Historic Themes for Buildings listed by the Tasmanian National Trust

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1. Historic Tasmanian Towns
2. Historic Tasmanian Architects
3. Historic Tasmanian Families
4. Early Architecture of Tasmania

4. Early Architecture of Tasmania

"Tasmanian Architecture of the Nineteenth Century" by Roy S. Smith

  • An essay published in the book "Priceless Heritage" p.17-19


The colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania were founded during England's Georgian period of architecture, and in Tasmania the Georgian period carried over into the reign of Queen Victoria and was greatly favoured even to the middle years of the century.
Quamby Managers House, Westwood Rd, Hagley, TAS
Quamby Managers House, Westwood Rd, Hagley, TAS

Pioneer settlers and building tradesmen were steeped in the Georgian traditions, and endeavoured to reproduce in the colony little bits of their native Britain. Their homes were symmetrically planned about a central hall with a dignified entrance door, often crowned with a beautiful fanlight.
The larger homes were set among English trees and hedges, and in the country were flanked by spacious and harmonious farm buildings. Cottages in towns and villages often rose directly from the public footpath, and these too were formal in character.

The domestic work generally retained the symmetry and proportions of traditional Georgian, but considerations of economy, combined with a dearth of skilled tradesman, brought about a simplification of detail. The resulting buildings though sometimes a little stark, retain the virtues of dignity and good proportion and in their arboreal settings fit delightfully into the Tasmanian landscape.

Colonial Architecture

In many early homes the verandah was introduced, and where it was an integral part of the design, fitting under the main roof of the building, a truly 'Colonial' effect was produced.

The latter half of the eighteenth century saw the passing of the Georgian vogue and the introduction of a variety of types of design.

Gothic Revival

Clifton Priory Wentworth Street Bothwell, TAS, Australia
Clifton Priory Wentworth Street Bothwell, TAS, Australia

  • The Gothic style had steeply pitched gables, with fretwork of one or another ingenious pattern on the barge boards.


  • Another housing style was the pseudo-Italian villa complete with tower and attached verandahs.

Quite early in the history of Tasmanian colony good building stone was found to be well-distributed over the southern half of the settled portion of the island, and during Lieutenant-Governor Arthur's period (1824-1836) skilled tradesmen were brought to Van Dieman's Land from the British Isles under an assisted passage scheme. These included masons, brickmakers, bricklayers and carpenters who were employed in the erection of buildings of a permanent character.

In Arthur's time some of Hobart's most important public buildings were erected to the designs of a talented Colonial Architect, John Lee Archer;
  • the present Parliament House
  • the Public Offices in Murray Street, and
Photograph - View of Parliament House facade, with flower garden in the foreground, Hobart
Photograph - View of Parliament House facade, with flower garden in the foreground, Hobart

  • the Ordnance Stores.
These set a standard of restrained and dignified design on classic lines, which has been followed with rather more richness of detail by such architects as James Blackburn, William Porden Kay, and Henry Hunter, whose design for the Hobart Town Hall in the Italian Renaissance manner was prepared in 1862.
  • Hobart's public buildings contribute greatly to its gracious atmosphere, and in Launceston worthy examples are found, ranging from the simple old Commissariat building, now the Patterson Barracks, of the eighteen-twenties, to the ornate Custom House of the eighteen-eighties.

Church Architecture in Tasmania

Early churches were erected by the Government or with Government assistance and were often the work of the Colonial Architect of the day. Some few were in the manner of the period.

Colonial Renaissance Church

John Lee Archer's 'Old Trinity' Hobart, is an outstanding example of a Colonial Renaissance church.

Georgian Churches

The old church of St David, Hobart, and St. John, Launceston were Georgian churches.

Colonial Church Architecture

St Peter, Hamilton, the Presbyterian church of St. Andrew, Evandale and a number of non-conformist chapels.

Tudor Gothic Revival

Early in the eighteenth century Gothic and Tudor details were introduced at St John's, New Town, and St. Luke's, Richmond.

Romanesque Revival Churches

 Anglican Church of St Thomas, Avoca
Anglican Church of St Thomas, Avoca

About 1840 James Blackburn made his own Romanesque Revival, designing four or five churches in that style. Most of his early church designs took the form of a rectangular nave with a high square western tower, and some of these still dominate the grouping of the square western tower, and some of these still dominate the grouping of the buildings in the little towns, and serve as focal points in the landscape.

The churches of the middle of the eighteenth century were erected without the help of a Government labour and the massive towers were omitted. Often a belfry was introduced into a gable and gabled porch was featured on the side wall.

Gothic Revival Churches

From about 1860 onwards, the Gothic Revival came firmly into its own, when many churches of merit were designed by Henry Hunter and his pupils, and the two cathedrals were erected in Hobart.

Colonial Georgian buildings in Tasmania find a near counterpart only in New South Wales. The Tasmanian examples are so full of merit and still so widely distributed as to form a heritage to be preserved, and to be admired for simple and satisfying beauty.

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