Walter Liberty Vernon

Walter Liberty Vernon

Walter Liberty Vernon (11 August 1846  17 January 1914) was an English architect who migrated to Australia and pursued his career as an architect in Sydney, New South Wales. He is noted for designing multiple government buildings which are still standing, many of which have a heritage listing.

Early life

Vernon was born 11 August 1846 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England,[1] the son of a banker's clerk, Robert Vernon and Margaret Liberty. He was articled in 1862 to a London architect, W.G.Habershon, and studied at the Royal Academy of Arts and South Kensington School of Art. After completing his studies, he pursued a practice as an architect in London and married Margaret Anne Jones in 1870 at Newport, Wales. His London practice was successful, but he suffered from bronchial asthma and received medical advice to leave England.Thus, he migrated to Australia and arrived in Sydney in November 1883.[1]

Career in Australia

Vernon established a private practice in Sydney but later joined the Government Architect's Branch in 1890 as Government Architect. The activities of this office were boosted in 1894 when extra funding was committed as a way of creating relief work during the Depression.

As an architect practising in Australia, Vernon favoured what were later known as Federation styles such as Federation Arts and Crafts and Federation Free Style. (The Federation style was, roughly speaking, the Australian equivalent of the Edwardian style.) Examples of the former were his fire station in St Johns Road, Glebe, Jenolan Caves House in the Blue Mountains and the Public School, Military Road, Mosman.[2] Examples of the latter were his fire stations in The Avenue, Randwick; Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst; and Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont. The last two are on the Register of the National Estate.[3] Another example of Federation Free Style is the former police station, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, also on the National Estate.[3] In a stylistic departure, he designed the (former) police station in Bourke Street, Surry Hills, in the Romanesque style; it too is on the National Estate.[3]

For more substantial public buildings, Vernon continued the tradition whereby such buildings were designed in a Classical style. Notable examples were the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Mitchell Library (part of the State Library), Central Railway Station and Newcastle Court House; all of which are on the National Estate.[3] The Art Gallery has been described as "masterly symmetry featuring Ionic colonnades."[2] Central Station has been described as "the grandest railway station in Australia."[4]

Vernon also designed significant additions to existing buildings, such as Customs House, Sydney; Randwick Police Station; the Chief Secretary's Building, Sydney; Balranald Post Office; Armidale Post Office; and the former Premier's Office, Sydney. His office was also responsible for the public decorations during the Federation celebrations of 1901.

He retired as New South Wales Government Architect in 1911 and returned to private practice, establishing a partnership with Howard Joseland. The latter, also born in England, was a practitioner of the Federation Arts and Crafts and Federation Bungalow styles.[2] One of the buildings designed by Vernon and Joseland was the Paterson Reid and Bruce building, York Street, Sydney, which is now on the National Estate.[3] In 1911, Vernon judged the competition entries for Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand, after the original buildings were destroyed in a 1907 fire.[5][6]

Vernon had an outstanding career as an architect, with approximately fifty of his buildings being on the Register of the National Estate.[3] He is known as a key practitioner of various Federation styles.[2] Vernon Circle in Canberra is named after him, as is the Vernon Pavilion in Sydney's Centennial Park.[7][8]

Death and funeral

Vernon died on 17 January 1914 and his "impressive funeral" at St James' Church, Sydney on 19 January was attended by "a large and representative gathering of mourners".[9]

Heritage buildings

The following Vernon buildings are on the Register of the National Estate.[3]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Walter Liberty Vernon". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. Retrieved 18 December 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 4 A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture. Apperly (Angus and Robertson Publishers). 1994.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The Heritage of Australia. Macmillan Company. 1981.
  4. Heritage of Australia, Macmillan Publishers, 1981, p.2/108
  5. "The halfway house – Parliament buildings". New Zealand History Online. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  6. "New Parliament Buildings". Thames Star. XLVII (10273). 28 September 1911. p. 1. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  7. "Northbourne Avenue, Vernon Circle, Commonwealth Avenue, State Circle, Capital Circle, Canberra Avenue, Hume Place and Monaro Highway (National Route 23) – Acton to Fyshwick". Road Photos & Information: Australian Capital Territory. Paul Rands. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  8. "Vernon Circle". ACT Government, Environment and Planning. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  9. "Late Colonel Vernon". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 January 1914. p. 7. Retrieved 27 March 2014.

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