Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days, Volume 7, 1969-1976

Henry Reveley, architect and engineer

John White

White, John 1976, 'Henry Reveley, architect and engineer', Early Days, Volume 7, Part 8: 24-42.

When the Parmelia, with Lieutenant-Governor, civil officers and settlers bound for Swan River, called at Cape Town in April 1829, Henry Willey Reveley, unemployed, but sometime Civil Engineer at the Cape, joined the new establishment in the same, but unofficial and uncommissioned, capacity. In a despatch he sent from Cape Town to Twiss, political undersecretary at the Colonial Office, 1 Captain Stirling made mention of several matters relating to Cape Town, but not of Reveley, nor of the position that he, as Governor, was to create, of Civil Engineer to the new colony. Nevertheless, at sea between Cape Town and Cockbum Sound, Stirling issued instructions to the heads of the several government departments that were to administer the colony, including Reveley. On arrival at Garden Island, the Civil Engineer immediately set about building temporary quarters for the settlement until townsites had been selected on the mainland. Stirling explained the appointment of a Civil Engineer in a despatch sent in June 1832:

‘Mr. Reveley’s Appointment took Place on my Arrival at the Settlement. His Services at first were given gratuitously but as the Wants of the Service rendered his Aid, and Superintendence indispensable, a salary of £100 a Year was assigned to him. At a later Period as explained in Return No. 1 this Rate was raised to that of £200 a Year, at which it remained till the Close of 1831 when it was reduced on Receipt of Your Lordship’s Instructions . . . to £100 . . . At this Rate it will be useless to expect Mr. Reveley can remain, and I expect daily his Resignation, as he cannot subsist upon so small a Maintenance.’ 2

Official vacillation over his salary remained a problem for the Civil Engineer during his whole term of office in Western Australia.

When, in great haste between the middle of 1828 and the middle of 1829, the settlement at the Swan River was promoted and established, the only detailed information about the proposed site for the settlement, and about the hinterland, was in the report that Stirling had submitted to Governor Darling in Sydney, with accompanying notes by the botanist Fraser [Frazer], following a fortnight’s visit in March 1827, at the end of what must have been an exceedingly mild and pleasant summer. Stirling’s report made almost no mention of possible townsites, building materials, or the means of landing and dispersing large numbers of people in a short time.


That he was not unaware of the possibility of settlement is implied throughout the report, and he argued that the country’s many advantages would enable ‘a Settler at once to draw a large profit upon a small outlay of Capital or Labour’. 3 The map which accompanied his report, published officially and unofficially during 1828 and 1829, with amendments on the unofficial versions that significantly changed the guarded nature of Stirling’s observations, further misled prospective settlers into visions of a broad and fertile land within easy reach of a good harbour. The Colonial Office had little notion of what conditions would be like, and received surprisingly few enquiries about building in the proposed settlement. With the exception of some merchants and professional men who arrived in 1829 and 1830 and established themselves in the two towns of Perth and Fremantle, and the civil officers who tried hard to be both farmers and civil servants—with mixed success, the majority of settlers simply embarked from England with their property and servants to take up the large land grants to which their property would entitle them. Their fortunes fall outside the scope of this paper, but the material side of their existence in their new country, particularly the need for shelter, was one of the aspects of forthcoming life for which they were both ill-prepared and badly informed.

The first detailed enquiry about building conditions at Swan River filed by the Colonial Office is dated 10th February 1829, when a Mr. C. Driscoll asked very pertinent questions about the availability of building materials, competent labour, temporary accommodation for settlers, navigable distance of the Swan, etc., and was sent the standard reply, ‘We do not profess to give any advice, nor are we furnished with any information, except what is contained in the lithograph’, which itself was based upon Stirling’s report of 1827. 4 Private settlers were expected to fend for themselves, and surprisingly, accepted that situation in good faith, but with many a retrospective grumble in the hard years that followed.

Stirling, who was to show great practical wisdom during his years as Governor, had attempted to pave the way by suggesting to Twiss in October 1828 that a ship be sent in advance of settlement, to take possession of the coast, and to prepare for the reception of settlers. 5 When he embarked with his civil officers, their families, artificers and others in 1829, no adequate provision had been made for either temporary or permanent shelter in the new colony. Of ten artificers Stirling wanted sent with the official expedition, who would be ‘indispensable in forming buildings, etc., for the reception of stores, troops, sick persons, and houses for the officers’, and of whom seven were to be ‘house carpenters’ and the remainder masons, only three in fact sailed—a bricklayer, a smith, and a cooper—although they were later joined by several others. There was no reference to the problems likely to be found when building began, or to the need for professional assistance to resolve them; a book, a ‘work on Common Architecture’ was requested, but no specific title. That Stirling’s seemingly ad hoc decision to invite Reveley to join his staff met with little sympathy in London is apparent from the extreme reluctance of the Colonial Office, during the next twenty five years, in accepting the post


once Stirling had established it, and from their insistence that Reveley’s salary be reduced to £100 as against the £500 for the corresponding post at Cape Town. Reveley’s dismissal at the Cape was no doubt known to Hay, the other permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office who, together with Twiss, was closely involved in establishing the new colony; but Hay probably also knew of Reveley’s rebuttal of the charges against him. Disappointed and no doubt bitter about his dismissal, Reveley must have thought carefully before returning to government employment, but the speculative nature of the Swan River adventure may have appealed to him as it did to others, with the prospect of his becoming self-sufficient instead of having to rely on salaried employment.

Some of the most important decisions affecting the foundation and later development of the colony were made within the first few years of settlement—by Governor Stirling and Surveyor-General Roe concerning the siting and layout of towns, by Civil Engineer Reveley on the form of public buildings and the administration of public works, and by the other civil officers who formed the administrative and legal structure of the colony. No one was more frustrated by Colonial Office interference and petty colonial rivalries than the Civil Engineer who began office on a promise of status being granted later and left it in debt to the home government Debt was a fear shared by many of his colleagues who loyally devoted time and energy and a great part of their small salaries to maintenance of a precarious administration. Throughout the early years, up to the convict era and beyond, London saw Western Australia as a colony where less could be paid to civil servants than anywhere else in the British Empire, from the Governor down to the lowest clerk.


When Henry Reveley arrived in Western Australia, he was thirty nine years old. He was born probably in 1789 (there seems to be no record of the exact date), the son of Willey Reveley, an architect associated with the Greek Revival movement in late 18th century English architecture. His mother, Maria, and his father were members of the circle surrounding the radical political philosophers of the time, including Bentham and Godwin. When Willey Reveley died in 1799, Maria Reveley refused an offer of marriage from Godwin, whose wife Mary, nee Wollstonecraft, had died shortly after Reveley. Instead she married John Gisborne in 1800 and they left for Italy with her boy Henry. One of the consequences of these events was the close friendship Henry later formed with Shelley after the poet arrived in Italy in 1818 together with his wife Mary, a daughter of Godwin. Shelley was then at the height of his brief career as a poet, and Godwin had suggested that the young couple should visit his old friend Maria Gisborne when they arrived in Italy. From 1801 to 1822 the Gisbornes spent most of their time in Italy, first at Rome, then Pisa and Leghorn, and Henry received an Italian education, studying science and engineering at Pisa University, where he won minor acclaim for his work in mechanical engineering.


When the Shelleys arrived in Leghorn with their letter of introduction from Godwin, young Henry Reveley was working on the design and construction of a steamboat which he intended for commercial use between Marseilles, Genoa and Leghorn. Shelley also became sufficiently interested in the steamboat to invest £200 in the project. Gisborne, who was in some way involved in trade, became Shelley’s literary agent, representing him when the Gisbornes returned to London in 1822. The steamboat was a failure; shortage of funds led to its abandonment in 1820, following a visit the Gisbornes made to England to resolve problems surrounding Henry’s inheritance from his father. Shelley lost most of his investment, and cooled considerably towards the Gisbomes, who, however, continued to see him when they returned briefly to Italy.

Shelley’s passion for boats once again involved Reveley in April 1821 when he helped him buy a small boat at Leghorn of the sort used by huntsmen on nearby rivers and canals. They modified the boat to carry a a small sail and set off back to Pisa on the maiden voyage. With only moonlight to see by, the third member of the crew, Shelley’s friend Edward Williams, stood up in the boat and capsized it, throwing them all into the water. Shelley could not swim, and Reveley’s immortality was assured when he swam Shelley ashore and so saved him from drowning. Reveley sailed the damaged boat back to Leghorn and supervised alterations which enabled Shelley and Williams to sail it safely through their favourite waterways for the next few months. Reveley was in England in July 1822 when Shelley was drowned with Williams and a crewman in a larger boat they had acquired, during a gale in the Mediterranean. Shelley was then thirty years of age and Reveley thirty three. 6

The Gisbornes, intelligent, artistic and well-educated, were not well-to-do, and struggled to live comfortably in England while Henry looked for work. In a letter to Mary Shelley in 1822, Henry’s mother described his travels around England looking at ‘mines, machinery, manufactures, minerology’, during which he had ‘succeeded in discovering two excellent unknown quarries for millstones’, specimens of which he was intending to bring forward to the Society of Arts. In April 1822 the Society awarded him a silver medal for a paper describing an improved method of paving and an improved method of cutting millstones. The Gisbomes were still hoping, in 1822, that Henry would receive enough from his father’s inheritance to enjoy some financial independence, while he himself was quickly abandoning the idea of returning to Italy, partly influenced, according to his mother, by an awakening interest in English ladies, including the beautiful Amelia, sister of the painter Copley Fielding. In September 1822 he submitted a design for a new London Bridge in a competition which was won by John Rennie, a well known architect. Reveley’s design was noticed by Rennie and others who recognized his promise as an urchitect and engineer. 7 He had obviously gained sufficient experience before 1822 to enable him to submit a respectable design for the bridge, but it is not clear where this experience was obtained. Although the professions of architect and engineer had not in 1822 diverged to the specialized roles they now occupy, his own preference was clearly towards


the latter profession, and yet it is rather as an architect, through expedient circumstances, that Reveley is remembered in Western Australia.

Reveley probably worked for Rennie for a while between 1822 and 1826. In June 1826 Rennie wrote to him saying that, if he were interested, he would recommend him to the Secretary of State for the post of Civil Engineer at Cape Town. Reveley was then ‘in treaty’ with the Brazilian Mining Company to go to Brazil as their engineer, but he was offered, and accepted instead, the appointment to Cape Town. He arrived there on 19th November 1826, together with his wife Amelia, nee Fielding, whom he had married in 1824. His duties at the Cape were ‘to direct his attention to the improvement of Table Bay, to prepare reports with plans and estimates of the probable expense of constructing a stone pier and breakwater, to prepare designs and plans for and superintend all new public buildings ordered by the Colonial Government’. 8 Reveley carried out the duties for which he had been appointed, and others for which he claimed he had not, until he was relieved from all of them in November 1827. He defended his dismissal, which followed complaints lodged by his clerk, Barry. The charges were of a minor nature, and even if proven, scarcely warranted the drastic action the Lieutenant-Governor took in dismissing him. Evidently, by the time the Governor was reluctantly convinced of Reveley’s innocence, Thomas Skirrow was already on his way from England to take his place, and the Governor refused to reinstate him. The new Civil Engineer investigated Barry’s allegations, not only against Reveley, but also against two others on separate occasions in the same department, and found them false. 'This is only part of Mr. Barry’s system of raising his own reputation for honesty, by insinuating against the probity of others...’, so Skirrow reported when Barry was dismissed. 9 For Reveley, however, the damage was done, and even today his reputation suffers from it. His career at the Cape was brief then, and he is remembered principally as the designer of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, for which he used the Greek Doric style of architectural detail. His name is also associated with the design of St. George’s Church in Cape Town, detailed likewise in the Doric manner. In her Sources of Greek Revival Architecture, Dora Wiebenson refers both to Willey Reveley as the editor of the third edition of Stuart’s Antiquities of Athens published in 1794, which was one of the books that helped initiate the revival of Greek architecture in Europe, and to Henry Willey Reveley as the designer of the Cape Town churches, without connecting them as father and son. Although Henry was only ten years old when his father died, Willey Reveley’s influence is, by accident or design, evident in the architectural work of his son in Cape Town and in Perth and Fremantle.

The Builders at Swan River

For those involved with buildings at Swan River, both public and private, the climate and environment were difficult, presenting problems very different from those found in Britain. Intense heat caused imported timbers to shrink and crack, and termites welcomed the new sources of food. Heavy rain found ways into types of buildings which had been found


to perform satisfactorily in milder climates. Untried and untested building materials were subject to expensive failure, and a shortage of skilled tradesmen made building difficult to control. The small staff of artificers on the public payroll was quickly put to work in various capacities on the smaller buildings, clearing sites, making roads, and preparing building materials. No provision had been made, however, for unattached skilled building artisans to go to the new colony, and it was by chance rather than management that a number whose indentures to private settlers had lapsed because of the inability of their masters to employ them, came onto the labour market and were able to work on town buildings and houses.

The larger public buildings were put out to competitive tender between the building contractors who quickly emerged from the ‘capitalists’ who had chosen to remain in Perth and Fremantle. They saw government work as one of the perquisites available to the successful businessman, and many who came out to try their luck found success in building. Henry Trigg, in letters to his wife Amelia, described the prosperous situation in which he found himself, being at first the only person in the colony prepared to contract for building. Social distinctions come through clearly in Trigg’s letters, but his rise to prosperity, along with others who were willing to work in the new colony, enabled him eventually to take his place alongside those who had begun life in Western Australia as his social superiors. Having been introduced to the Governor by ‘several genteel men’ whom he had met on the voyage out, he was offered the job of building ‘all the offices . . . and other houses for Government’. ‘So that I am hailed “go where I will”, with “Trigg, your fortune is made”. Not a gent but takes me by the hand with the greatest of glee, wishing me joy.’ 10 By February 1830 he was able to tell his wife, ‘I have more buildings ordered independent of Public Works than I could compleat in 3 years. In England it is “pray give me a job” but here they will follow you up and down, praying most pitifully to do the jobs for them.' 11 However, competition soon stiffened, and Trigg was not as successful in tendering for public buildings as he had hoped. He had at least eight skilled men working for him, and although he failed to win the main contracts for two major buildings which Reveley put out to tender in 1830, he successfully contracted for portions of both jobs, and was kept busy on homes and other buildings for the private settlers.

The Duties of Civil Engineer

Reveley’s duties at Swan River were similar to those for which he had been appointed at Cape Town. He was responsible for all buildings required for public purposes throughout the country, which in his time included the districts of Swan, Canning, York, the Murray, the Vasse, Augusta and King George’s Sound. He had to design and supervise work on jetties, harbours, roads, bridges and ferry crossings, and carry out sundry minor duties that came into the category now known as civil engineering. He had also to administer his office, prepare regular returns of work done and expenditure made, carry out maintenance work and inspections of sites, prepare documents required for official purposes, and


by implication, ensure that public expenditure was kept within the funds available. He had no assistants for his duties as Civil Engineer, his tiny budget was continually fought over by both the local and home governments, and his authority to control his works was sometimes a matter of dispute with his colleagues in the civil establishment. Reveley’s attempts to bring some quality of design into the outward appearance of the first public buildings were only moderately successful. His work in Western Australia falls into several categories, and in order to assess his success or failure, it is necessary to examine the processes involved in each.

The range of his jurisdiction is concisely recorded in a return he sent to the Colonial Secretary on 12th March 1831, which listed all the works built under his superintendence since the ‘Formation of the Settlement’. They included, on Garden Island, a large store, temporary residences for the Lieutenant-Governor and four of the civil officers, and mooring blocks and buoys for marking out a channel; at Fremantle, ‘a cut stone jail containing eight cells, residence for jailer, spacious airing yard etc.’, and in progress, ‘a rough stone jetty or landing place for boats’; at Perth, ‘a House and offices for the temporary residence of the Lieut. Governor’, with a note saying it was ‘provisional only, being wholly unfit for the Governor’s future Residence’, . . . a stone jetty or landing place for boats, four Public Offices, and one smaller ditto, a rough stone Granery and Store, various alterations and additions, a temporary church measuring 50 feet by 20 feet (the so-called rush church), and in progress, a Military Hospital’. He had ‘also been employed in sundry work such as clearing, digging clay, burning charcoal, making roads etc.’; at Port Augusta, he noted that a ‘Military Barracks and Officers Quarter’ was under construction. 12

The siting of Fremantle and Perth made conditions difficult for those civil officers whose duties entailed frequent travel between the two towns. When the Perth townsite was declared on 27th July 1829, a memorandum was issued advising settlers that from 12th August the civil officers would be stationed there, and a tent would be ‘appropriated for each Department’. Fremantle and Perth were a day, sometimes two days, apart, depending on the weather, and after Reveley’s installation at Perth, the supervision of public works in Fremantle was difficult; it caused problems with the jail that he claimed were due to poor workmanship carried out between his visits.

The First Public Offices, Perth

Except for the jail at Fremantle, all the buildings listed in the return of March 1831 were temporary. Surviving drawings of the first Public Offices at Perth show that each was a small wooden building, with both walls and roof covered with weatherboards. It is probable that the roofs were later shingled, as the weatherboarded roofs leaked after exposure to the weather. The cells at Fremantle jail were roofed the same way and gave trouble until shingled. The drawings show a small verandah at one end, which may have been omitted in construction, but which was designed to shelter the entrance and give a degree of formality to the building befitting its public function. Trigg agreed to build them (‘labour only’) for £20 each,


of lime concrete, laid over wooden boards, falling towards a gutter formed by a parapet, and water-proofed with several coats of oil. Reveley continued to retain faith in the roof despite its failure at Fremantle, blaming the failure on poor workmanship. The jail was built out of local materials; the stone, probably quarried on the site, turned out to be very porous, and was not, Reveley claimed, as specified; the timber shrank, and the finishes had to be improved, and often repaired in consequence of the joint ravages of the weather and the inmates, the one trying to get in and the others out

Reveley’s only other surviving work at Fremantle is the tunnel excavated under Arthur’s Head for the principal use of the Fremantle Whaling Company, whose jetty and buildings were in Bathers Bay. The company was formed on 25th February 1837, and quickly began operations. The stone jetty that it soon constructed was closer to High Street than the public jetty proposed the same year for South Bay, but was separated from it by Arthur’s Head; communication with the town was to be to the south around Anglesea Point to Cliff Street. However, after inspecting South Bay for the proposed new jetty, Reveley reported on 15th April 1837 that it would be preferable to use the Whaling Company’s jetty, particularly if it could be connected to High Street by a tunnel '. . . through the solid rock, for a distance not exceeding one hundred yards or thereabouts, an operation that might be performed by the present Convicts alone in about six or eight months without any extra expense to the Local Government, except that for the tools’. 17 The tunnel was to run almost underneath the Round House, but Reveley was confident that the rock was ‘capable of bearing any superincumbent weight’. In August 1837 the Perth Gazette announced that the Fremantle Whaling Company had commenced work on the tunnel, for which the ‘lines had been laid out by H. W. Reveley, Esq.’ A cross section of the tunnel drawn by the Civil Engineer shows it was to be 12 feet high and 12 feet wide. Following some correspondence as to whether the public had the right to use the tunnel, the company was ordered to provide gates which were to be closed daily at sunset.

Most of Reveley’s other work in Fremantle was of a minor nature, consisting of work on roads, jetties and ferries, several small buildings, and a courthouse next to the jail. Two projected works, a breakwater to form a protected harbour at the mouth of the Swan and a bridge over the river, were too ambitious for the slender public purse, and the home government was not interested in spending money on the struggling colony.

Perth, 1831 to 1838

Most of Reveley’s work between 1831 and 1838 was in Perth. Apart from smaller works of a routine nature, he built a small jail, quarters for soldiers and officers, a Commissariat store, a courthouse, an official residence for the Governor, a water-mill and permanent Public Offices and Council Chamber. He was also responsible for a canal cut through the bar at the head of Perth Water and extending through Burswood Island and a causeway linking Perth with the east side of the river.


His first major commission in Perth was for permanent quarters for the soldiers and officers who were first stationed in various temporary premises surrounding the barrack ground. As early as February 1830, Reveley had prepared plans and advertised tenders for a jail and barracks, but only the jail was built, a small stone and shingle building, with a guardhouse and store attached. Drawings of the jail show a building with modest but distinct architectural character, in keeping with the humble resources available. On completion, it became a Commissariat store and military and civil prison.

In 1832 tenders were invited for a larger barracks and powder magazine to be completed in nine months from the date of the contract. The successful tenderer was C. Leroux, but the contract he signed in October 1832 extended the time to two years, so that the slender colonial funds might be stretched to cover the cost, with a limit of £120 to be expended in any one month. When the 21st Fusiliers arrived in September 1833, Acting-Governor Irwin instructed the builder to complete the work immediately. In a dispute over the quality of materials used, that arose after the building’s completion, Reveley refused to authorize payments to the builder until it was put right, and Leroux complained that he had ‘to complete the Barracks in Four Days (which by my Contract I had thirteen months)’. 18 H. C. Sutherland and J. Weavell were appointed arbitrators and found that Leroux had grounds for a claim upon the government, and the affair was evidently settled to the satisfaction of all parties. 19 Such disputes were frequent in the early years, and the practice was subsequently adopted of calling separate tenders in advance for the supply of basic building materials for public buildings to ensure that they would be ready when needed.

The Commissariat Store

A wide range of stores belonging to the government was at first housed in various unsatisfactory buildings on Garden Island, at Fremantle, and at Perth. Following the arrival of D. A. C. G. Lewis to take control of colonial funds in January 1832, plans were prepared for a Commissariat store. In December 1833 tenders were invited for a large three-storey stone and brick building 100 feet long, 40 feet wide and 28 feet high, and the successful tenderers were Trigg and Maycock. The contract prepared by John Lewis, Deputy Assistant Commissary General, on behalf of the government, differed in several respects from the provisions expressed by Reveley in his specification; this was apparently another example of conflict between the Civil Engineer and his senior colleagues of the administration. Again he became involved in a dispute with the builder over the quality of workmanship, and surveyors were appointed to resolve the differences. Sutherland, who became a close friend of Reveley’s, represented the government, and Leroux the builder, and their judgements concerning many of the items the Civil Engineer objected to were flavoured by the contrary opinions of D. A. C. G. Lewis. 20

Situated closer to the river than Reveley had intended, the building was ready for occupation by July 1835. When it was eventually demolished to


make way for the present Supreme Court, it had been added to several times, but still retained the architect’s style. Its simple form, symmetrical about a Grecian portico facing St. George’s Terrace, was faithful to the Greek style accepted by Reveley, but the building was really Georgian in character. The three storeys facing the river show clearly in early drawings of Perth, while on the city side there were only two storeys, the building being cut into the escarpment which ran down to the river.

Old Government House

In December 1830 Reveley completed, at a cost of £200, ‘a House and office for the Temporary residence of His Excellency the Lt. Governor; framed and boarded . . .’ The building was on the same site as the new Government House which Reveley was commissioned to design following Stirling’s return from England in September 1834. Stirling also brought with him notice of Reveley’s dismissal from his post. However, he continued to receive his ration allowance while he negotiated an agreement to be employed as Civil Engineer without fixed salary but on a basis that allowed him to charge for his services as they were performed — five guineas for every complete set of drawings and plans, and so on through a graduated scale of charges relative to various categories of work.

The Perth Gazette described the design of the new vice-regal residence as ‘extremely chaste, as well as appropriate to the situation, and at a comparatively modest expense, (it would) present the elevation of an edifice of considerable size’. 21 The new Government House became a controversial issue both within the colony and with the Colonial Office. Stirling’s position was difficult, and he had been living in quarters which contrasted poorly with the permanent homes being built by the more affluent settlers. He acquired the site and began the new building out of his own pocket, but was never in a position to finance it completely; his salary was only £800 a year, and little was left of it after paying the expenses demanded of his position. He must have gambled on the home government taking over the building and buying out his interest. Having begun, he was obliged to proceed, and drew from the ‘Public Chest’ for additional funds. In applying to London for approval of such a course of action, he argued that the erection of a house ‘calculated for the Accommodation of a Public Officer’ would be a liability to him if he wished to dispose of it when his term of office ended. His alternative, he said, was ‘to desist from all further outlay, and await without a Residence, the Secretary of State’s further instructions on the matter’, which, as he pointed out, might not reach him for a year and a half. 22 In 1837 the Swan River Guardian gave a radical review of the proceedings:

‘Now it so happened that the Officers’ Barracks at Perth had been completed in his absence, and Sir James quietly took possession of them until the new residence was fit for his reception. The ill-contrived building called “Government House” (which reminds one of a Lunatic Asylum, or a County Jail) was built in the first place by Sir James Stirling from his own funds, by private contract, and cost a large sum of money.. .’ 23


la the event, Stirling justified his claim to the home government so carefully that an extraordinarily complete record of the design, specification and building of the old Government House is available from the records of the Colonial Office. 24 In brief, it consisted of two storeys in its central portion, with wings of one storey, a front portico with Doric columns, and a rear verandah facing the river. It was built by separate contract under Reveley’s direct supervision. Detailed accounts of payments to workmen were forwarded to London listing all the work performed, including subsequent alterations and repairs. It was the least successful of Reveley’s buildings, contrasting with his others which were unpretentious and, within the limitations of the period, well-built and serviceable. Successive Governors complained about its leaking flat roofs and other shortcomings until it was superseded by the present Government House of a more fashionable style.

The Court House

A courthouse designed by Reveley was under construction at Fremantle before the decision was made to build a permanent courthouse at Perth. Situated north of the Round House and in a matching style, it also had a troublesome flat roof. Reveley answered complaints about the standard of workmanship by stressing the difficulty of supervising work at Fremantle under uncertain conditions of employment and remuneration. When it became apparent that the town of Fremantle was declining in 1835, stronger efforts were made to provide Perth with permanent public buildings befitting its status as the colony’s capital. Between 1835 and 1838 Reveley was responsible for a courthouse, public offices, and in its initial stages, an ‘establishment’ church, as well as road works, walls and other improvements to the town centre which had developed around the barracks square.

When the government was offered the lease of a house for use as a courthouse in August 1835, the reply showed that the decision had been taken to erect ‘a Courthouse which could likewise (be used as) a temporary Church’. 25 The decision was especially applauded because much inconvenience had been caused to judiciary and jurors by the fact that the Criminal Court had been meeting at Fremantle. There was a number of unemployed labourers in Perth during the latter half of 1835, and Reveley was instructed to engage them to stock-pile timber and stone for the new building, after which they were to be employed on improving the town’s main streets. Tenders were invited in February 1836, and the lowest, one of £698 submitted by Powell, Thompson and Jecks, was accepted; a further proviso stipulated that the men employed by the contractors had to be paid each week, in cash, and a limit of twelve months was placed on the time of construction. 20

The first session of the court took place in the new building on 2nd January 1837, and like the old rush church it then replaced, the building was used for a dual purpose; church services were held in it until a new church was built on the piece of land that is now occupied by Law Chambers and Cathedral Square, adjacent to the present St. George’s


Cathedral. Reveley prepared drawings for church fittings which were installed at a cost of £63.9.0 in March 1837. However, the general dissatisfaction, strongly expressed through the press, at the strange marriage of justice and religion led to moves to raise money for the new church, headed by Major Irwin. Reveley duly responded to a request in September 1837 to prepare plans and estimates for a church, but nothing further was done until some years after he left the colony. The Court House is still standing, and is better looked at than described; its modest few rooms and simple exterior have an architectural presence which is lacking in many of the more recent buildings adjacent to it.

The Public Offices of 1836

The civil establishment also needed better premises than the unsuitable temporary quarters in which it was scattered about the little town. The memorandum of August 1835 instructing Reveley to collect materials for the Court House also mentioned a new Public Office, 27 but it was not until August 1836 that he was formally asked to proceed further and prepare a plan for a building which was not to exceed £1,200.28 A plan submitted on 13th September was approved next day, and on 17th October an agreement was signed accepting the lowest tender, one of £1,833, from Messrs. Powell, Wellbourne, Hyde, Minchin, Green, Carson, Holmes, Stokes and Jones. This ‘body of artizans’ collectively tendered against the principal builders, and although an agreement was entered into with them that held them jointly responsible for the performance of the work, there was dissension amongst them after only a week or two. 29 The agreed time of construction was fifteen months, but when very little progress was shown by April 1837, the contractors were advised to get on with the work or have their contract terminated. With a similar warning in February 1838, they were given twenty-one days to hand the building over. However, although parts of it were occupied, the building was still not complete the following November. Work continued after Reveley’s departure, and the final payments on the main contract were signed by Trigg in February 1839. The experiment was not repeated, but the building itself was satisfactory, and served as public offices until its demolition in 1961 to make way for Council House.

The most ambitious of Reveley’s buildings, it stood thirty feet back from St. George’s Terrace, with an upper storey facing north containing rooms for the Legislative Council and the seniormost public servants, and two floors facing south. The lower floor contained a strong room, the offices of lesser civil servants and messenger boys, and store rooms, and was connected to the upper floor through two staircases landing on a verandah on the Terrace side. Reveley’s specifications most adequately describe the provisions made for the departmental heads:

‘Four different sounded bells shall be hung upon spring brackets under the verandah with wires, cranks and pulls in the respective rooms of Mr. Brown, Mr. Roe, the Council Room and Mr. Lewis. Mr. Brown’s room shall communicate with the Messengers' room below by means


of a speaking pipe of tin plate with mouth piece and stopper complete. Mr. Lewis’ room shall communicate with his clerk’s room in the same manner ..

The fireplaces on the upper floor were to be ‘in a stile of elegance suited to the different denominations of the rooms’. 30 The walls were of ‘rough stone’ laid in courses on the lower floor, and brick for the upper floor. The roof was shingled, and the building retained the simple Georgian appearance that was so appropriate for the slender resources of the infant colony, but was rapidly going out of fashion in England at the time.

Reveley’s Mill

The final chapter of Reveley’s short career in Western Australia concerned the water-mill he constructed on his property between St. George’s Terrace and the river. It caused problems which followed him to England and were only finally resolved in the 1850s. In 1832 Stirling asked Reveley to supply an estimate of materials required to build a steam engine to drive a mill at Perth, but like many of the projects he suggested to Reveley, nothing further came of the steam engine. However, the need for facilities for grinding the local grain became more pressing each year, and in fact three mills were built in or near Perth in 1833 and 1834, the first by Reveley and the others by W. K. Shenton and Samuel Kingsford. In June 1832 Reveley applied to buy Perth Lot L16, on the west side of L15 which he already owned, in order to establish a corn mill on the two of them. At the same time he submitted an estimate of £1,000 for a mill-pond, mill-house and machinery; shortly afterwards he had to reduce it to £500 with a simpler proposal. 31 Reveley later claimed that the colonial government asked him to build the mill, and that he invested his own savings in it as well as loans from the government. In return he was to have the contract for milling grain for the government, at two shillings a bushell, and upon Reveley’s estimate of the mill’s performance, it was expected that the loan would be repaid within a reasonable period.

After experiments to convince government officers of the scheme’s feasibility, Reveley was granted a first loan of £500 in September 1832, by Irwin, who had just succeeded the absent Stirling as Lieutenant-Governor. In October Trigg successfully tendered to build the mill-house, while Reveley engaged other workmen for the rest of the work. Reveley’s first proposal was evidently for a mill with a vertical wheel. However, in order to save money, he chose instead to have a horizontal wheel driving a millstone vertically above it, a principle said to be common in Tuscany where he had spent so many years. The crucial part, and in fact the main weakness, of Reveley’s whole scheme, was the water supply, which came from a mill-pond or reservoir at the top of the property, fed by springs in the escarpment below St. George’s Terrace. From observation, he calculated the accumulation of water to be 700 gallons per hour; it was to flow through a race to the mill-wheel, and from there tail off to the river.

By the time the mill opened for business in February 1833, Reveley had already obtained a little extra money from the government, but the mill was still far from complete. The main problems were the reservoir, which


leaked, and the mill-race which also leaked and could not be properly controlled. The machinery itself was reasonably successful, and as was proudly claimed, it was almost wholly built from local materials, for Reveley himself had found the stone for the grind-stones and had had them made to his own design. The inadequate water supply caused further problems and called for enlargement of the reservoir. Reveley claimed that the mill’s low capacity was because it was under-capitalized, and he believed it would work perfectly if sufficient money could be spent to complete it to his satisfaction. At this time he was committed to repay a total of £797.9.4, from the earnings of the mill and from his salary. Towards the end of his term of office, his salary was restored to £200, and a quarter of it was deducted in payment of the debt, but the mortgage he originally secured on the land also hung over his head the whole time.

When Reveley decided to leave the colony, the government acknowledged the part it had played in commissioning the mill, and removed the onus of repayment of the debt for the mill from Reveley himself; it was placed instead entirely onto the mortgage on the land which Reveley held in fee simple. Reveley sold his interest in the mill to Sutherland, who reported the mill’s history to Governor Hutt in 1844, following a request from London for information about the debt:

‘On the completion of the mill so far as funds extended it was for a short period worked by Mr. Reveley but the supply of water being inadequate and the Government seeing the failure declining to make any further advance to carry out Mr. Reveley’s designs for obtaining a better supply the mill continued occasionally to grind small portions of corn and was ultimately shut up and remained in this state for a considerable period. Mr. Reveley being sanguine that he could by substituting a differently constructed machinery and produce a greater return dismantled the mill and proceeded to enlarge the building and construct fresh machinery but finding his own means inadequate to the work it was for a considerable period delayed. On the receipt of the Secretary of State’s despatch relieving him from personal liability and placing the repayment of the debt against the profits to be derived from the mill, Mr. Reveley felt anxious to complete it and contemplated further outlay to increase the supply of water and was proceeding with the work as his means enabled him when family arrangements obliged him to return to England. Finding it impossible to sell the premises for any amount that would cover the expenditure made by Government he transferred his interest, with the concurrence of Sir James Stirling, to myself, under similar arrangements as made by the Secretary of State, and the mill work partly by funds provided by Mr. Reveley and partly by myself was after considerable delays completed at a cost of four hundred pounds. This alteration altho’ in some measure beneficial could not compensate for the deficiency in water and I became fully convinced that any further outlay for that purpose could only be increasing the money already so unprofitably expended.’ 82


In regard to discharging the debt, it was then decided to wait until Perth should make further progress and so enable the full value of the choice piece of land to be realized. Under different circumstances, the decision was taken to sell part of the land in December 1851. The advertisement in the Inquirer referred to ‘those desirable Premises known as Reveley’s Mill, with a large standing water’. Perth Building Lot No. 15 contained 'a substantial Dwelling-House and outbuildings in tenantable repair’, and No. 16 ‘a water mill of stone and brick, with all of its fixed machinery (except the Dressing Machine) . . .’ A contemporary drawing of the site by Horace Samson shows the mill’s layout, and the additional Lot No. 15 1/2 which Sutherland retained in exchange for the government’s right to sell the land on which the mill stood. 83


When, in September 1838, the Perth Gazette announced the Reveleys impending departure from the colony, the same issue of the paper carried an advertisement for a sale of ‘a variety of valuable books on architecture in Latin, French, Italian and English’, which doubtless were the Civil Engineer’s. The Reveleys left Fremantle on the American whaler Pioneer on 30th November 1838, and on the same day Stirling reported the Civil Engineer’s resignation to Lord Glenelg and his return to England on urgent private business. The post, Stirling added, was now to be downgraded to Superintendent of Works because of the poor state of colonial funds, and to it he had appointed Henry Trigg at a salary of £100 a year. 84

That the Reveleys were pleased to get back to England is clear from three surviving letters that Sutherland received, one of them instructing him to sell Reveley’s interest in the mill, and the others with news about themselves and critical references to past experiences. Family business may well have been the real reason for their leaving Perth, for John and Maria Gisborne had died during 1836, but it is also possible that they simply disliked colonial life and society. It is obvious in official correspondence that Reveley did not get on with Peter Brown or D. A. C. G. Lewis. In the private confines of a letter he wrote to Sutherland in July 1852, he referred to ‘much mischief (having) been caused by the appointment to high offices of two individuals, one since deceased, of the most contracted minds and the most envious dispositions’, but did not specify who they were. 35 The troubles that followed Reveley in his professional career and the criticism of him that was freely expressed in the local press after he left indicate the tensions that must have existed between individual members of the civil establishment, and among the more important settlers over policies and practices.

There is little further information available about Reveley after he left Perth. However, he wrote a series of articles on Western Australia for the Australian Record, published in England, so the Perth Gazette noted on 9th October 1841. He expressed his views on colonization on other occasions, and his comments to his friend Sutherland show that he was opposed both to the Wakefieldian system and to convict aid for ailing colonies. He retired with his wife to Poole in Dorset, where he lived until


shortly before his death in 1875. Apparently he gave up practising either as architect or engineer, and transferred his energies to lecturing in the arts and sciences to paying audiences at the town and village institutes that sprang up during the 19th century throughout England. 36 He also became involved with the Shelleys again, as is shown in a letter which Richard Garnett wrote to another Shelley scholar, Dowden, on 4th January 1884:

'1 am glad to hear of the safe arrival of the little ms. book; and I am now sending Reveley’s notes, also registered. It seems that some of Mrs. Reveley’s relatives interpreted Shelley’s phrase "clipping and cursing” employed in a letter to him, as a reflection upon his integrity(!). He cannot have thought so himself: nevertheless he was much annoyed with Mrs. Shelley for having printed the letter during his absence in Australia; and when the “Shelley Memorials” appeared drew up these notes as a sort of vindication. You will notice a remarkable statement concerning the death of Mary Wollstonecraft, which has not, so far as I know, been confirmed from any other quarter .. .’ 37

Reveley’s death was noticed in the Times in February 1875: ‘On the 27th Jan. at No. 1 Baker Street, Reading, Henry Willey Reveley Esq. (late of Sunny Hill, Parkstone, Dorset), aged 86.’


1. C.O. 18/3, p. 21.

2. C.O. 18/10, p. 65.

3. C.O. 18/1.

4. C.O. 18/5, pp. 363-5.

5. C.O. 18/1, p. 67.

6. Among the many books on Shelley which refer to Reveley are:

R. Holmes, Shelley, The Pursuit (London, 1974); F. L. Jones (ed.), The Letters Of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 2 (Oxford, 1964); N. I. White, Shelley (London, 1947); F. L. Jones, Maria Gisborne and Edward E. Williams, Shelley’s Friends, Their Journal and Letters (1951).

7. C.O. 344/92.

8. C.O. 321/75.

9. R. Lewcock, Early Nineteenth Century Architecture In South Africa (Cape Town, 1963).

10. Henry to Amelia Trigg, 15 October 1829 (Battye Library, 1564A).

11. Henry to Amelia Trigg, 16 February 1830 (Battye Library, 1564A).

12. C.O. 18/9, p. 69.

13. C.S.O. Vol. 3,p. 117.

14. C.S.O. Vol. 3.

15. R. Evans, ‘Bentham’s Panopticon’, Architectural Association Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1971, p. 21.

16. Lewcock, op. cist.

17. C.S.O. Vol. 53, p. 64.

Garry Gillard | New: 28 September, 2020 | Now: 29 September, 2020