building for the combination of new structural techniques and a fine façade treatment. Burns Philp maritime history contributes to our understanding of Australia's early trade and economy.

It is socially significant, as it is well known for its association with the Burns Philp Company, who successfully traded for more than a century along the east coast of Australia and the Pacific Islands and repatriated the Kanakas to the Pacific Islands. The Burns Philp Building exhibits the Scottish roots of the company by use of motifs such as the Scottish thistle. Philp became associated with the development of Townsville.

Designer: A.L. and G. McCredie
Builder/Maker: Mitchell and King
Construction Years: 1899 - 1900
Physical Description: The Burns Philp Building is located at the South Western end of Bridge St. Sydney. It comprises of a basement, ground level, mezzanine level and three upper levels.

The architectural styles are described as federation, Romanesque/late Victorian, Gothic and Neo-Romanesque with Scottish Baronial gables. The facade is symmetrical apart from the laneway access at ground level from Bridge St. to Bridge Lane. The elaborate stonework is made from Pyrmont 'Purgatory' sandstone. The base is constructed of rock-faced stonework with dressed reveals and ornate carvings over the arched entrance. The Bridge lane facades are of brick construction with face brick landing and lintels.

Generally the building structure is sound and in reasonable condition apart from the recent water ingress problem to the west wall of the basement. The street faade of the building is three stories high constructed with Waverly sandstone with sturdy granite columns. The comprising perimeter masonry walls and cast iron columns and timber floors appear to be in good condition and is substantially intact apart from alterations associated with the new lift, fire stairs and fire upgrading within the rear central core of the building.

Historical Notes:

The Burns Philp Building was built and established in 1899. Before the building the land was occupied by early settlers and eventually utilised by a lumberyard and a series of five buildings occupied by a number of small business' including a watchmaker, loan office, tea-rooms, a bedding manufacturer and a warehouse.

James Burns was born in 1846, originally from Glasgow, James and his older brother sailed and landed in Brisbane in 1862. By 1872 they had become partners in a grocery business in Townsville, before expanding into shipping. Over time James became a shrewd businessman, his business prospered "due to his wonderful business acumen, probity, magnetic personality and untiring efforts" [Conybeare Morrison & Partners 2000:8].

Robert Philp was also born in Glasgow in 1852. Philp immigrated with his family in 1862. In 1874 Burns offered Philp a job with a view of partnership. In April 1883 the company was incorporated under NSW law with Philp based in Townsville and Burns in Sydney. Philp resigned in 1893 after financial difficulties, but went on to become the Premier of Queensland 1899-1903.

At this time Burns Philp occupied a building, No 10 located directly opposite the site on Bridge Street, but by 1898 this building was heavily pressed with increasing demands on the company and on the building. By 1899 it was obvious that the building had to be expanded. In April 1898 Burns made an offer for the 109 feet frontage to Bridge Street opposite the existing building. This offer was declined, a second was made and in May 1899 the land had been purchased. By October 1899 twenty-eight tenders had been received for the new building. The successful tender came from Mitchell and King at 23, 875 pounds. By the end of 1900 leases had been signed to Weber Lohmann and Co., the Bellambi Coal Co., J. R. Bexter Bruce, Captain R. M Phillips William Honston, H. W. Peabody and Co. and the North Queensland Insurance Co. [Conybeare Morrison & Partners 2000]. All these companies had a considerable voice in the finishing work, adding their own requests for fittings.

In 1908 structural alterations, decorating and furnishing was carried out. During the 1950s, 1960s, later 1970s and 1980s significant changes were made to the original building to expand for new accommodation for new tenants, its capabilities and its presentation to suit the changing image of the company.

The rear of the building had suffered from fire damage. The building was sold in 1997 due to the financial collapse of Burns Philp. Council has approved subdivision of the building into 14 commercial strata- tilted units. The contents of the building were auctioned by Lawsons on Wednesday 25th March 1998, which included photographs, paintings, maps, shipping memorabilia and furniture.