Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Lee Archer (1791–1852)

by Roy S. Smith

This article was published:

John Lee Archer (1791-1852), architect and engineer, was born on 26 April 1791, the only son of John Archer, an engineer of County Tipperary and Dublin, Ireland, and his wife Charlotte, née Lee, formerly of Kent, England. From 1809 to 1812 he was trained in the office of Charles Beazley, a London architect, and then worked for five years under John Rennie, who designed the London, Waterloo and Southwark bridges across the River Thames. Returning to Ireland, Archer spent the next eight years on architectural and engineering works, including the Royal Canal, Dublin. On 2 December 1826 he was appointed by the secretary of state for the colonies 'to fill the situation of Civil Engineer in Van Diemen's Land'. Arriving at Hobart Town in the Lang in August 1827, he was instructed by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur to take up the duties of civil engineer and colonial architect. He served in those capacities for eleven years, in the first nine being responsible for all government buildings including those for penal and military purposes.

Among the buildings designed by Archer are Parliament House, (formerly the Customs House), the public offices used by the Treasury and the Audit Department in Hobart, the Ordnance Stores in Salamanca Place, several buildings at Anglesea Barracks; St John's Church with the orphan schools and the parsonage at New Town; the nave of St George's Church at Battery Point; Old Trinity (the Penitentiary Chapel) in Hobart; St Luke's Presbyterian Church at Bothwell, St Luke's Church of England at Richmond, the gaol and gaoler's house at Richmond, and parts of the gaol in Campbell Street, Hobart. In the engineering field his outstanding work was the stone bridge which still carries the Midland Highway over the Macquarie River at Ross. With a committee he prepared in 1827 a plan for improvements to Sullivan's Cove which laid down the main lines for development of the port of Hobart. On another committee in 1835 he provided designs for the causeway in the River Derwent at Bridgewater.

Archer's buildings possess the virtues of simplicity and good proportion, combined with a satisfying sense of stability. His public buildings in the Georgian Renaissance manner contribute to the interesting architectural character of the city of Hobart.

Archer was married on 3 September 1833 to Sophia Mattinson of Hobart and made his home at Jutland, off Augusta Road, New Town.

After the arrival of officers of the Royal Engineers in Van Diemen's Land in 1836, works for military purposes were taken over by Captain Roger Kelsall. Two years later, as a measure of economy, Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin abolished the position of civil engineer and colonial architect, giving its remaining duties to the director-general of roads and bridges. In October 1838 Archer accepted an appointment as police magistrate for the district of Horton. He filled this office, living at Stanley, until his death on 4 December 1852. He was survived by his widow, two daughters and several sons. His grave is in the Church of England section of the cemetery at Circular Head.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 5-6
  • R. S. Smith, John Lee Archer, Tasmanian Architect and Engineer (Hob, 1962).

Citation details

Roy S. Smith, 'Archer, John Lee (1791–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 April, 1791
Kent, England


4 December, 1852 (aged 61)
Stanley, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship