The Prominent Architect and The Dodgy Cathedral
that had to be...ERR... Rebuilt


Henry Hunter (1832-1892)

Henry Hunter was a prominent architect and civil servant in Tasmania and Queensland, Australia. He is best known for his work on churches (24 in Tasmania). In 1877, he designed major changes to Bishopscourt: furthest left in the image below. By 1889, work was underway to pull down the lower section and rebuild.

Bishopscourt over the Years.PNG

Henry Hunter was born in Nottingham, England, younger son of Walter Hunter, architect. He studied architecture under his father and then at the Nottingham School of Design under T. S. Hammersley. Henry and his three sisters migrated to South Australia in 1848 with Walter and Tomasina and, after their parents died, to Hobart Town where they joined the eldest brother, George, who died on 31 October 1868.

Henry went to the Bendigo goldfields and raised funds to pay his family's debts in Adelaide. Back in Tasmania he worked at Port Esperance in the timber trade on his own account and as manager for John Balfe. He moved to Hobart probably to a stationer's business but in 1856, encouraged by Catholic Bishop Robert Wilson, he began to practise as an architect.

Among his earliest commissions was St Peter's Hall, Lower Collins Street, and in the next thirty years he designed such ecclesiastical buildings as All Saints Church, Macquarie Street; the Church of the Apostles, Launceston; the Mariners' Church, Franklin Wharf; Church of the Sacred Heart, New Town; the Presentation Convent, Hobart; the Deanery, Macquarie Street, and St David's Sunday school. He was supervising architect for St David's Cathedral, planned by Bodley & Garner, London.

On 12 September 1860 Wilson laid the foundation stone of St Mary's Cathedral, Hobart, adapted from William Wardell's design; as supervising architect Hunter carried out the work with 'integrity, honesty and zeal'. Bishop Daniel Murphy opened the cathedral on 4 July 1866, but the construction was faulty and the pillars of the central tower began to move as the foundations settled, and stone fell from the arches. Hunter and Major Goodfellow examined the work and recommended that the cathedral be rebuilt. A public meeting in February 1876 decided that the central tower, aisles and walls be demolished and rebuilt according to the original plan. Hunter, now Hobart's most successful architect, supervised the demolition but deemed it unwise to attempt the suggested repairs. In 1878 the foundation stone was laid for a new cathedral designed by him.

At an inquiry by Bishop Murphy into the failure of the earlier building, Hunter claimed he had not supervised the work because of other commitments and blamed the contractor, John Young. Certainly Hunter's services had been in heavy demand but he had issued payment certificates to Young and neglected to employ a clerk of works to guard his principal's interests. Young had been badly served by his foreman but no blame was attached to Wardell who in preparing the designs had noted that he could not advise on suitable foundations.

Hunter prepared plans and was awarded first premium in a competition conducted by the Hobart Municipal Council for a town hall. His design was acclaimed a fine composition of unusual breadth and unity of line but was not accepted. His design for the Hobart Museum won a competition in 1860 and construction began next year. Two years later he was commissioned to build municipal offices. He designed and built the Derwent and Tamar Assurance Offices, the Masonic Hall, Hobart, and the Australian Mutual Provident Society's Building. He planned wards and other offices for the General Hospital and designed many schools for the Board of Education; warehouses, the Marine Office and a 'picturesque grandstand' at Elwick race-course were among other buildings entrusted to his care. In 1876 he revised costs for capital works at two Hobart gaols.

The Henry Hunter Prize for Architect is a prize awarded triennially to architectural projects that involve the "recycling or conservation of historic buildings". The Henry Hunter Galleries, the main permanent art exhibition at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery are also named in his honour. A collection of 1800 of his architectural drawings and notes are held by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Side elevation as designed by Henry Hunter

Side elevation as designed by Henry Hunter

Bishopscourt 1877-78 ground floor.png
Ground floor plan pre-Henry Hunter

Ground floor plan pre-Henry Hunter