Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Francis (Jack) Hennessy (1853–1924)

by Rod Howard

This article was published:

John Francis (Jack) Hennessy (1853-1924), architect, was born on 21 April 1853 probably in Ireland, son of Bryan Joseph Hennessy, outfitters' manager from Cork, and his wife Ellen, née Swiney. By 1855 his parents had moved to Leeds, Yorkshire, where he grew up. After passing the Oxford senior local examination in 1868, he was articled to William Perkin & Son, architects and surveyors of Leeds. On completing his apprenticeship in 1875 he was awarded the Ashpitel prize of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a silver medal for measured drawings. While attending the architectural schools of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, he gained practical experience with Basil Champneys and Charles Eastlake, and the noted Gothic Revival architect William Burges.

After six months study in Spain, Hennessy worked in leading architectural offices in New York and Boston, United States of America, and spent two years in Los Angeles as junior partner in Kysor & Hennessy. Believing that Australia offered more opportunity, he arrived in Sydney in October 1880. Next year he became a draughtsman under the city architect. His ability was soon recognized and, appointed assistant city architect, he designed the Frazer fountain in Hyde Park (1881) and the Centennial Hall extension of Sydney Town Hall (1883). He resigned in 1884 but in 1887 became consulting architect for the completion of the Centennial Hall. In 1884-88 he was instructor in architecture at Sydney Technical College. On 25 February 1884 in Sydney he had married Matilda Silk (d.1898) of Delegate.

Hennessy's geniality earned him many friends including Joseph I. Sheerin who became his partner in 1884. Both were devout Catholics, active in Church charities, and friends of Archbishop (Cardinal) Moran. Their designs, a blend of neo-Gothic and Romanesque styles, for St Patrick's College, Manly, and the near-by episcopal residence were awarded a medal at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London.

Sheerin & Hennessy designed many other Catholic buildings in Sydney and New South Wales country areas, including St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill (1884-94), St Vincent's College, Potts Point (1886), and the Cathedral of St Mary and St Joseph, Armidale (1910-11), with its dominating turreted tower and needle spire in polychrome brick. Among their numerous commercial premises were Hordern Bros' drapery store (1886) and Tattersall's Club (1892) in Pitt Street and ten stores for (Sir) John See. Many large suburban residences were built to their plans. In 1912 Sheerin left the firm and Hennessy's son, Jack, joined it. They were responsible for completing W. W. Wardell's plans for St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, for which they designed the crypt. With Sir John Sulman, Hennessy designed the model garden suburb of Daceyville in 1912. He retired in 1923.

For almost forty years Hennessy lived at Burwood and designed the council chambers (1887). An alderman on the local council from 1890 to 1895, he was mayor in 1892-93. During his presidency of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales in 1911-12 the registration of architects was achieved. He helped to establish the chair of architecture at the University of Sydney and to secure the recognition of public competition for public buildings.

An important figure in the development of church architecture in Australia, Hennessy was appointed knight of the Order of St Sylvester by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. He designed a wide variety of buildings, enabling him to experiment with a spectrum of architectural styles and building materials. Despite an eclectic but controlled approach to stylistic representation, examples of decorative details executed in two-tone brickwork bear witness to his virtuosity as a skilled and sensitive designer. He died of heart disease at his Burwood home on 1 November 1924 and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery, close to the sandstone mortuary chapel he had designed in 1886. His estate was valued for probate at £16,672. He was survived by three daughters and his son who carried on the firm Hennessy, Hennessy & Co.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Nov 1924
  • R. I. Howard, Sheerin and Hennessy — Architects (B. Arch. thesis, University of New South Wales, in preparation)
  • Hennessy scrapbook (privately held).

Citation details

Rod Howard, 'Hennessy, John Francis (Jack) (1853–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 April, 1853


1 November, 1924 (aged 71)
Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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