Shy Times in 1850s Wellington: will the real architects please stand up?
Keywords:Architecture – New Zealand – History – 19th century
Wellington was in a period of transition in the 1850s. The first flurry of settlement was easing somewhat and trading was becoming established. However, the earthquakes of 1848 and 1855 shook not only buildings not designed to withstand them, but also the confidence of the immigrant population. People were quick to realise that timber flexed better than brick or cob, but, in the process, they lost several of the earliest buildings with any pretensions to architectural merit. Together with the shaky nature of the economy, and the fact that Auckland was the capital city, there was little incentive for men whose sole training was in architecture to attempt to practice full time.
The paucity of architectural records from the 1850s further complicates accurate evaluation of the situation, but it is clear that many of the people designing buildings had multiple skills in several other fields besides architecture. Buildings definitely dated to the 1850s that remain in Wellington can be numbered on one hand and not one of them can be said to have been designed by an architect. The two men with the largest tallies of Wellington building designs in the 1850s also claimed skills in surveying and civil engineering, whereas the two (possibly three) trained architects that we know of seem to have obtained minimal work in their field and to have largely diversified into other occupations. A further five names are associated with Wellington architecture in some way during the 1850s, either with the design of single buildings or simply advertising their services in local newspapers - with no evidence they actually obtained any work. In this paper we look at the backgrounds of the major designers including the trained architects, their work and a few of the factors which caused most of them to seek alternative employment.