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Joseph Reed (1823–1890)

by David Saunders

This article was published:

Joseph Reed (1823-1890), by John William Lindt

Joseph Reed (1823-1890), by John William Lindt

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4701

Joseph Reed (1823?-1890), architect, was probably the child baptized in the parish of Constantine, Cornwall, England, on 23 February 1823, son of Nicholas Reed, landowner, and his wife Amy, née Hitchins. He arrived in Melbourne in July 1853 and in January 1854 won the competition to design the Public Library. The same year he designed the Bank of New South Wales in Collins Street (the façade was re-erected in 1938 at the University of Melbourne) and the Geelong Town Hall. In 1856 he was the first elected member of the short-lived first Victorian Institute of Architects.

In 1858 Reed became university architect, succeeding F. M. White. At about the same time he designed the Wesley Church, Lonsdale Street, and the premises in Victoria Street that later became the Royal Society of Victoria building. In 1862 he added the classical portico to the Collins Street Baptist Church and took as partner Frederick Barnes (1824-1884); together they drew plans for the National Museum at the university.

Reed visited Europe in 1863. He returned in October to introduce to Melbourne with enthusiasm the brick architecture of Lombardy that is evident in three 1866 designs, the Collins Street Independent Church, St Jude's, Carlton, and the National school in Carlton, and in the 1868 design for F. T. Sargood's Rippon Lea, at Elsternwick. For the Melbourne Town Hall they returned to the classicism of the Second Empire mode, while the inspiration of their Menzies Hotel (1867) was said to be sixteenth-century châteaux although the treatment was Italianate.

In 1864 Reed and Barnes had successfully competed for Government House but the job was transferred to the Public Works Department under W. Wardell. Reed bitterly recalled it at the royal commission into the department in 1873. That year Reed, as president of the revived Institute of Architects, led deputations to the minister in an attempt to seek open competition for major public works.

In the next ten years the styles of the many buildings designed by Reed and Barnes ranged from astylar Italianate for The Gums at Caramut (1875-76) and the plastered classic of both the Trades Hall (1873) and the Exhibition Building (1879-80) to the widely admired Gothic of Wilson Hall (1878-82) and the Scottish baronial of Ormond College (1879). In February 1877 they resigned from the Institute of Architects, probably because they ignored its directive not to enter a limited competition conducted by the Melbourne City Council for the Eastern Market. Early in 1883 Barnes retired and Reed was joined by A. M. Henderson and F. J. Smart. The firm continued work on St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, in 1884 after the distinguished London architect William Butterfield had resigned. In 1890 Henderson withdrew after disagreements and N. B. Taplin joined the firm. The office later became Bates, Peebles and Smart, and exists today as Bates, Smart and McCutcheon.

Reed shared a common interest in music with Hannah Elliot Lane; they were married on 26 March 1885 and next day left for an eighteen months tour of Europe. By 1890 Reed was in financial difficulties and that year took seriously ill. He died on 29 April 'of inanition and exhaustion', and was buried in Boroondara (Kew) cemetery. His estate included several violins by Stradivarius. His widow remarried in England, becoming Mrs Boase, and had a son whom she named Joseph Reed Stradivarius. She later left her husband in India and brought the boy to Melbourne where she died in 1947.

Although Reed's work varied in quality he dominated the architectural profession in Melbourne, mainly because of his many competition successes and his constant commissions for public and prominent private buildings. Probably his best works were Wilson Hall and the city churches, Scots (1873), Wesley and Independent. The Exhibition Building displays his skill in controlling large volumes in an extensive landscape, while the Bank of New South Wales shows satisfying enrichment of a small-scale building. Retaining for a lifetime several important clients, he successfully ran his large office, the city's first major private architectural office, although David Ross of The Gums wrote in 1876, 'The more I see of Reed the less I think of him as a business man'. One employee remembered him as 'an Australian terrier; liable to snap up at you, with sudden violence, then forget all he had said and be helpful and kind'. Another recalled him as 'practical and decisive, an aggressive little fellow but very kindly'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. A. L. Saunders, Joseph Reed, Architect, Melbourne (Melb, 1953)
  • R. Boyd, The Australian Ugliness (Ringwood, 1968)
  • J. M. Freeland, Architecture in Australia: A History (Melb, 1968) and The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1873 (73)
  • R. Boyd, ‘Joseph Reed of Melbourne’, Architecture, 40 (1952) no 4
  • Argus (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1890
  • David Ross journal (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Saunders, 'Reed, Joseph (1823–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Joseph Reed (1823-1890), by John William Lindt

Joseph Reed (1823-1890), by John William Lindt

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H4701

Life Summary [details]




29 April, 1890 (aged ~ 67)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.