ARCHITECT ‐ or Painter, Politician, Forger, Farmer: Multiple careers a necessity in 1840s New Zealand


  • Adrian Humphris Wellington City Archives
  • Geoff Mew



Architects, New Zealand, Architectural practice, History, 19th Century


Emigrants arriving in New Zealand in the 1840s who had some architectural training were rarely able to find full‐time employment in that profession. Some sought to make a living in related fields where their drafting skills could be used (as artists or surveyors); others changed completely to become farmers or real estate agents. A few sought civil service positions or moved into politics. The most persistent bided their time in other employment but moved back to architecture when conditions became more favourable.

Here we describe a number of examples of these categories. Edward Ashworth arrived in Auckland in 1842. Unable to find architectural work, he taught drawing to the Governorʹs children and also produced several paintings of early Auckland. Henry St Hill arrived in Wellington as the New Zealand Companyʹs Architect ‐ but followed a career as magistrate and sheriff. W Robertson practised as an architect in Auckland from 1847 ‐ but also advertised as a real estate agent. S Kempthorne arrived in 1842 as a church architect but did not adapt well to New Zealand conditions and fell out of favour with Bishop Selwyn. By 1864 he was Secretary of a Public Buildings Commission. Reader Gillson Wood, famous or infamous for New Zealandʹs first parliament building, the "Shedifice" in Auckland, became a well‐known politician ‐ but returned to practising as an architect several times during a long career. William Mason thought he was coming to New Zealand as Colonial Architect in 1840. Downgraded to Superintendent of Public Works, he resigned after two years. Mason then moved into auctioneering and farming for the next ten years before returning to architecture and, later, a highly successful career in Dunedin. T O'Meara of Wellington claimed to be an architect but was probably a builder. Either way his drafting ability was found to be wanting when he forged a series of government debentures and tried to pass them for payment. (This resulted in a ten‐year jail sentence, with transportation to Tasmania).

We also explore some of the social reasons for the apparent lack of work for early skilled architects, including the slow‐growing economy, immediate needs for basic shelter/food production and major differences in building material resources compared with settlersʹ countries of origin.


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How to Cite

Humphris, A., & Mew, G. (2014). ARCHITECT ‐ or Painter, Politician, Forger, Farmer: Multiple careers a necessity in 1840s New Zealand. Architectural History Aotearoa, 11, 28–34.

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