Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Lambe (1803–1843)

by Roy S. Smith

This article was published:

David Lambe (1803-1843), architect and farmer, was born in London, the second son of William Lambe (1765-1847) and his first wife Harriett Mary, daughter of Captain John Welsh of Plymstock, Devon. He came of an old Warwickshire family; his father, a well-known and much respected doctor, had moved to practise in Bloomsbury about 1803. David Lambe was educated at Charterhouse. In May 1823 he sought employment in Van Diemen's Land and in August a grant of land; this the Colonial Office promised since Lambe possessed the needed capital of £500. His motive for migration is unknown, though either his father's notorious eccentricities and vegetarianism or his sister's marriage to Saxe Bannister, appointed attorney-general of New South Wales in October 1823, may have influenced his decision. He sailed in the Adrian, which also carried the newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur, and reached Hobart Town on 12 May 1824. A week after arrival Lambe wrote to Arthur seeking his 'protection' should a vacancy occur in either the architectural or surveying department, and on 3 June Arthur appointed him colonial architect at a salary of £150.

Lambe filled this office for three years and three months. In his own words 'he conceived his duty to be to draw out plans and specifications of all buildings proposed to be erected by the Crown, to inspect the progress of the work'. There is little evidence on which to assess the quality of his design work, but he is known to have inspected and reported upon works under construction including the nave of St John's Church at Launceston, St Matthew's Church at New Norfolk, the church and parsonage at Sorell, the stone bridge commenced by Major Thomas Bell and the courthouse at Richmond and the commissariat store at Launceston, now known as the Paterson Barracks. He reported upon the condition of St David's Church, Old Government House, the penitentiary and the parsonage in Hobart. At times he was associated with the surveyor, John Wedge, in making valuations of country properties and improvements. In January 1827 he was occupying a farm at Sandy Bay. Later that year he prepared drawings for the conversion of Thomas Lowes's distillery at the Cascades into a female factory, but John Lee Archer, immediately after his arrival, designed an amendment which the lieutenant-governor considered to be 'a very great improvement'. The appointment of Archer as civil engineer and colonial architect in August 1827 'unavoidably displaced Mr. Lambe'; from that time the records of his activity are meagre but show that he was largely concerned with farming and horticulture.

On 26 January 1832 at St David's Church, Hobart, he married Harriet Catherine, the sister of Saxe Bannister. In December he was living at Ivanhoe, New Norfolk, where he was a magistrate and appeared in the role of steward at the New Norfolk races. Both his married life and his period of apparent prosperity were brief. His wife died in May 1833, and in November 1838 Lambe applied without success to the colonial secretary for employment. In 1840 his farm of some twelve acres (4.8 ha) at Sandy Bay, known as Lambe's Gardens and planted with a great number and variety of fruit trees, was bought for £2150 by Thomas Wood Rowlands, a solicitor. Part of this property on which an early homestead stands is known as Ashfield. Lambe was living at Brown's River when a meeting of his creditors was called at the Hobart Court House in October 1842. He died at Brown's River of 'serious apoplexy' on 20 December 1843.

Lambe had the spirit of the pioneer and in the absence of more highly trained persons he coped with the architectural work of the colony in the early years of Arthur's governorship. Though his private enterprise had little success he appears to have been regarded with respect in the community and he is remembered principally for his connexion with some of Tasmania's oldest extant buildings.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 4-6
  • H. S. Wyndham, William Lambe, M.D. (Lond, 1940)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 14 May 1824
  • Hobart Town Courier, 28 Jan, 14 Dec 1832, 7 Oct 1842
  • Independent (Launceston), 1 June 1833
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 14 July, 1840
  • Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 23 Dec 1843
  • CSO 1 and LSD 1 and GO 33/1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Roy S. Smith, 'Lambe, David (1803–1843)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


20 December, 1843 (aged ~ 40)
Brown's River, Tasmania, Australia

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