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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hunt, John Horbury (1838–1904)

by J. M. Freeland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), by Freeman Studio

John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), by Freeman Studio

State Library of New South Wales, ON 6/25x30/Box 7

John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), architect, was born in October 1838 at St John, New Brunswick, the eldest son of William Hunt and his wife Frances, née Horbury. His father, a sixth-generation North American, was a carpenter and builder in Waltham, near Boston, before returning to Canada in 1853. In 1856 Hunt began training as an architect under Charles F. Sleeper of Roxbury, near Boston. He soon transferred to Edward Clarke Cabot who closed his office when the American civil war broke out. Hunt decided to migrate to India. He sailed in the Tropic and arrived on 5 January 1863 at Sydney. He met the acting colonial architect, James Barnet, who persuaded him to settle. Hunt joined the staff of Edmund Blacket, the colony's leading architect. His sound training and knowledge of construction were important acquisitions to the office and by 1865 he was Blacket's chief assistant, supervising and designing many country commissions. His unusual ideas and forceful personality so influenced the character of work emerging from Blacket's office that his seven years there became known as Blacket's 'queer period'.

In May 1869 Hunt left Blacket and went into partnership with John Frederick Hilly. Ten weeks later it was dissolved and Hunt set up his own practice. The buildings that began to flow from his office had freshness, vitality and originality. For thirty years he produced highly-individual buildings, mostly ahead of their time. His architecture was marked by power, character and the use of revealed 'natural' materials. His skill with timber and brickwork was particularly outstanding and he was a master of complexity of form and asymmetrical balance. He also found wealthy clients who were interested in quality regardless of cost. Among the best ecclesiastical buildings Hunt designed were St Matthias's Church, Denman (1871), St John's, Branxton (1873), St Luke's Osborne Memorial Church, Dapto (1882), the Anglican Cathedrals at Armidale (1871) and Grafton (1880) and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart Convent at Rose Bay (1896). His best domestic work included Cloncorrick at Darling Point (1884), Booloominbah at Armidale (1888), Camelot at Narellan (1888), Pibrac at Warrawee (1888) and Highlands at Wahroonga and Tudor House at Moss Vale (1891).

On 21 February 1871 Hunt became a founding member of the local Society for the Promotion of Architecture and Fine Art, forerunner of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales. He resigned in 1873 and rejoined in 1887. As president in 1889-95 he determined to put it on a sound basis but his tactless efforts led to schism and he was left with only fourteen members. However, he reconstituted the institute and in 1891 saw it incorporated and in 1893 granted alliance with the Royal Institute of British Architects, to which he had been elected a fellow in 1891. In 1893 he became an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.

Quick-tempered, energetic and constantly embroiled in public and private arguments, Hunt was a renowned eccentric. His lack of love for his fellows was balanced by an inordinate love of animals and he was an active member and vice-president of the Animals Protection Society. From 1895 his fortunes deteriorated: his practice collapsed in the depression and never revived. His wife Elizabeth, née Kidd, whom he had married on 4 September 1867 at St James's Church, Sydney, died on 10 March 1895. His enthusiasm was replaced by lethargy from the onset of Bright's disease and he became a recluse. Insolvent in 1897 he sold his home, Cranbrook Cottage, Rose Bay, in 1902 to pay his debts. He died in a charity ward at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, on 27 December 1904. He was saved from a pauper's funeral by two old friends and with Presbyterian rites was buried beside his wife in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery.

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  • J. M. Freeland, Architect Extraordinary (Melb, 1970), and for bibliography.

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Citation details

J. M. Freeland, 'Hunt, John Horbury (1838–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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