Born:    Died:
James Barnet, image from National Library of Australia

The greatest of all Colonial Architects lived in Glebe/Forest Lodge for 50 years!

James Barnet was born in Scotland in 1827 and studied drawing, design and architecture in London before he sailed for Sydney with his wife Amy in 1854.

Barnet lived all his Australian years in Glebe (Derwent Street in 1865) and Forest Lodge (Braeside, cnr Ross Street and Parramatta Road, now demolished).

Edmund Blacket appointed him Clerk of Works on the construction of the University of Sydney. In 1860, Barnet joined the Colonial Architect’s Office. In 1865, he became Colonial Architect and served in this position for 25 years.

Barnet’s work in Sydney signalled its maturation from a Georgian town to a Victorian city. His work contributed to a sense of stability and civic pride and includes:

  • The Australian Museum (1864)
  • The GPO in Martin Place (1866-90)
  • The Colonial Secretary’s building, Macquarie Street (1878)
  • The Lands Department building, Bridge Street (1876-81, 1888-93)
  • Garden Palace (1879) (destroyed by fire)
  • Additions to the Customs House (1884)
  • Kirkbride Block at Callan Park

Three of Glebe’s civic buildings are attributed to James Barnet :

  • The (former) Post Office (1888)
  • The (former) Court House (1889)
  • The Police Station (1883)

This cluster of buildings, each quite different, is integrated by virtue of their scale, simplicity and appropriateness as well as the strong horizontal lines that unify the structures.

Further afield, Barnet designed 169 post and telegraph offices, 130 courthouses (including the Glebe Courthouse, 1889) and many other public buildings across the state.

Barnet was ‘a promoter of new technologies’, used concrete and fire-resistant materials, introduced electricity into his buildings and was the first to install a telephone in a government office.’ 1

Chris Johnson, the current Government Architect, states that Barnet was the Colonial Architect who most significantly affected the shaping of Sydney. 2

Barnet has left Sydney a legacy of iconic and much-loved Victorian buildings.

James Barnet died at Forest Lodge on 16 December 1904 aged 78. He was buried at Rookwood Cemetery. 2004 represents the centenary of his death.

1. Jahn, Graham, Sydney Architecture, 1997
2. Johnson, Chris, Shaping Sydney, 1999
Johnson, Chris, Shaping Sydney, 1999
Herman, Morton, The Architecture of Victorian Sydney, 1964
Lawrence, Joan and Warne, Catherine, Balmain to Glebe, 1995
MacDonnell, Freda, The Glebe: Portraits and Places, 1975
Smith, Bernard and Kate, The architectural character of Glebe, 1989

More information
Australian Dictionary of Biography  
Obituaries Australia  
Glebe Walks – James Barnet  
Glebe Walks – Early Architects Walk
Graham Jahn, A Guide to Sydney Architecture, The Watermark Press, 1997
Chris Johnson, Shaping Sydney: Public Architecture and Civic Decorum, Hale & Iremonger, 1999
Chris Johnson, Peter Kohane, Patrick Bingham-Hall, James Barnet, Sydney: Pesaro, 2000

Posted on April 6, 2013 by Liz Simpson-Booker

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