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Architect Personal Details



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James Cumming, who made a successful transition from draper to architect in the 1860s, created a worthy opus on his own account and during his partnership with Edward Davies, and engaged in robust public debates on land reform and taxation.

Cumming arrived in Adelaide from Glasgow, Scotland, as a young man on the Royal Archer on 12 December 1846 with his father Peter, mother Elizabeth, and siblings Alexander, Helen, Janet and Elizabeth (Leadbeater 2009). Peter Cumming set up a draper’s shop in Hindley Street and later, Kapunda. Although Morgan and Gilbert (1969) claim he ran the business with his son, Alexander, it appears that James, too, was initially part of the enterprise. The South Australian Advertiser (SAA) of 11 October 1859, reported on a meeting held to discuss Drapers’ Holidays, stating it was conducted at Messrs. P. Cumming and Sons, Hindley Street and detailing a number of motions by Mr James Cumming. On 16 May 1861 the paper carried two advertisements for Peter Cumming and Sons under Drapery and Clothing, while a later one explained that stock for the family business was ‘carefully selected by their Mr James Cumming’ whilst he was in London (SAA 1861 27 September: 1).

James had married Helen Cumming, second daughter of William Spink Cumming, surgeon, of Lime House, London at Stepney, London, during an earlier visit to that city on 15 August 1850 (Abbott Index, South Australian 1850 2 December: 2a). Four children, Peter, Ann, William and Arthur were born to them at North Adelaide (South Australian births index). Marsden et al (1990) state that James Cumming owned and occupied 28-33 Brougham Place in the 1850s, selling it to Isaac Solomon Henry in 1863. In 1858 James Cumming, shopkeeper of Brougham Place, was selected for jury duty (SAA 1858 18 November: 3).

Following the death of Arthur, their youngest child, in April, 1860 (SAA 1860 5 April: 2f), the Cummings departed on the Orient for London on 31 October 1860 with their three surviving offspring (Horner Index). A fifth child, James Leonard, was born on 21 March 1861 at East India Row, London (SAA 1861 10 May: 2f). The family arrived back in Adelaide on the Murray in October 1864 (Register 1864 22 October: 2a). In 1866 the family residence was O’Connell Street, North Adelaide. South Australian Directories show they moved several more times to other locations in North Adelaide: Strangways Terrace (1869), Stanley Street (1874), Jeffcott Street (1877) and Barton Terrace (1884).

Cumming was an active member of the North Adelaide Baptist Church and was in the deaconate from 1855 to 1874 but ‘retired on account of ill health’ (Cumming 1877:1). In 1877 he published a pamphlet in response to internal differences of opinion on church matters and a perceived lack of consultation between church leaders and members (Cumming 1877; Response to J.C. 1877).

Cumming’s firm faith and sense of social justice led him to develop strong opinions on taxation and land reform, which he claimed were those of the ‘genuine Socialist’ (Cumming 1887: n.p.). Jensen and Jensen (1980: 344) note that he wrote in late August 1868, ‘“that leasehold land at a fixed rent was the answer to land reform”: a view which may well have decided the basis of land tenure much later in Canberra’. In a lecture that he delivered on ‘Land and Industry’ in August 1887, which was reprinted in Our Commonwealth, Cumming made reference to these views and to the fact that although he was denounced then, his detractors were now advocating his ideas (Cumming 1887: n.p.). He continued to promote them and several years later, in 1891, he was a frequent correspondent to The Register on the subject of taxation, advocating the payment of land tax and removal of duties (Cumming 1891; Register 1901 29 April).

Cumming claimed to be ‘a student of manufacturing history in the United Kingdom [stating that he] had ‘worked … at the bench as an engineer amongst “the black squad” … and there are but few kinds of workshops and factories I have not visited and examined’. Earlier in his architectural career he had refused to participate in ‘a “capitalist’s” idea of designing a block of industrial dwellings for Adelaide’, preferring to let Adelaide ‘have a little of the country in the city itself and plant some of the city in the country’ (Cumming 1887: n.p.).

Contrary to Morgan and Gilbert’s claim (1969) that James Cumming did not die in South Australia, he in fact passed away at his son William’s home at Bridge Street, Kensington on 28 April 1901, aged 75 years (Sands & McDougall 1900: 454; South Australian deaths index: 314). A brief obituary noted he was ‘succumbed to paralysis … but owing to failing health had not been in practice during the past few years’ (Register 1901 29 April: 5a). He was buried at Mitcham Cemetery (Mitcham Cemetery Burial Records).

It seems likely that Cumming would have undertaken some architectural training during the family’s sojourn in the United Kingdom, as in the January after his return in 1864, he placed an announcement for James Cumming, ‘architect and surveyor’ practising at Temple Chambers, 20 Currie Street, Adelaide, in the Register’s Professional section (1f). However, he is not listed in the Directory of British Architects 1834-1914. From 1867 he also practised as a licensed land broker (Boothby, Town and Country Directory 1867: 5).

The earliest record of Cumming’s work in South Australia is 1864 when he was responsible for additions to two stores in Gawler Place, Adelaide (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 275). His practice continued to grow during the ensuing years when it prepared plans for stores, factories, dwellings, hotels and institutes across Adelaide and regional South Australia. It also received a number of ecclesiastical commissions from the Wesleyan, Lutheran, Congregational and Baptist churches (Jensen and Jensen 1980).

In April 1868 Cumming moved to Alfred Chambers, 10 Currie Street. At that time in his career, he declared ‘that he devotes his attention to works for which he is employed and does not prepare designs for competitions’ (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 343).

According to Page (1986), Cumming employed Edward Davies as a draughtsman in 1878, making him a partner in 1879. Jensen and Jensen (1980), however, state the partnership commenced in June 1881. The practice of Cumming and Davies acquired numerous city and regional residential and commercial commissions. Cumming’s previous stance regarding competitions changed and the practice was successful in design competitions for the East Adelaide Congregational Church (1879), Clayton Memorial Church (1881, State Heritage Register 13171), the Home for Incurables in Fullarton (1881, demolished 1973) and the former National Mutual Life Association Building (SHR 10896). The 1884 façade of the last building was ‘rolled’ 34 metres northwards in 1979 (Page 1986: 258). Cumming’s partnership with Davies lasted until 1884, when the latter left to establish his own practice. Cumming and Alfred Dunn are listed together at 12 Currie Street in that same year (Jensen and Jensen 1981).

In 1879 William Cumming, surveyor, was at the same professional address as James (Sands & McDougall 1879: 156), and was later joined by J.L. Cumming. They also practised as land and share brokers. It is most likely they were the sons of James. In 1890 they shared the same private address, Woodbury, Mt. Lofty, as James, who had been there since 1887. This arrangement had changed by 1894, although James was still listed under the Architects section as being at Mt. Lofty (Sands & McDougall 1894: 799). In 1895 he was practising in King William Street, Adelaide (Sands & McDougall 1895:784). His final listing, as an architect, was in 1898 when he was at 187 Childers Street, North Adelaide (Sands & McDougall 1898: 257, 839).

Cumming took an active interest in the wider profession. In the first annual architecture examinations held in the colony in October 1885, he examined candidates in Professional Practice. A year later he was elected Honorary Treasurer for the inaugural South Australian Institute of Architects executive (Jensen and Jensen: 1980).

One of Cumming’s earliest ecclesiastical commissions was for a Wesleyan Chapel in Gilbert Street, Adelaide, known as Draper Memorial Church. Completed in 1869 it was in ‘Early English’ style. Upon the amalgamation of the various sects of the Methodist Church it was sold to an Apostolic denomination in the 1920s. It was demolished in the 1970s (Jensen and Jensen 1980; Uniting Church in South Australia 1982).

Still in use is the Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Church, Flinders Street, Adelaide. Designed by Cumming in early Gothic style, the foundation stone was laid in July 1871. It was built of Mitcham bluestone and opened in June 1872. A set of three bells for the tower, cast from a cannon captured from the French during the Franco- Prussian war of 1870 and sent as a gift from the German Kaiser, Wilhelm 1, arrived in Sydney in 1879. They were exhibited at the Sydney Exhibition where they won a first prize (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 466; SLSA Local Number:B 1937). ‘Strangely, they never reached their destination in Adelaide, and, by 2006, the church still had no bells’ (SLSA B1937).

Cumming designed the church in which he worshipped for many years, the North Adelaide Baptist Church in Tynte Street (SHR 13503), as well as the church hall (Stark 1984). According to Stark (1984: 97D) its Venetian architectural style and its layout ‘probably originates from the London Tabernacle of the famous Baptist preacher, C.H. Surgeon’. A report in the South Australian Register on 16 July 1870 stated that ‘ample provision has been made for ventilation by a space in the centre of the ceiling 34 feet long by 6 feet wide, which is only covered by perforated zinc, through which hot air can escape into the roof, where louvre openings exist for obtaining a current of air’. In his pamphlet on church matters, Cumming (1877:12), claimed that ‘a deacon blundered into an attack on me in reference to the heat in the church, and then on architects as a lot for their ignorance of the subject of ventilation’. He responded by purchasing thermometers and prevailing on gentlemen from some of ‘the best churches in the city’ to take the temperature at the end of the sermon: ‘this showed that, although the means of ventilation which our church possesses were not properly availed of, the temperature in it compared favourably with each of the others’.

Undertaking alterations and additions to the Lion Brewery in 1873 and 1875, Cumming called for tenders in 1880 for the construction of the Lion Hotel at the corner of Jerningham and Melbourne Streets (Marsden et al 1990: 338; SHR 13559). The wealthy businessman, William Beaglehole, who had come to Adelaide in 1874 and bought the brewery, had commissioned Cumming in 1877 to design a large two storey ‘Italianate style’ villa in white Tea Tree Gully freestone with cement dressing at what is now 57-60 Brougham Place (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 636).

Another well-off client was John Howard Angas (O'Neill 1969). At Tarrawatta, the name given to the country where his Collingrove property was situated, Angas commissioned Cumming to design a new Congregational Church (prior to 1874). It was in Gothic style, using dark stone from a local quarry and freestone from Truro, north-east of the Barossa Valley (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 549; Chronicle 10 October 1903: 43). Cumming entered the competition for the Home for Inebriates (now St John’s Grammar School), Belair, then a rural locale, winning the £50 first prize provided by Angas who was Chairman of the Committee (Jensen and Jensen 1980).

Cumming had other country commissions such as the Baptist Church (opened 1867, later a Technical College) and the E.S.&A. Bank (1868) in ‘modern Venetian Gothic style’ both in Kapunda, and the Angaston Institute, an imposing ‘Italianate’ stone building (Jensen and Jensen 1980: 409-410). According to Page (1986) Cumming and Davies were responsible for one of the great country homes in the southeast of the state, Padthaway. It is not clear from other sources whether this was the case. This large home was built for Robert Lawson and is listed on the State Heritage Register but not attributed to any particular architect. Jensen and Jensen (1980: 788) note that tenders were called by Cumming and Davies for a residence on the Estate for M. Lawson in October 1881.

The most centrally-located example of Cumming’s work in Adelaide is Gay’s Arcade (1885) which runs off Twin Street and adjoins the Adelaide Arcade. Despite modifications, changes and a fire in 1980, both ‘remain as excellent examples of the nineteenth-century equivalent of a “shopping mall”’ (Page 1986: 98).

Alison McDougall

Citation details
McDougall, Alison, 'Cumming, James’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: []




Architectural works in South Australia

Name Suburb Year Designed
Draper Memorial Church Adelaide 1867
Bethlehem Church Adelaide 1871
North Adelaide Baptist Church North Adelaide
Old Lion Hotel North Adelaide 1880
Home for Inebriates (Retreat House) Belair 1877
Home for Incurables Fullarton 1880
National Mutual Life Assurance Adelaide
Tobacco Factory Adelaide
Gay's Arcade Adelaide

Firms or Professional Partnerships

Name Dates Worked
Cumming, James 1864-1879/1881 
Cumming and Davies 1879/1881-1884 
Cumming and Dunn, Alfred 1884 
Cumming, James 1885-1898 

Bibliographic Sources


Jensen, E. and Jensen, R. (1980) Colonial architecture in South Australia: a definitive chronicle of development 1836-1890 and the social history of the times, Rigby Publishers Ltd. Adelaide.
Marsden, S., Stark, P. and Sumerling, P. (1990) Heritage of the City of Adelaide: an illustrated guide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide.
Morgan, E.J.R. and Gilbert, S.H. (1969) Early Adelaide architecture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
O'Neill, S. 'Angas, John Howard (1823 - 1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, Melbourne University Press, 1969.
Page, M. (1986) Sculptors in space: South Australian architects 1836-1986, RAIA (SA), Adelaide.
South Australian Directories (1864-1903)

Chronicle (1903) 10 October: 43.
‘Drapers’ Holidays’ (1859) South Australian Advertiser, 11 October: 3e.
Register (1864) 22 October: 2a.
Register (1865) 21 January: 1g.
Register (1865) 23 January: 1f.
Register (1901) 29 April: 5a.
South Australian (1850) 2 December: 2a.
South Australian Advertiser (1861) 16 May: 1b.
South Australian Advertiser (1861) 27 September: 1.
South Australian Register (1870) 16 July.
Supreme Court – Civil Sittings (1858) South Australian Advertiser, 18 November: 3f.

Cumming, J. (1877) A Contribution to the history of the North Adelaide Baptist Church 1876-7, Carey & Page, Adelaide, with ‘Response to J.C by A Sunday School Teacher’ (1877) April 17 in the same folder, State Library of South Australia (SLSA)
Cumming, J (1887) ‘Land and Industry’ reprinted from Our Commonwealth, September.
Cumming, J (1891) ‘Protection or Freedom?: our manufactories, our people, and our land values’, supplement to The Pioneer, March.
Cumming, J (1891) What are we to have in the future?: tall taxes piled up hitherto, or no tax, W.K. Thomas, Adelaide.
Cumming, J (18-) ‘The Pauper Industries’, reprinted from The Register, 10-28 June.
South Australian birth index of registrations 1842 - 1906 (1997) South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society Inc., Vol. 2 C-D.
South Australian death index of registrations 1842-1915 (2000) South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society Inc., Vol. 1 A-C.
South Australian State Heritage Register (SHR)
Uniting Church in South Australia Historical Society Newsletter (1982), No.14 May: 2.

Mitcham Cemetery Burial Records held in Mitcham Local History Collection, Mitcham Heritage Research Centre. (Although the Burial Register lists James and other family members as being buried in the cemetery, only the names of James’ parents and brother, Alexander, appear on the headstone inscription)

Abbott Index of births, marriages, deaths and obituaries 1837-1936, SLSA.
Horner Index to departures by ship for South Australia for overseas from the Register newspaper 1936-1887, SLSA.
Shipping Arrivals in newspapers 1846-1887, SLSA.

Stark, P.B. (1984) in Donovan, P., Marsden, S. and Stark, P. ‘City of Adelaide Heritage Survey’ (1986), Department of Planning and Development, Vol. 5, Robe Ward, Item 217: 97A-D.

Australian Heritage Database, accessed online 13 January 2009 at
Australian Heritage Places Inventory, accessed online 13 January 2009 at
Leadbeater, B. South Australian Passenger Lists, accessed online 13 January 2009
Manning, G.H. The Manning Index of South Australian History, accessed online 13 January 2009
National Library of Australia Australian Newspapers beta accessed December 2008, January 2009
State Library of South Australia accessed online 2 March 2009

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