Tag Archives: Lachlan Macquarie

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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The Sydney Mint

Macquarie Street is a grand place for a stroll if you like history. The street is lined with buildings that date back to the era when Sydney was becoming more than a penal colony, thanks in large part to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who felt the new land had the potential of becoming something special. In fact, Macquarie’s impact on the colony is such that his grave stone bears the inscription “The Father of Australia.” When he arrived in 1810, there wasn’t much to suggest that Sydney had the potential of being anything grand, but Macquarie began to lay out street plans, get exploration under way, and look among the convicts for talent to help carry out his vision.

One of the first things he wanted to do was build a hospital. Britain was not interested in funding Macquarie’s grand plan to create decent facilities for a convict colony, so Macquarie approached a group of businessmen. In exchange for a three-year monopoly on importing rum, would they bankroll the hospital? They said yes, and as a result, the sprawling medical complex that was constructed between 1811 and 1816 was nicknamed the Rum Hospital.

While the central section of the hospital has not survived, two wings of the original building can still be seen on Macquarie St. The building shown below is one of those wings—the wing now known as the Sydney Mint. In 1854, this wing was in fact transformed into an outpost of the Royal Mint. Medical equipment was replaced by machinery for minting coins. It was the first branch of the Royal Mint ever established outside of London. However, the Australian gold rush (which commenced in in 1851) made having a mint handy seem like a grand idea. (Amazing how the discovery of gold got Britain interested in Australia.)

In 1927, the official money-making operation moved to the federal capital in Canberra. The Sydney Mint was fixed up and served as a museum for the next several decades. During my first trip to Australia, it was operated as a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. If you’re reading my book, you’ll know that I loved this museum. However, the admirable collection has now been moved to the Powerhouse Museum (another museum I very much liked). In 1998, the Sydney Mint was turned over to the Historic Houses Trust. It is still open to the public, but now only offers a café and a display about the history of the site—though that is certainly worth learning about.

The Mint

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