Francis Greenway

Mark Twain was known to exaggerate a bit, to get a laugh or make a point, but there was always an element of truth in his words. While traveling Down Under, Twain noted, “Australian history is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is also so curious and strange, that it is itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.”

Actually, while I might not agree that Australian history is the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, I do agree it’s generally pretty unexpected—and has continued to be so, long after Twain penned those words. For example, what other country can you think of that has featured a convicted forger on its money. Of course, if you read the post on Entally House, you’ll already know that Australia was not averse to picturing convicts on its money, but there is a special quirkiness in showing a forger.

Of course, Francis Greenway wasn’t just a forger. He was also a skilled architect, born into a family or architects, builders, and stonemasons. However, Francis liked to get his own way, even when it meant a little criminal activity, such as forging documents. He was sentenced to death in England, but that was changed to transportation, which is how he wound up in Sydney in 1814. Fortunately for Greenway, Lachlan Macquarie was the governor at the time, and Macquarie had big plans for Australia—plans that would benefit from the skills of an experienced architect. Macquarie had begun building schools, courthouses, roads, and hospitals. Suddenly having the convict-architect Greenway available made Macquarie’s grand vision seem more accessible.

At first, Greenway was just an advisor, but by March 1816, he had been given the job of civil architect and assistant engineer. His first official project was designing a lighthouse for the south head of Port Jackson. The stonework alone was so impressive that Macquarie offered Greenway a conditional pardon.

Of Greeenway’s varied projects for the colony, two of the most notable can be seen along Macquarie Street: The Hyde Park Barracks and St. James’ Church, which face each other across Queen’s Square. While both buildings are handsome examples of the Georgian-influenced architecture that became known as Macquarie Style, St. James’ Church is surprising in that is has been in continuous use for its original purpose since it was consecrated in 1824. The barracks are a museum now, but the church is still a church.

St James’ Church, shown below, was not only designed by a convict, but was also built by convict labor. It is the oldest surviving church building in the City of Sydney. And Greenway’s contribution to the city’s early growth was remembered by placing him in 1991 on the $10 note.

St. James' Church

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Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, History, Literature, Travel

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