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Marshall Waller Gervase Clifton (1903–1975)

by Duncan Richards

This article was published:

Marshall Waller Gervase Clifton (1903-1975), architect and artist, was born on 11 September 1903 at Wokalup, Western Australia, second of five sons of Gervase Clifton, farmer, and his wife Florence Mabel, née Knowles, and great-great-grandson of Marshall Waller Clifton. The family took up land at Northampton in 1910. Young Clifton's drawings at primary school so impressed H. J. Hughes, the visiting inspector, that he invited him to stay with his family in order to complete his education at Northam High School. A good student, with a flair for mathematics, Clifton planned to study engineering at the University of Western Australia, but in March 1922 began a four-year cadetship in architecture at the Public Works Department, Perth. Elected an associate (1926) of the Royal Institute of Architects of Western Australia, he remained in the department as a junior assistant architect (1926-27) and assistant architect (1927-29), before joining the practice of George Herbert Parry.

In 1930 Clifton sailed for England to further his career. From September he was employed in London by E. Vincent Harris, and helped with designs for the Manchester Central Library and the Leeds Civic Hall. He also attended classes at the Royal Academy's school of architecture from January 1931. Having visited Europe, he returned to Perth in December 1932 and next year formed a partnership with Parry. At St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Northam, on 28 April 1934 Clifton married Nancy Millicent Hughes, with whose family he had lived as a youth. He was honorary architect and artist to the Royal Western Australian Historical Society in 1936-75.

A gifted and largely self-taught water-colourist, Clifton belonged to a generation which considered that the ability to draw and a knowledge of the history of art and architecture were essential to an architect's training. He was inspired by the English water-colourists and painted 'with as little fuss as possible', endeavouring to capture a scene with spontaneity, economy and restrained colour harmonies.

Influenced by Mediterranean vernacular building forms, Clifton's 'romantic' response to his European travels was evident in such early work as the Captain Stirling Hotel, Nedlands (1935). In June 1937 he established his own practice and concentrated on domestic architecture. The Clifton house, Johnston Street, Mosman Park (1937), and Day house, Victoria Avenue, Claremont (1939), exemplified his mature design. He favoured a 'Spanish style', with its courts and loggias, seeing it as ideally suited to the climate and casual lifestyle of Perth's suburbs. These projects established his reputation.

Fine featured, clean shaven and 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, Clifton was appointed lieutenant in the Militia on 23 June 1941 and posted in January 1942 to Western Command where he performed engineering staff duties. He was transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 8 September and confirmed in the rank of captain in July 1943. Continuing to serve in Australia, he was demobilized in Perth on 19 September 1944.

In 1946 he formed a partnership with his former pupil Eric Leach, an able and articulate exponent of the cause of modern architecture. Clifton was attracted to modern architectural design because its approach was based upon a careful assessment of climate and site in order to make the most effective use of sun and shade. He re-established his own practice in 1953. The University of Western Australia's faculty of arts building (1962) is characteristic of his later work. A fellow (1952) of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, he was president of its Western Australian chapter (1956-58) and a fellow (1959) of the Royal Institute of British Artists. As honorary architect to the State branch of the National Trust of Australia (1965-72), he was responsible for restoration work at Strawberry Hill Farm, Albany (1966), and Woodbridge, Guildford (1970).

Clifton died on 3 December 1975 at Mosman Park and was buried with Anglican rites in Australind cemetery; his wife and two daughters survived him. A modest and unpretentious man, best known as a designer of houses, he had done much to develop a regional architecture appropriate to its social surroundings and climatic conditions.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Chapman (ed), Marshall Clifton: Watercolours and Drawings 1931-1973, exhibition catalogue (Perth, 1986)
  • B. van Bronswijk and D. Richards (eds), Marshall Clifton: The Art of Building, exhibition catalogue (Perth, 1989)
  • B. Chapman and D. Richards, Marshall Clifton: Architect and Artist (Perth, 1989)
  • D. Richards, 'Puzzles and Problems: The Architecture of Marshall Clifton', Fremantle Arts Review, 2, no 12, Dec 1987, p 18, and 'The Spanish Scene: Some 1930s Houses of Marshall Clifton (1903-1975)', Architect (Melbourne), 28, no 3, Dec 1988, p 16
  • R. Green, Marshall Clifton, Man, Manner and Mannerist (1986, research report, copy held in Resource Center, School of Architecture, University of Western Australia).

Citation details

Duncan Richards, 'Clifton, Marshall Waller Gervase (1903–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 September, 1903
Wokalup, Western Australia, Australia


3 December, 1975 (aged 72)
Western Australia, Australia

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.