James Macgeorge was born in 1832 to Scottish parents, Robert Forsyth Macgeorge (1795-1860) and Elizabeth Duncan (b.1801). The family moved to South Australia, arriving on 13 August 1839 in the barque ‘Ariadne’, James would have been a child of seven years. Robert Macgeorge was a tailor and set himself up in business as such when he arrived in Adelaide.
In 1852 father and son sailed to Melbourne with James returning to Adelaide in December 1854 on the ‘Kangaroo’. James Macgeorge started practising as an architect in 1855 and in the same year established an electric telegraph between the city and Pt Adelaide which was advertised as ‘Macgeorge’s Electric Telegraph’. He entered into partnership with Mr J. Turner in a winery in 1857. Following the death of his father in a shipwreck in 1860, James designed and built a house for himself and his mother, St Andrews at North Adelaide, in 1862. He became a foundation member of the South Australian Society of Arts and was elected to the board in 1861.
In 1861 James Macgeorge had begun to speculate on mining and buy sheep stations but was declared bankrupt in 1863. His brother, Ebenezer, formerly a surveyor in the Public Works Department took him into partnership and together they practised as architects from 1864 until December 1880 when James Macgeorge left Adelaide, travelling to England via the United States of America, arriving in October 1881. He died at Ashford, Kent on 9 December 1918, aged 86.
In 1859 Macgeorge won the competition to design the Savings Bank at 18 King William Street, Adelaide. It was completed in July 1860 and used the Corinthian architectural order in its design. It has been described as a ‘little renaissance block fronted by a clumsy pedimented portico’ (Langmead 1994: 196).
A gentleman’s residence of note designed by Macgeorge is Holland House overlooking the North Para River at the Turretfield estate, Rosedale, north of Adelaide (c.1854), built for pastoralist, Richard Holland. The ‘mid-Victorian mixture of Gothic and Tudor references, grand scale, careful attention to detail, quality of construction and prominent siting’ of the house makes it ‘architecturally significant as an excellent early example of quality stone masonry, generous and innovative planning, and whimsical use of decorative stone, plaster, timber and glass detailing’ (AHPI).
St Andrews, at 121-125 Kingston Terrace, North Adelaide (1862) has been described as ‘one of Adelaide’s grandest and most impressively sited residences’ (Marsden et al 1990: 343). It was designed for Macgeorge’s mother and was constructed of limestone rubble with ‘well detailed brickwork’ pilasters to openings (Marsden et al 1990: 343), a mansard roof and French appearance with an arcaded loggia. It was later enlarged by architect Edward Woods for William Murray in the 1870s (Bagot 1958: 16).
Other significant residences by Macgeorge include Waverly at 356-364 South Terrace, Adelaide which was built as a residence for pastoralist William Sanders (Marsden et al 1990: 226) and Romalo, at Magill (Page 1986: 74).
St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Wakefield Street, Adelaide (1864-5), which originally featured a spire of stuccoed masonry, was the first of Macgeorge’s Gothic Churches. This was followed by Maughan Methodist Church, Franklin Street, Adelaide (1866) with its ‘unusual brick spire’ (Bagot 1958: 16) and, in 1867, a new Congregational Church at Pt Adelaide constructed to the design of Macgeorge and built of Dry Creek stone with brick dressings (AHPI). A Congregational Church at McLaren Vale has also been attributed to him (Page 1986: 74), as has the first section of Glenelg Congregational Church on Jetty Road.
In 1870 Macgeorge and his brother designed the Strathalbyn to Pt Elliot Railway. Controversially, Macgeorge won the 1876 competition for the design of the Mitchell Building at Adelaide University, for a building in the French Renaissance style. However, this design did not proceed to be built and in 1879 William McMinn, Macgeorge’s former 1860 articled pupil (Marsden et al. 1990: 172), designed a new scheme, which was built, in Venetian Gothic style (Page 1986: 80).
Collins, Julie, ‘Macgeorge, James', Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=68]