Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hunter, Henry (1832–1892)

by D. I. McDonald

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

Henry Hunter (1832-1892), architect, was born on 10 October 1832 at Nottingham, England, younger son of Walter Hunter, architect, and his wife Tomasina, née Dick. Educated at Sedgely Parish School, Wolverhampton, he studied architecture under his father and then at the Nottingham School of Design under T. S. Hammersley. Henry and his three sisters migrated to South Australia in 1848 with Walter and Tomasina and, after their parents died, to Hobart Town where they joined the eldest brother, George, who died on 31 October 1868.

Henry went to the Bendigo goldfields and raised funds to pay his family's debts in Adelaide. Back in Tasmania he worked at Port Esperance in the timber trade on his own account and as manager for John Balfe. He moved to Hobart probably to a stationer's business but in 1856, encouraged by Bishop Robert Willson, he began to practise as an architect. Among his earliest commissions was St Peter's Hall, Lower Collins Street, and in the next thirty years he designed such ecclesiastical buildings as All Saints Church, Macquarie Street; the Church of the Apostles, Launceston; the Mariners' Church, Franklin Wharf; Church of the Sacred Heart, New Town; the Presentation Convent, Hobart; the Deanery, Macquarie Street, and St David's Sunday school. He was supervising architect for St David's Cathedral, planned by Bodley & Garner, London.

On 12 September 1860 Wilson laid the foundation stone of St Mary's Cathedral, Hobart, adapted from William Wardell's design; as supervising architect Hunter carried out the work with 'integrity, honesty and zeal'. Bishop Daniel Murphy opened the cathedral on 4 July 1866, but the construction was faulty and the pillars of the central tower began to move as the foundations settled, and stone fell from the arches. Hunter and Major Goodfellow examined the work and recommended that the cathedral be rebuilt. A public meeting in February 1876 decided that the central tower, aisles and walls be demolished and rebuilt according to the original plan. Hunter, now Hobart's most successful architect, supervised the demolition but deemed it unwise to attempt the suggested repairs. In 1878 the foundation stone was laid for a new cathedral designed by him.

At an inquiry by Bishop Murphy into the failure of the earlier building, Hunter claimed he had not supervised the work because of other commitments and blamed the contractor, John Young. Certainly Hunter's services had been in heavy demand but he had issued payment certificates to Young and neglected to employ a clerk of works to guard his principal's interests. Young had been badly served by his foreman but no blame was attached to Wardell who in preparing the designs had noted that he could not advise on suitable foundations.

Hunter prepared plans and was awarded first premium in a competition conducted by the Hobart Municipal Council for a town hall. His design was acclaimed a fine composition of unusual breadth and unity of line but was not accepted. His design for the Hobart Museum won a competition in 1860 and construction began next year. Two years later he was commissioned to build municipal offices. He designed and built the Derwent and Tamar Assurance Offices, the Masonic Hall, Hobart, and the Australian Mutual Provident Society's Building. He planned wards and other offices for the General Hospital and designed many schools for the Board of Education; warehouses, the Marine Office and a 'picturesque grandstand' at Elwick race-course were among other buildings entrusted to his care. In 1876 he revised costs for capital works at two Hobart gaols.

Hunter was choirmaster at St Joseph's Church, Macquarie Street, for over thirty years, a commissioner for the New Norfolk Hospital for the Insane in 1866 and property valuation commissioner for Glenorchy, Hobart and Launceston in 1874 and a territorial magistrate in 1881. He served on the Central Board of Health in 1866-88, the Tasmanian Board of Education in 1875-84 and, after it dissolved in 1884, the Council of Education for which he was examiner in drawing from 1875. On the Board of Education he had been active in developing non-denominational schools. Before the 1883 royal commission on public education, he criticized the board whose meetings were mainly for ratifying decisions already taken by the chairman and secretary. He advocated an education department under ministerial control with a director advised by a board for checking political patronage. He agreed that a neutral secular system was desirable but insisted that 'every possible encouragement and inducement' be given to clergymen for religious instruction which he thought was the basis of all learning.

On a visit to Queensland Hunter formed a partnership with his son, Walter, and former pupil, Leslie G. Corrie, and settled at Brisbane in 1888. This partnership was replaced in 1891 by Hunter & Son. Although specializing in domestic architecture his firm designed the Queensland Deposit Bank and All Hallows' Convent. Prominent in the Queensland Institute of Architects, he served on its council and was president in 1890 and vice-president in 1891. In 1856 at Melbourne Hunter had married Celia Georgina, daughter of Lieutenant John Robertson of the 70th Regiment, Bengal; she survived him with one son and three daughters of their seven children when he died in Brisbane on 17 October 1892.

Hunter was one of the few notable Roman Catholic professional men in Hobart and had long given the congregation of St Joseph's Church 'the beautiful example of a devout Christian life'. He had also dominated the architectural scene in Tasmania where his admiration for Augustus Pugin, leader of the English Gothic revival movement, influenced his work especially in the churches he designed. His treatment of this style gave a pleasing effect to even the smallest church while his use of local materials enabled him to blend a wide range of building stone in a delicate manner. He brought wide experience and mature judgment to his profession and was generous in sharing his knowledge with those who studied under his direction.

Select Bibliography

  • S. M. Robinson, Historical Brevities of Tasmania (Hob, 1937)
  • Royal Australian Institute of Architects (Queensland), Buildings of Queensland (Brisb, 1959)
  • J. M. Freeland, Architecture in Australia: A History (Melb, 1968)
  • W. T. Southerwood, Planting a Faith in Hobart (Hob, 1970)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1876 (31), 1882 (43), 1883 (45)
  • Building & Engineering Journal of Australia & New Zealand, 19 Mar 1892
  • 'Obituary', Building & Engineering Journal of Australia & New Zealand, vol 9, 29 Oct 1892, pp 181-82
  • 'The Late Mr. Henry Hunter', Building & Engineering Journal of Australia & New Zealand, vol 10, 13 May 1893, p 175
  • L. G. C., 'In Memoriam: Mr. Henry Hunter', Building & Engineering Journal of Australia & New Zealand, vol 10, 13 May 1893, p 179-80
  • A. C. Walker, ‘Henry Hunter and His Work’, Report of the Meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, 19th meeting, 1928, pp 419-25
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 2 Jan 1855, 10 Feb, 1 Dec 1874, 6 Jan 1885, 19 Jan, 29 June 1886, 10 Apr, 24 July 1888
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 30 Oct 1860, 5 Dec 1868
  • Tasmanian Catholic Standard, 1 Feb 1877
  • Brisbane Courier, 2 Apr 1888, 18 Oct 1892.

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Hunter, Henry (1832–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunter-henry-3825/text6069, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 December 2014.

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

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