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Thomas Brenan Femister Gargett (1898–1975)

by R. J. Riddel

This article was published:

Thomas Brenan Femister Gargett (1898-1975), architect, was born on 2 May 1898 in Brisbane, eldest of four children of Queensland-born parents Alfred Thomas Gargett, postal officer, and his wife Alexandrina, née Femister. While attending Brisbane Grammar School, Brenan applied for the position of apprentice with local architects H. W. Atkinson & C. McLay that was advertised on the headmaster's door. On 22 July 1914 he joined their Adelaide Street practice, which then included A. H. Conrad. As the 'pupil', Brenan learned to type letters and specifications, and used the 'horrible ''letter press"' as a means of keeping records. In 1916 the partnership acquired the contract to build the Trades Hall—its first major public building—and in 1918 the firm became Atkinson & Conrad. Gargett was a student member (1917) of the Queensland Institute of Architects and won its student prize in 1919. Employed as a draftsman, he was among the first to gain a diploma of architecture (1923) from the Brisbane Central Technical College. At the Congregational Church, South Brisbane, on 17 September 1926 he married Lorna Gertrude Robertson. Three years later he registered as an architect.

Having helped to design the Church of England Grammar School buildings (1917), East Brisbane, the Congregational Church (1925), Annerley, and St Alban's (1928), Wilston, Gargett designed his family home, Nymboida, at Annerley. He considered his finest work the memorial library (1934) and studio (1936) at Somerville House Girls' School, South Brisbane. The partnership of A. H. Conrad & T. B. F. Gargett was formed in 1939 (following Atkinson's death) and survived the uncertain building climate during World War II. In 1943-45 Gargett supervised a civilian drafting office for the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, and formed some useful connexions with the defence forces. The postwar boom brought commissions for two major hospitals, and projects for governments and various religious denominations: clients included the Brisbane and South Coast hospitals board, the Commonwealth Bank, the Anglican Church, Queensland Newspapers and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. After Conrad's heart attack in 1952, Gargett briefly managed the office single-handed.

He was a member (1950-70) of the Commonwealth Building Research and Development Advisory Committee. In 1958 Conrad & Gargett joined six other companies as founding members of the Brisbane Development Association, initiated by Sir John Chandler. Gargett's manner and philosophies determined the essentially conservative nature of the partnership which grew to be one of the largest architectural firms in Brisbane. Earnest and unwaveringly methodical, he ensured that sound and tested principles were maintained: any suggestion to incorporate flat roofs was unthinkable, as 'B.G.' insisted that 'flat roofs leak'! His colleagues and staff saw him as a practical person, thorough and fair. He was charming with clients, but his dress sense was less meticulous than his professional methods. An associate (1930), fellow (1935), president (1960-61) and life fellow (1970) of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, he was twice president (1946-48 and 1958-60) of its Queensland chapter. Gargett died on 10 September 1975 at Toowong and was cremated; predeceased by his wife, he was survived by their two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Watson and J. McKay, A Directory of Queensland Architects to 1940 (Brisb, 1984)
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 28 July 1974
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 11 Sept 1975
  • Board of Architects of Queensland records (Brisbane)
  • P. Keating and G. Plunkett, History of Conrad & Gargett (unpublished notes, Conrad & Gargett Pty Ltd archives, Brisbane)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. J. Riddel, 'Gargett, Thomas Brenan Femister (1898–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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