Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frank Stapley (1858–1944)

by David Dunstan

This article was published:

Frank Stapley (1858-1944), architect and town planner, was born on 24 October 1858 at Hove, Sussex, England, second of three sons of Isaac Stapley, policeman, and his wife Mary Ann, née Hilton. Educated at Hove and trained as an architect, Stapley went to South Africa in 1880 where he practised in Cape Town and on the Kimberley diamond fields. After contracting fever, in 1883 he returned to England. On 5 January 1884 at the parish church, Exeter, he married Eliza Sutherland Dunning (d.1924) with whom he migrated to Victoria. He joined the office of William Salway, a leading Melbourne architect, worked with the city surveyor's department of the Melbourne City Council in 1887-93, and later practised on his own account and in partnership. Stapley designed domestic, commercial and industrial buildings, including the West Melbourne stadium which had a large interior space without internal roof supports.

As Melbourne's chief advocate of town planning, he was to be influential for more than three decades. The Victorian Town Planning and Parks Association was formed in 1914 and a series of conferences was held throughout Australia in 1917-19. A key figure in this movement, Stapley brought to it the prestige of his presidency of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1920-21. He was appointed foundation chairman of the nine-member Metropolitan Town Planning Commission in 1922. The commission dealt with many important issues and in its final report (1929) produced a master plan which focused on road transport, land-use zoning and open space. Although well received in professional circles, its recommendations were never comprehensively implemented: with the onset of the Depression, the economic and political climate was unfavourable, and planning at the metropolitan level was inhibited by a plethora of municipalities, much to Stapley's regret.

A member of Melbourne City Council from 1901, Stapley was mayor in 1917-18 and an alderman in 1921-39. He chaired the council's parks and gardens committee, and was also a member of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the Health Commission and the National War Memorial Committee. In 1926 he became the subject of society interest when, following the death of his elder brother Harry, he refused to claim a family title of dubious authenticity, observing that 'it would hardly harmonise with conditions out here'. Tall and handsome, Stapley was a personable reformer. An atypical city councillor of the period, with little in common with his colleagues, he was greatly disappointed by the failure of State and civic authorities to adopt his visionary plan. He was still urging Melburnians in 1935 to prepare for a population of two million within the next fifty years.

Stapley died in Royal Melbourne Hospital on 11 September 1944 and was buried in Brighton cemetery. On 3 September 1924 at St James's Anglican Church, West Melbourne, he had married Edith Ellen Simms who survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Cokayne, Complete Baronetage, vol 3, 1649-64 (Exeter, Eng, 1903)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Oct 1917, 13 Sept 1944
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 Oct 1926, 2 Feb 1935
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Sept 1944
  • D. Vogt, A History of Conflict: Melbourne Town Planning in the 1920s (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1975)
  • W. M. Grubb, A History of Town Planning in Victoria 1910-44 (M.T.R.P. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1976).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Stapley, Frank (1858–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 October, 1858
Hove, Sussex, England


11 September, 1944 (aged 85)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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