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James Marks (1834–1915)

by Don Watson

This article was published:

James Marks (1834-1915), architect and builder, was born in December 1834 at Yeovil, Somerset, England, son of Paul Marks, ropemaker. James entered the building industry in 1850 as office boy for Joseph and Charles Rigby at Bristol, later working for them as a carpenter on the Central Somerset Railway. His close study of Peter Nicholson's New Complete Builder was recognized by the contractors Kirk & Parry, who entrusted him with a complex contract at Portsmouth Harbour. Marks was living at Gosport when he married Elizabeth Marsh on 22 August 1858 at the parish church at Alverstoke, Southampton. They were to have nine children. He worked with the architects and builders Joseph Bull & Sons and other firms on mansions and model farm buildings until he embarked for Queensland.

When Marks arrived with his family in May 1866 the colony was in recession. At Dalby he engaged in 'sundry works' until 1868 and was then contracted by the pastoralists G. H. Davenport and C. B. Fisher to construct farm buildings 'unequalled in Queensland' at Headington Hill. He later designed and built numerous homesteads and farm buildings. Moving to Toowoomba in 1874, he continued to work as a contractor until he was declared insolvent in 1879. He recovered quickly.

After managing a timber yard, Marks set up as an architect at Toowoomba in 1880. He also became a successful businessman, purchasing in 1884 the timber yards he formerly managed and developing them into the saw-millers Filshie, Broadfoot & Co. His practice on the Darling Downs was broad ranging, including residential, commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. A devout Presbyterian, he provided plans for Toowoomba's first Presbyterian church, St John's, and he later designed St Stephen's Church, also at Toowoomba. In addition, Marks was the architect for St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Toowoomba, having won a competition for the commission in 1883. In the late 1880s his eldest son Henry James (1870-1939) trained with him. The firm became James Marks & Son in 1892—the second son Reginald John (1877-1918) was to join the practice after James's retirement.

Marks's reputation and technical competence was complemented by Harry's inventive ingenuity and flair. Unlike James's mostly conventional work, Harry's was unconventional, uninhibited and idiosyncratic; many of the firm's admired buildings (such as St James's church hall, additions to the Toowoomba Maltings and Alexandra Hall) were his designs. Evident in these were construction and climatic innovations that Harry patented, including his Austral windows, which were widely used in the United States of America in the 1920s. Harry also designed St Luke's church hall (1901), featuring Byzantine-like cupolas, cruciform decoration and ventilating gables. According to Janet Hogan, 'the clerestory lighting, the heavy timber detailing to the entrance portico and the triple casement windows with the curious balance of flat head and ornate sill all contribute to form a . . . fascinating structure'.

With Elizabeth, in 1900 James travelled to Europe, where they visited the Paris Exhibition. In 1906 he retired. He was active in local affairs, having failed to win East Ward in the 1896 municipal elections, and was a foundation member of the Pioneer Club. Predeceased by his wife, Marks died on 29 October 1915 at Toowoomba, and was buried with Presbyterian forms in Toowoomba cemetery. Four daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hogan, Building Queensland’s Heritage (Melb, 1978)
  • D. Watson and J. McKay, Queensland Architects of the 19th Century (Brisb, 1994)
  • Darling Downs Gazette, 5 Feb 1896, 21 May 1900, 30 Oct 1915
  • M. Papi, James Marks and Sons, Architects, Toowoomba--An Architectural Study (B.Arch. thesis, Queensland University of Technology, 1987)
  • interview with U. Webb (Local History Collection, Toowoomba City Library, Queensland)
  • J. Marks memoir and architectural plans (Local History Collection, Toowoomba City Library, Queensland).

Citation details

Don Watson, 'Marks, James (1834–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 April 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]


December, 1834
Yeovil, Somerset, England


29 October, 1915 (aged 80)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

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