Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander Stewart Jolly (1887–1957)

by Douglas Anderson and Peter Reynolds

This article was published:

Alexander Stewart Jolly (1887-1957), architect, was born on 18 July 1887 at Wardell, near Lismore, New South Wales, fourth of six children of Scottish-born parents James Jolly, carpenter, and his wife Jessie Spence, née Stewart. About 1895 Jessie took the children to Scotland for a two-year visit to their father's birthplace at Muthill, Perthshire. After schooling at Lismore, Alexander gained experience in craftsmanship with his father's building firm, Brown & Jolly. The company contracted for some of the Lismore buildings of architects Wardell & Denning and about 1908 he began his architectural training in their Sydney office.

On 27 June 1912 at Scots Church, Sydney, Alexander married Kathleen Wilhelmina, daughter of Rev. William Marcus Dill Macky. Back at Lismore, Jolly set up in sole practice and in 1914 entered into partnership with F. J. Board; St Bartholomew's Church of England, Alstonville, was their major project (1912-16).

Moving to Sydney in mid-1918, Jolly practised in the city and built Cremorne House (1919), 7 Cranbrooke Avenue, which was an early and leading example of the California Bungalow style. He was successful but in the early 1920s ill health forced him to retire prematurely. A lover of the natural environment, he joined A. E. Dashwood, an estate agent, in land speculation in the developing Avalon area. Jolly was a keen salesman and lived on the land for sale, in a small cabin or tent, until all lots had been sold. This experience of local bushland brought a re-awakening of his architectural inspiration and, consequently, a few clients. After being commissioned to design a building, Jolly continued his habit of living on the site, directing and often helping with construction. A lone proponent of organic architecture on steep bushland, his uncompromising buildings, using earthy colours and textures, appeared to grow out of the surrounds. Loggan Rock (1930) and Careel House (1931), both at Careel Head, and the Elephant House (1935), Taylor's Point, highlighted his personal philosophy.

Land and building development faltered in the Depression, and financial setbacks led Jolly to alcoholism. Determined to show his family that he could overcome his addiction, he resolutely chopped off the top of his little finger with an axe, vowing never to drink again. He found comfort in writing nature poetry (unpublished) and children's books. His Spirit of the Bush and Adrift at Sea were published in 1932.

In the late 1930s Jolly joined Dashwood in successful land dealing on the New South Wales south coast. Nineteen buildings, sixteen of which were for residential use, had been completed when World War II began. Lean, slightly stooped, 5 ft 11 ins (180.3 cm) tall, with grey eyes, Jolly enlisted in the Militia on 18 December 1941 and was posted to the 7th Garrison Battalion. He was discharged on 2 November 1943. He did not return to architecture.

A skilled draughtsman and sensitive artist, Jolly, through poor health, an impractical nature and over-generosity, failed to achieve personal recognition or financial success, but found fulfilment in his unconventional architecture. He died of myocardial infarction on 17 April 1957 at his Wollstonecraft home and was cremated. His wife, son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Irving (compiler), The History & Design of the Australian House (Melb, 1985)
  • J. Roberts (ed), Avalon: Landscape and Harmony (Syd, 1999)
  • D. Anderson, Alexander Stewart Jolly, His Life and Works (B.Arch thesis, University of New South Wales, 1969)
  • B884 item N387021 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Douglas Anderson and Peter Reynolds, 'Jolly, Alexander Stewart (1887–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1887
Wardell, New South Wales, Australia


17 April, 1957 (aged 69)
Wollstonecraft, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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