This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966
This is a shared entry with Edward Hallen
Ambrose Hallen (d.1845), architect and company director, and Edward Hallen (1803-1880), architect and ironfounder, were brothers, born in England. They both married daughters of William Lawson, one of the explorers of the Blue Mountains. Ambrose married Sarah, Lawson's youngest daughter and Edward married Sophia. Ambrose, after being appointed assistant surveyor to John Oxley, surveyor-general of New South Wales, came to Australia in the Layton in 1827, but instead of working under the surveyor-general, he was appointed town surveyor. In 1829 his title was changed to architect and town surveyor, which position he held until 1832 when he was made colonial architect. In 1829 Edward, still in London, was appointed draughtsman to the surveyor-general of New South Wales. Soon after arrival in Sydney he began to practise architecture: his name as architect and the date 1832 are carved on the west face of Sydney Grammar School. The plans of this building were begun and the foundation stone laid in January 1830. Both brothers received grants of land in the King's Cross area of Sydney and they built Telford Place and Rose Hall, conspicuous mansions in the district. The name Telford derived from their friendship with the great English architect-engineer, Thomas Telford, who had given Ambrose a letter of recommendation when he applied for the post in New South Wales.
As colonial architect Ambrose was mainly concerned with repairs, and designed few new government buildings. He produced designs for several important works, such as a bridge on the Liverpool Road and a large court-house for Sydney, but the government rejected them. Indeed his scheme for a market hall aroused positive hostility in the surveyor-general, (Sir) Thomas Mitchell. He did, however, have a large private practice. Among the buildings he designed was Roslyn Hall which long stood in Rushcutters Bay where Roslyn Street now is. He engaged in many activities apart from architecture and in 1834 was so involved in flour-milling that he was thought to be on the way to making a fortune. At the same time Edward produced buildings that were by no means discreditable. Besides the grammar school, he designed Hereford House in the Glebe, Sydney (still remaining 130 years later but somewhat mutilated), and the Argyle Cut, that not inconsiderable engineering work linking George Street North with Argyle Place. However, by 1834 he was so discouraged by the poor return from his architectural practice that he decided to turn grazier, and obtained a property called Mowbla on the Castlereagh River where he raised sheep, being helped in this venture by his father-in-law.
Meanwhile the government was becoming dissatisfied with Ambrose's preoccupation with affairs outside his office. Mitchell, who wanted Mortimer Lewis to become colonial architect, so arranged matters that Ambrose had little choice but to resign, which he did in 1835, and after this his social and business interests began to multiply. He became a director of the Fire and Life Assurance Co. in 1836, a member of the Royal Exchange Co. in 1837, a director of the Australian Gas Light Co. in the same year, and a director of the Australian Auction Co. in 1840. He also had an interest in the Steam Mill, Sussex Street, Sydney, and owned a station property. He was living at Veteran Hall, Prospect, when a daughter was born to his wife in 1843.
By this time his fortunes seem to have been waning. He sold out from the gas company in 1841 and in 1842 sold his interest in the Steam Mill and was disqualified as a member of the Royal Exchange Co. In 1844 he sailed for London in the Greenlaw but died on the voyage. His widow married George Langley of Tipperary on 22 June 1846, and later lived at Parramatta.
Edward continued as a grazier, but was an absentee landholder. He was living in Kent Street, Sydney, when he applied for the city surveyorship, but later publicly withdrew his name, giving as his excuse the pressure of private business. The validity of this excuse may be open to question, for soon afterwards he left the colony with his family. He returned to England where he joined the firm of Cottam & Hallen, ironfounders. For some time he lived at Pembroke Terrace, Kensington. His name reappeared in the Sydney directories in 1865, when he described himself as a surveyor, with his office at 108 Pitt Street, Sydney. In 1867 he took a partner, Edward M'Evoy, the firm of Hallen & M'Evoy describing themselves as civil engineers, surveyors and architects. The partnership lasted until 1873, after which Edward Hallen once more practised alone. His practice was very small, and surviving pages of his ledger show lists of very minor jobs and his total fees for 1878 as £362 and for 1879 as £200. He died on 11 January 1880. His wife Sophia, whom he had married in October 1840, survived him by exactly twenty-six years for she died on 11 January 1906.
Morton Herman, 'Hallen, Ambrose (?–1845)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hallen-ambrose-2147/text2737, accessed 13 December 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966