Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Roach Jewell (1810–1891)

by Ray Oldham

This article was published:

Richard Roach Jewell (1810-1891), architect and superintendent of public works, was born in Barnstaple, Devon, England, son of John Jewell, joiner, and his wife Margaret, née Roach. He was articled to an architect and builder in his native town and later worked on the construction of many buildings, including churches, a college, fortifications and a military prison. Jewell married Eliza Jane Arthur. She was very frail and, after their first child was born, he decided to take her to a more temperate climate. They migrated to Western Australia and arrived at Fremantle in the Will Watch on 24 February 1852. Two sons and four daughters were born in the colony.

Jewell was first employed in the building section of the Convict Establishment, but soon transferred to the Department of Public Works and was appointed foreman in January 1853 at a salary of £150. Although he suffered a small financial loss by changing his position, prospects were good and he was glad to move from Fremantle to Perth. Governor Charles Fitzgerald then appointed him to act as superintendent of public works and supervisor of the towns of Fremantle and Perth. The Perth Gazette, 8 July 1853, commented that 'a foreman of works is not all that is required where expenditure of a very considerable amount of public money requires the most careful supervision'. Jewell's talent in controlling finance was well exercised in the next few years, when the government's financial stringency compelled a policy of 'make do and mend' in public works. His activities were at first confined to repairing buildings, roads and bridges, and supervising the construction of the boys' schools in Perth and Fremantle. The impact of transportation of convicts brought greater prosperity, and Jewell began to take part in designing such major buildings as the court-house and gaol in Perth, using limestone quarried at Fremantle and transported up river by barge, a costly process which he soon replaced by bricks made by James Brittain in East Perth.

Conscientious and diligent, Jewell worked hard. His duties included supervision of works under construction and routine office chores and he often worked on plans and specifications long into the night. For most of his thirty-two years in office he was the only qualified architect in the colony, and wrote that 'only a professional colleague' could appreciate the magnitude of his task. In lasting evidence of his prodigious industry are such major and minor buildings as the Perth Town Hall, Wesley Church, Public Trust Office, the Treasury, pensioners' barracks and the cloisters in Perth; among his many works in the country were Toodyay gaol, Roebourne residency and police station, Greenough police station and Geraldton residency (later hospital). At times Jewell was acting director of public works and commissioner for railways. He retired with a liberal pension as superintendent of public works in 1884. Predeceased by his wife on 19 July 1884, Jewell died on 1 June 1891 at his home, Belvedere, Perth.

Select Bibliography

  • J. and R. Oldham, Western Heritage (Perth, 1961)
  • Church of England Magazine, Sept 1871
  • J. and R. Oldham, ‘Documents on Australian Architecture: Richard Roach Jewell’, Architecture in Australia, vol 55, no 6, Nov 1966, pp 87-94
  • Inquirer (Perth), 25 Oct 1882, 30 July 1884
  • West Australian, 26 July 1884
  • Possum, 14 Jan 1888
  • M. B. Hale diary (State Library of Western Australia)
  • R. R. Jewell, letter-book 1855-61, A523 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • CSO, 1852-84 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Ray Oldham, 'Jewell, Richard Roach (1810–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Barnstaple, Devon, England


1 June, 1891 (aged ~ 81)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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