The unique story of Colonial Architect James Johnstone Barnet Foreword: We start our story with a brief summary of events & happenings that evolved prior to Barnet’s arrival in Sydney in 1854. The ‘fledgling’ Colony at Port Jackson started operation in 1788 and was struggling for survival by the end of its first year, but the arrival of the second fleet in 1890 added a deal more desperation for all concerned
The Journey of the Second Fleet: The convicts on every ship in the second fleet were all mistreated, rations were poor and sickness rife. Of the approximate 1250 male convicts, 267 to NSW were dead on arrival and many more died within a year of reaching Sydney. Almost half of the convicts who arrived in Sydney required immediate hospitalisation- about 124 died within three weeks of arrival and many more in the coming years.
At the time, England was at war with France and the better class of ship was required for war-time duties. The harbour at Portsmouth was littered with convict prison ships and those used by Slave Traders, such as- Camden, Calvert & King. The government was desperately short of finance, - enticing it into using the services of this devious group, whose profits were based on delivery of their ‘cargo’ in good condition–with bonus thereto.
The ships for the fleet were supposedly - ‘specially designed’ & built as ‘new’, but the contract was based on a ‘bonus system’ according to numbers of prisoners that could ‘fitted’ on board ship – resulting in overcrowding, little planning for sanitation or storage of food and above all – no room for their own supplies- let alone that desperately needed for others in the Colony!
The traders were paid 17pounds-7s-6d for each, alive - or dead on arrival, and as names were taken, the hapless prisoners were packed in like sardines – some dying before departure and ‘dispensed with’ in the harbour before departure –“others, as they departed their homeland”.
Note: The scenes at arrival are too grotesque for description here - suffice to say; “They violated every principal of justice” and “Enough to make one’s heart bleed”. It placed an almost intolerable burden for those left in the Colony to survive, but survive they did – in a manner of speaking that is -- (Norm Moore)
The journey of all ships that arrived in Port Jackson had been nightmarish enough –but as well, their ‘cargoes’ were landed on what was considered to be - ‘bare rock’ (sandstone) – completely unsuitable for food production and without the farmers required to work any good land were it to be found.
This not only slowed expansion of the Colony, but on several occasions, brought it to a point of starvation -perhaps the fierce drought of 1812, was the closest point to this.
However, in 1813 - events took a dramatic turn for the better, when Blaxland, Lawson & Wentworth, (with help from local indigenous people) succeeded in breaking the ‘chain-like shackles’ of the Blue Mountains and discovered the ‘wonderland’ of Bathurst’s western plains.
A report from the trio stated; “They’d found the best watered land in the Colony – enough to support it for the next 30 years!”
(Above Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth)
When news of this reached England, many an aspiring cattle baron, with his wife, children, farm hands and a selection of breeding stock- headed for Sydney. John Hawdon of County Durham, England, was one of these, and on advice from Governor Darling-(and there may have been a commission to ‘tend’) first settled at Camden.(1828) He then took up land further to the South East at the Araluen Valley,‘Kiora’, (Moruya) in1832.. His story is unique, and ties in with much of this town’s history (as well as that of Sydney)–including use of convict labour, farming, discovery of gold & silver, sawmilling and granite quarries. This history is very relevant to the coming story of James Barnet. (Hawdon’s story should be told in a later series. N.M.)
However, our interest must now be directed to the west of the Blue Mountains, where there were reports of gold being ‘seen’ - first by surveyor, McBrien, in1823, then Metallurgist, William Tipple Smith. (The true discoverer of payable gold in 1848) Smith lodged several large nuggets with the govt. agent, who secreted them in a desk drawer & sought to discover the location himselph.
Gold had been discovered in California and Smith tried to warn the Govt. it could lose much of its labour force in a subsequent rush there - and cost it millions in revenue in a rush here, if it didn’t invoke legislation to own mineral rights under all lands in NSW - (as in America) but he was ignored. (Another story to be told in its own right. N.M.)
Edward Hargraves ‘faked’ a discovery in 1851- but claimed the 10,000 pounds reward and was awarded an annuity – ‘The rush was underway’!
All too late –the Govt. tried to legislate for mineral rights – but they belonged to wealthy owners of the land - and many of them were workers in the Govt.!
It was near 1855 when the mess was finally sorted, but Smith had died a broken man & now lies in Rookwood Cemetery in the most obscure of graves.
The NSW Gold Rush:
In comparison to Victoria– in NSW, (Bathurst) there was much less of a ‘nuggety’ type of gold and it was located deeper under the surface. The first annual total was a mere 26 tons. (Victoria 95 tons) Nerrigundah, (Eurobodalla Shire) later reached an overall total of 38 tons.
However, with advice from geologists and some of the ‘headier’ miners, it was soon realised the bulk of gold was in trenches or gutters adjacent to reefs from which it was eroded. One such gutter (for its quarter mile length) produced a greater quantity of gold than anywhere else in the world!
Above: This larger piece was broken up underground -5,000 oz. here.
When Bernard Ludwig Beyers & Bernhardt Holtermann opened their Star of Hope mine at Hill End, it changed things o/night! So rich was the quartz reef with gold – it had to be chopped into sections for hauling to the surface. Further to this, was the finding of a massive specimen (matrix) weighing some 600 lbs -290 Kilogram. When the quartz was crushed out it produced 3,000 oz. of gold. A larger piece had to be broken up for hauling - it produced 5,000 oz.
Above: the Holtermann mass of gold (matrix)
The whole of the community was seized in a form of mental madness, and the ‘Great Western Highway’ to Bathurst (for what it was) became choked with traffic----!
Meantime, back in England, living standards seemed even more appalling than when the first fleet left 60 years back. Every known death causing disease was rampant. The community was beset with plague upon plague.
Raw sewerage, which initially caused problems in ‘streets of the poor’- now polluted the River Thames. So great was the stench at times – even workers of London’s houses of parliament were forced to abandon their stations.
When Queen Victoria enquired of her Lord Chancellor “The state of the poor?” He replied- “Why bother the poor! Leave the poor alone” – and the poor were left alone!
Only the wealthy and ‘those in the know’ had full knowledge of the ‘goings-on’ in the now ‘very industrious’ Colony of NSW! This led to the ‘skimming’ of England’s most talented artisans -amongst these were the cream of British engineers, builders and architects –and they deserted to find a new & better way of life in Australia! Unknown to them- and ‘seemingly’ just lying in wait for use were some of the most beautiful and durable of building materials.
On the banks of Moruya River - huge forests of hardwood and 400 million year old granite. (Tonalite) But right underfoot as they alighted from ships, 700 million year old sandstone- still bearing the colour, stains & ripple marks of an ancient river-flow. Hardwood for the roof of Sydney’s GPO was milled at Tuross & delivered by the mill’s own ship “Maid of the Mill”1871. (N.M.)
When the trio of Young, Barnet & Whitton each made their way to Australia, and became aware of this -they must have felt naught, ‘but like children in a candy shop’.
The surface of the so called ‘rock’ - that caused much of the Colony’s earlier problems, would soon be worn & pock-marked by a thousand horse’s hooves as huge sawn, carved & sculptured sections were dragged to building sites- where, under supervision from James Barnet & John Young, they’d be merged into architectural wonders that remain unsurpassed today.
James Johnstone Barnet, Architect, (1827-1904) was born at Americlose, Arbroath, Scotland as the son of builder Thomas Barnet and wife Mary, (nee McKay) After gaining education at the local high school, he was apprenticed to a builder – initially acquiring experience in a variety of building works and then becoming Clerk Of Works for the Worshipful Company Of Fishmongers.
Above: Fishmongers Hall
He married Amy, daughter of John and Elizabeth Gosling in July 1854 and later sailed for Sydney - arriving in December of that year. Barnet was first engaged in general building work, and then became Clerk of Works at Sydney University. After joining the Colonial Architects office in 1860 he became Colonial Architect in 1865. (He held that position till it was reorganized in 1890)
Above: Barnet & his staff outside their ‘office’ –formerly built as a ‘pig style’
This was the start of an era in grand design of building and architecture around the Colony of NSW remaining unsurpassed today. (2017) Enormous wealth and prosperity was flowing from the great Australian gold rushes of the 1850’s and 60’s , - enough left, even after mining shareholders of the English Aristocracy had ‘embellished’ domains back in their homeland. Barnet fought for his share, as you will see in his work on the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition Building (1879) in the Prince Alfred Park – and working with him was Moruya connected builder, John Young. (Norm Moore)
Barnet was a promoter of new technologies, used concrete and fire-resistant materials, introduced electricity into his buildings and was first to install a telephone in a government office. Chris Johnson, the current Government Architect, states that Barnet was the Colonial Architect who most significantly affected the shaping of Sydney. (And many towns in country NSW)
Above: Bathurst Courthouse -a ‘stand out’ in Barnet’s ‘country & gold rush designs’
The list of Barnet's work includes 169 Post and Telegraph offices, 130 Courthouses, 155 Police stations, 110 lock-ups and 20 lighthouses. His major works include the General Post Office building in Sydney, Callan Park Lunatic Asylum, the Australian Museum, the Colonial Secretary's building, Lands Department building, and the Anderson Stuart Building at Sydney University. He oversaw 12,000 building projects thru out his time.
Above: Colonial Secretary’s building
The first of his more unique structures was the Rookwood Mortuary Railway Station No 1. It was built by Messrs Stoddart & Medway and opened April 1867. It was variously called “Necropolis, Funerary or Mortuary” Station. (The second station was built by John Young in 1869) Barnet had to overcome challenges from Engineer-in –Charge of NSW railways, John Whitton, whose style lent essentially toward that of the rail.
The Sculptures of angels, cherubs & gargoyles, were carved by Thomas Ducket & Henry Apperly. (The history of John Whitton is as unique as any other. N.M.)
Above: John Whitton and the Mortuary Station
Barnet designed the building with ‘deliberate ecclesiastical features’ to show respect for its ‘cargo’. Mourners would purchase a rail ticket, ‘the coffin travelled free’ – for “paupers” the corpse and friends at no charge! If ‘you’ were booked on this train – ‘it was a one way trip’!
This building was dismantled stone by stone in 1958, and re- assembled to become part of the All Saints Church, in Ainslie, Canberra. The vandalised ruins of Redfern Railway Mortuary Terminus No 2. (built by Young, 1869) was restored for posterity under a Wran Govt. grant ($600,000) in 1985.
Above: All Saints Church ,Canberra
We know Barnet & Young were contracted to design & build the General Post Office in 1866, but none could have foretold of coming events in 1868 that would change the pace of development, styles in architecture –‘even the very landscape’ in Sydney Town. .
Above: H.M.S Galatea at dock in Sydney. 26 gun steam driven ship with sails’.
Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was Australia’s first royal visitor. On 12th March 1868, at a charity picnic at Clontarf in Sydney, Henry James O’Farrell approached the duke and shot him. The wounded duke was brought to Government House, where the drawing room was converted into a makeshift operating theatre. O’Farrell’s bullet ‘entered half an inch to right of spinous process of vertebrae on a line with ninth rib, burrowing deeply into the tissues’. The Duke was required to remain quiet for two days. During that time a special golden probe was fashioned to enable Royal Naval surgeons to safely remove the bullet. Later, Queen Victoria showed her gratitude by presenting gold replicas of the bullet to the surgeons.
Above: attempted assassination of the Prince at Clontarf, March 1868.
Prince Alfred soon recovered, and returned home in early April 1868. On 24 March, the New South Wales Legislative Assembly voted to erect a memorial building. In order "to raise a permanent and substantial monument in testimony of the heartfelt gratitude of the community at the recovery of H.R.H", it was to be the Prince Alfred Hospital using funds raised by public subscription.
Above: The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
The Prince Alfred Hospital Act was passed in 1873. The foundation stone laid in 1876 and building opened in 1882. Its design was based on advice from Florence Nightingale, (“The lady with the lamp”) who supplied ‘Notes on hospitals & nursing’ - “What it is-and-what is not”. Queen Victoria decreed use of her ‘Royal title’ for the hospital. The golden probe can be seen in the hospital museum.
Alfred visited Australia again informally, arriving in Fremantle on 28 January 1869 and leaving Sydney on 3rd April. In both Sydney and Melbourne he dedicated hospitals and other structures in commemorating his escape from death. (Including setting a keystone in the GPO & Laying the foundation stone for Cook’s monument, (March 1869)
Above: H.M.S. Galatea arriving in Sydney
In 1870, the duke made a final visit to dock the Galatea. He arrived at Sydney on 15th September in time for the Sydney Exhibition (show). He visited Melbourne for the Cup from 22nd October to 19th November, and sailed early in 1871- without any ceremonies. Barnet was in charge of the Royal reception, and had been made responsible for the design of the Exhibition building and later, (1879) the Garden Palace building.
Above: Exhibition building 1870 –‘Royal ‘Sydney show - Photo National Library of Australia
The buildings were located in an area formerly known as Cleveland Paddocks.
The first incursion into the paddocks was the railway, which was begun in 1850 and opened in 1855. The station was located near St Paul’s Square to the west of the park. In 1856 more land was excised for Cleveland Street Public School, established that year in a prefabricated iron building.
The remaining area of Cleveland Paddocks was gazetted as a public reserve on 22 December 1865, although it was described in 1869 by Jules Joubert as ‘a quagmire with a filthy drain running across it – a plague spot’. Nevertheless in 1868 it was named after Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, then visiting Sydney. Having survived an assassination attempt at Clontarf Picnic Grounds the embarrassed colonial authorities rushed to make amends by naming local features after the Prince, ‘including this park’ along with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown.
Above Cleveland Paddocks here. -“Aboriginal camp site till the mid .19th century”
One of the ideas put forward as a means of adding compliment to this now ‘Royal’ park, was to build the most unique of structures in which to house the first Intercolonial (International) Exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere- and this was to bring about intense competition with Melbourne, where planning was already underway.
Barnet’s idea of using a concept based on a reworking of London’s Crystal Palace (and no doubt influenced by Young’s experience there!) was immediately accepted by the authorities however, it was stipulated the cost had to be met by public subscription. But the amount donated fell short, and at the end of a whole year of squabbling, (and with Melbourne well ahead) - the Govt. relented and met the shortfall, enabling a start to be made.
It was a massive undertaking; A building longer than two football fields- 2.5 million bricks to be laid -4.5 million feet of timber to be sectioned (some used to form unique latticed roof trusses) – all to be clad with 243 tons of galvanized (lead riveted) roofing iron. In all of this –provision to be made for the installation Sydney Town’s first hydraulic lift!
Above: Queen Victoria Statue and latticed roof trusses
The building began before planning was finalised- and as confirmation of entries came in, Barnet was forced to alter plans & and make drawings on the run as the extra buildings needed were hastily added to the complex!
It was a time of high unemployment in Sydney and there were hundreds waiting nearby in the hope of getting work. Some 2,000 were engaged in the construction.
Above: The Intercolonial Exhibition Building (Garden Palace)
The building was designed and completed in nine months with aid of night shifts and first use of electric light in Sydney. Preparation of 412 drawings, payment of moneys and oversight
of work were the responsibilities of Barnet and when the costs exceeded the 50,000 pounds voted for the work, and grew to 184,000 pounds - the parliament refused to pay his forage. But Barnet had insisted on the use of more durable materials. It was only after the building “took to public taste” that he was voted a gratuity of an extra ‘paltry’ 500 pounds.
The flamboyant structure – once variously described as “The most beautiful ‘youve’ never seen” and “The most beautiful to have ever graced Sydney ‘s skyline”- was to become a victim of its own design & haste of Govt. procedure. It was destroyed by fire in 1882.
Above:The Garden Palace on fire
This, from Sydney’s newspapers: The fire was as magnificent as the palace itself — thunderous crashes, rivers of molten lead, and when the walls fell away, a terrible vision of flames engulfing a towering bronze statue of Queen Victoria.
The Sydney General Post Office was perhaps the most remarkable of Barnet’s buildings. When Sir Saul Samuel opened the first stage in 1874, he likened it to the London Houses of Parliament, remarking-“This building would remain unsurpassed outside Europe,”
Above: The Sydney GPO “with clock tower prominent.” The tower was removed during WW2 in fear of being used as a target for Jap. bombers! N.M.
Barnet’s buildings were designed to ‘Stand in Time” – and in the country areas of NSW where towns had not yet emerged from infancy - “Arose like Aliens from grassy fields, paddocks and the barbed wire of fencing”.
The buildings became both a ‘corner stone’ for the town’s sociality and inspiration to further development.
Barnet died in 1904 and is buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood Cemetery. His wife had died in 1890. He was survived by four daughters and three sons, two of whom also practiced as architects.
Above: James Barnet
Take a day trip on the Barnet Trail.
For those of you having a love of Australiana – its history, architecture or just that of James Barnet- a day trip will get you to see some of it starting off in Moruya with the Courthouse:
Above: Moruya Courthouse. 1880. Designed By James Barnet
Goulburn and it's Gaol, Courthouse and Post Office. (Morning tea there, then on to Gunning)
Gunning has a courthouse (by Barnet) police station & lockup - loads of history connected with bushrangers, the rail way & the Hume & Hovel expedition.
Then lunch in Yass, and view its beautiful court house. There also, you will learn much more about the history of Hamilton Hume.
Yass is regarded as “The fine wool capital of the world.” - You may decide to go back to spend a full w/end - taking in all the history it has to offer (the same for Goulburn – Australia’s first inland city.)
On the way home – you will have the remarkable experience of seeing the All Saints Church in Ainslie, North Canberra. Remember, its been built with use of much of the stonemasonary from the old “haunted” Mortuary Station. Redfern, Sydney – so be prepared – it was originally sited over part of the old Rookwood cemetery – and “the cries of the dead” could be heard midst the clatterer of rail traffic!
Remember also— the Australian War Memorial, Ainslie. The Sydney Exhibition Building (Built by Young & Barnet) -housed some if its records (1925 1936) (Norm Moore.)
Above: The Yass Courthouse - part of the Barnet Trail