One of the first boat people….
Architect Francis Greenway arrived in Sydney Cove involuntarily twenty-six years after the founding of the convict settlement and only four years after the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the man who was to become his patron. Unlike his predecessors, Macquarie had visions of transforming the infant settlement and one of his first requests had been for an architect to be sent out with 'ideas, taste and a drawing board complete'.
Greenway wasn't the first architect to arrive in the convict settlement. Daniel Mathew had arrived as a free settler a few years before Greenway and had immediately been commissioned by Macquarie to prepare designs for a combined town hall and law courts. The result was disappointing and Macquarie was quietly relieved when his masters in Whitehall expressly forbade any further work, and Mathew fell further out of favour when his first completed building was found to be poorly built.
Francis Howard Greenway was sentenced to transportation for life at the Bristol Assizes in March 1812. In his history Architecture in Australia; (Cheshire 1968) JM Freeland describes his background:
'Greenway had been born in 1777 in the West Country of England where his family had been builders, masons, quarrymen and architects for generations. By 1805 Francis, together with his brother Oliver, was conducting an office as an architect and landscape-gardener in Bristol. Through misfortune rather than mismanagement he became bankrupt in 1809 and in an endeavour to pay off his creditors he forged a memorandum to a contract between himself and one of his ex-clients. It was a foolish act because by the time the matter came up Greenway had been discharged from bankruptcy. But in the early nineteenth century nothing was as important as a man's honour. The forgery seems to have been prompted by a mixture of vanity, morality and a little professional public relations. For the forgery he was despatched to New South Wales arriving in February 1814.'
Freeland goes on to record Greenway's character, he was an architectural type I know well; the law of libel deters me from naming current names:
'He was headstrong, bumptious, vain, self confident, aggressive and given to maliciousness; but in his professional work he was a man of superior knowledge, ability and initiative-imaginative, sensitive, business-like and thorough. When anything was wrong Greenway was quick to do something practical to correct it. He had been thoroughly born and bred to architecture. Family tradition and professional training and practice amid the fine architecture of Bristol combined with his own qualities of mind had made him an extremely sound architect.'
Greenway had a letter from ex-Governor Hunter recommending him to Macquarie as 'an architect of merit' and Macquarie granted him a ticket-of-leave to open an office in George Street. Two years later (March 1816) Macquarie appointed him Civil Architect and Assistant Engineer with the duties of planning and erecting all Government works at a salary of three shillings a day.
In a remarkable burst of sustained energy over the following six years his work included a lighthouse, two barracks, a fort and a magazine, three churches, three houses, two courthouses, a large block of stables, a reformatory, a large school, a fountain, an obelisk, a toll gate, a large stores building, a dyke, a market house, a hospital, a military mess house, a police office and a quay as well as making major alterations to ten buildings and a dockyard. In addition he had also begun projects for a cathedral, town sewers, a water supply, fortifications and bridges.
He had an artistic temperament, a quick temper and strong integrity and made many enemies as he attempted to introduce better materials and workmanship into slipshod and corrupt local building practices. He started to compile draft building regulations, to train workmen and to innovate with new contractual procedures.
This body of work would be an achievement at any time, but was even more so as Greenway was only in his late Thirties, and had no clerical or drafting assistance and supervised the construction of the buildings himself, often riding considerable distances to places like Windsor.
The architectural success of his public buildings brought him a free pardon from Macquarie. Yet from all accounts he was a moody and difficult person and there was an inevitable air about his final quarrel with Macquarie who had been his patron and protector. He was dismissed at the age of 43 and dis-appeared into obscurity.
Macquarie of course, had his own problems after the Bigge Report and was recalled to England. It has been said that Macquarie 'found a gaol and left a colony', and Greenway too made the most of the opportunities given to him before he also fell into disfavour. Greenway not only set standards of a high order but also involved himself with improving all aspects of the building process. With strong integrity and consciousness of his self appointed role, he introduced professional standards of estimating, progress payments and other ways of protecting his client's interests.
Many of his buildings have disappeared but the major ones are still in use two hundred years later. Many of them such as St Lukes Church and the Hospital at Liverpool, and St Matthews Church and the Courthouse at Windsor are in outer areas, but two of the more important buildings are right in the heart of Sydney's CBD.
Hyde Park Barracks (1819) and St James Church (1820-24) stand proudly opposite one another at the junction of Macquarie Street, King Street and Hyde Park. Church services are still held in St James and the Barracks is now a museum; they are fine buildings by any standards.
We are fortunate that chance placed two obsessive men of skill and vision in the same place at the same time. Macquarie had to put up with antagonism and opposition of the military and the free settlers because he championed the rights of the emancipists. He took a Christian view of the perfectability of man and realised the value of emancipists in building the infant colony. As well as spending too much on fine buildings this was one of the reasons that led to Macquarie's recall to England and his retirement to the Isle of Mull.
Francis Greenway was the first of a long line of architects in this country who have struggled over the last two hundred years to cope with the difficult art of architecture. He set a high standard of design and practice, and we should honour him for his life and work. In his single minded dedication, he set an example for all architects to emulate.
Macquarie not only left behind the legacy of Greenway's buildings, but also the firm idea that people who had been forced by circumstances in their own country to arrive here unwillingly in boats should be reformed and accepted and encouraged to start a new life in their new country; an attitude some Australians still have difficulty in accepting.
We should never forget that we are all the descendants of boat people if we go back far enough. Mine arrived in the second fleet. Even free settlers were economic migrants forced to leave their homes in search of a better life for their children. In a country where one in four Australians was born overseas and where one in five of us have at least one parent born overseas, it seems to me that in accepting and promoting Greenway, Macquarie was simply the first advocate of intelligent and humane assimilation for the greater benefit of the country.
The 200th anniversary of the arrival of Francis Greenway was in February 2014, We should drink a toast to Greenway, and to Macquarie at the same time and be as equally accepting as he was. Who knows, one of those Sri Lankan or Iraqi refugees might well turn out to be a latter day Greenway!
Don Gazzard LFAIA