Architect Personal DetailsArchitectural works in South Australia
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Architect Personal Details



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William Hanson worked for the Colonial Architect’s Department between 1855 and 1867 and contributed to public buildings created during that era, he was also active within the emerging architectural profession in South Australia.

William Hanson was born in England in 1810, his father named Benjamin and his brothers Richard and Vincent (Biographical index of South Australian 1986). Before migrating to South Australia Hanson worked for Thomas Cubitt an architect and builder in London with fellow architect and colonist George Abbott (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 263). He then ‘joined George Stephenson, the Great English Railway Engineer, in 1836 in his work on railways, and then managed, for five years, two English railways’ (Cumming 1986: 88). William followed his brother, Sir Richard Hanson, to the colony of South Australia in 1853. Richard, a lawyer, had been in South Australia since 1846 and later became Premier of South Australia from 1857 to 1860, and Chief Justice from 1861. William worked in the public service as both an engineer and an architect until ill-health forced his retirement in 1867. He died at Glenelg in 1875.

In 1853, when Hanson arrived in South Australia he was appointed Engineer to the Adelaide to Gawler Railway Commissioners. He became the Chairman of the Railway Commission and its Engineer in 1857 (Cumming 1986: 88). In December 1860 he was appointed Engineer, Colonial Architect and Inspector of Railways when the Colonial Architect’s department was transformed to encompass not only architecture but also railways and waterworks (Page 1986: 37). When Hanson began to suffer ill health in 1866, possibly due to the overwhelming responsibilities placed on him, the department was re-divided into separate engineering and architectural functions. As a result Hanson was given the job of Architect-in-Chief, a position which he held until early the following year when he retired on 28 February 1867.

At the founding meeting of the South Australian Society of Architects, Engineers and Surveyors in 1858, Hanson, although an apology, was a member of the first sub-committee (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 184). At the June 1858 meeting he read a paper on the history of railways. He became Vice-President of the Society in 1858 and in November of 1860 was elected President. He was also a member of the Adelaide Philosophical Society (Cumming 1986: 88). Interestingly, on Hanson’s retirement from the public service ‘he was presented with a claret jug and salver in solid silver before a gathering of 300, when it was explained that the lack of architectural embellishment on public buildings was no fault of the Department, but solely due to the lack of money’ (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 342).

In 1853 Hanson’s employment as Engineer-Manager of the Adelaide to Port Adelaide and Adelaide to Gawler Railways drew on the experience he had gained in England. Hanson superintended the construction of the Gawler line and its extension to Kapunda. As his responsibilities widened he also played ‘a prominent role in the design and construction of the Thorndon Park Reservoir and the first reticulated water supply to Adelaide’ (Cumming 1986: 88).

As with many government employed architects attribution of buildings to any one individual is difficult. Bagot describes Hanson’s time as Colonial Architect as ‘an uneventful period of office principally occupied in the extension of buildings previously begun, and the erection of Customs Houses, Court Houses and Telegraph Stations at ports or in country towns’ (Bagot 1964). Whilst he was in office his department designed and built the Observatory for weather observations on the west park lands which was constructed of stone. Another commission was the two storey bluestone medical officer’s residence for the Lunatic Asylum, Botanic Road, Adelaide which it is believed Hanson himself designed (Marsden 1990: 172).

Of the courts, customs houses and telegraph stations designed by the Colonial Architect both in seaports and country towns, those credited to Hanson are the Customs House and Police Station at Port McDonnell (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 286), and the Court House, Gawler Street, Mt Barker (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 293). On a larger scale is the Local Court at 281-299 King William Street, Adelaide. This bluestone Roman Doric style building was originally built as a Police Court in 1867 but became the Local Court in 1891 (Marsden 1990: 277).

Julie Collins

Citation details
Collins, Julie, 'Hanson, William', Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: []




Architectural works in South Australia

Name Suburb Year Designed
Observatory Adelaide
Lunatic Asylum, medical officer's residence Adelaide
Customs House Port McDonnell
Port McDonnell Police Station Port McDonnell
Mt Barker Court House Mt Barker
Police Court Adelaide 1867

Firms or Professional Partnerships

Name Dates Worked
Thomas Cubitt, London  
George Stephenson, England 1836- 
Engineer to Adelaide to Gawler Railway Commission 1853-1857 
Chairman and Engineer, Railway Commission 1857-1860 
Colonial Architect's Department 1860-1867 

Bibliographic Sources


(1986) Biographical index of South Australians 1836-1885, South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society, Marden.
Cumming, D.A. (1986) They built South Australia: engineers, technicians, manufacturers, contractors and their work, D.A. Cumming and G.C. Moxam, Adelaide.
Langmead, Donald (1994) Accidental Architect: The Life and Times of George Strickland Kingston, Crossing Press, Sydney.
Marsden, S., Stark, P. and Sumerling, P. (1990) Heritage of the City of Adelaide: An illustrated guide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Adelaide.
Morgan, E.J.R. and Gilbert, S.H. (1969) Early Adelaide Architecture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne: 148.
Page, M (1986) Sculptors in Space: South Australian Architects 1836-1986, RAIA (SA), Adelaide.

Bagot, Walter (1964) Early Adelaide Architecture, SAIA Bulletin, photocopies, Langmead collection S220/1/18A 35-45, Architecture Museum, Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design, University of South Australia (LLSAM).

‘Secret History of Public Buildings - Mr Owen Smyth's reminiscences’, Register, 1 January 1920: 7b.
‘Secret History of Public Buildings - Mr Owen Smyth's reminiscences’, Register, 14 January 1920: 7b.
‘Secret History of Public Buildings - Mr Owen Smyth's reminiscences’, Observer, 10 January 1920: 44a.
Randall, W.G. (1924) ‘The Service Personalities Recalled’, Register, 2 December 1924.
Smyth, C.E. Owen, ‘Digging up the Past’, Register, series of articles November 1924.

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