Goverment House

In 2011, the Governor launched a history book titled Government House and Western Australian Society 1829-2010 by Jeremy C Martens. The author successfully presented the historian’s perspective that, since the early colonial era, the “House and its grounds can be a useful and valuable lens through which to view the fascinating historical evolution of Western Australia and its people.” To celebrate the opening of the present House in September 1863, this timeline illustrates snapshots of the history of the development of Government House, the State, the Nation and the World for the past 150 years.


The House

1829
1830
1831
1832
1833
1834
1835
1836
1857
1858
1859
1860
1861
1862
1863
1864
1865
1867
1868
1869
1876
1877
1878
1880
1885
1886
1898
1899
1900
1901
1902
1903
1904
1905
1906
1907
1908
1909
1910
1913
1914
1915
1920
1921
1922
1925
1926
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1961
1963
1978
1979
1980
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2004
2005
2010
2011
2012
2013

1829
Second, temporary Government House

The colony’s second ‘temporary’ house was erected on the Domain.
The first temporary residence was on Garden Island ‘perched atop Cliff Point’. This was home to Stirling, his wife Ellen, and their two young sons.

1831
James Drummond

In mid-1831 Governor Stirling gave permission to James Drummond, the Government naturalist, to establish a public garden and nursery on the Domain. This garden would become a crucial source of vegetables, fruit and other produce in Perth.

James Drummond with one of his grandchildren

1833
Map of Perth

The 1833 Map of Perth was published from plans supplied by Surveyor General John Septimus Roe. The eastern section of St Georges Terrace was initially designed with an open prospect to the Swan estuary; and in spite of Roe’s intentions to keep the government domain free of buildings, Perth’s first, temporary, Government House was erected on this land in 1829.

1834
Olive Tree

The largest olive tree on the domain was planted during the Stirlings’ residency and it is believed to have originally been supplied by Mangles to Drummond.

Weld – the first Catholic Governor – hosted Bishop Salvado as a house guest when he arrived from Spain on his way to establish a new monastery at New Norcia. The Benedictine monks are to this day known for the development of olives (and olive products) and it is a popular belief that some seedlings from the old ‘Stirling’ olive trees may have found their way to New Norcia with Bishop Salvado.

1834
First permanent Government House

Perth’s first Government House was designed by Henry Reveley and erected between 1834 and 1837.

1858
Major Edmund Yeamans Walcott Henderson

The task of designing the Vice Regal mansion fell to the colony’s Comptroller General, Major Edmund Yeamans Walcott Henderson. After submitting plans and estimates to the Governor in August 1858, Henderson proudly wrote to his father in England expressing ‘little doubt’ that his design would be adopted by the Executive Council.

Casting aside any pretensions to modesty, he also thought the new Government House would be a ‘very handsome edifice and a credit to the colony for all time to come …’

1859
Laying of the Foundation Stone

The laying of the foundation stone for the new Government House was held on 17 March 1859.

A local newspaper reported that this event “drew together the largest assemblance which has ever been ‘mustered’ in the colony; and numerous spectators travelled to Perth from the country, and the Steamer from Fremantle increased the throng of spectators with nearly 100 passengers”.

The ceremony was organised by local freemasons and performed with full Masonic honours. Between 40 and 50 brethren dressed in full regalia assembled at St John’s Lodge and marched to the Domain behind the Royal Engineers band. On their arrival, the masons took up position alongside Governor Kennedy and his entourage on a platform on the new building’s foundations.

1861
Government House under construction

Owing to severe labour difficulties and massive cost overruns, it took almost five years for Government House to be completed.

1863
Governor Hampton moves to Government House

On 11 September 1863, Governor Hampton, his wife Mary and his Private Secretary travelled from Fremantle where they had been residing to relocate to Government House, the largest and grandest house in the colony.

1863
First elaborate display of Vice Regal authority

The first elaborate display of Vice Regal authority to be held at the new Government House took place on 11 December 1863 when Governor Hampton, in full ceremonial dress, presented Western Australia’s volunteer officers with their commissions.

1863
Designs by Crace

In April 1863, twenty eight crates addressed to the Officer administering the Government of Western Australia, arrived on the Strathmore at the port of Fremantle. Their final destination was the new Government House in Perth, the capital of the colony of Western Australia. The contents of the crates were one of several consignments obtained from the renowned decorator and furniture maker John Gregory Crace.

The firm of J.G. Crace, 14 Wigmore Street, London was commissioned to supply wallpaper, stained glass, chimney pieces, fire grates, fenders and furniture for the new Government House which are still a feature of the House today.

1867
Monster Picnic

To help alleviate the disappointment of Prince Alfred’s failure to visit Western Australia, the Vice Regal couple moved quickly to make the best of a bad situation. In an official announcement the Governor and Mrs Hampton proposed to hold a replacement Ball at Government House for all those who had accepted invitations to the original event.

The colony’s children had also ‘been disappointed of their jubilee’. A monster picnic was held on the Government House Domain on 28 November 1867 for 1800 children ‘of all classes’ from Perth, Guildford and Fremantle.

1876
The Piano Arrives

The piano is a Bechstein boudoir grand piano (c. 1876). It is thought the piano may have been brought into Government House during the time that Sir William Cleaver Francis Robinson was Governor (1875-77) – he was a composer and musician.

1878
First Home with a phone

In August 1878 the first telephone service in the colony was constructed between Government House and the Colonial Secretary’s Office. This was certainly an early use of this technology as it had only been demonstrated to Queen Victoria six months earlier by Professor Alexander Graham Bell.

1885
Jeremiah Sheath

English born landscape gardener Jeremiah Sheath was appointed to the Governor’s Establishment in November 1885. The important changes which occurred during the decade between 1887 and 1897 were most likely made during the time that Jeremiah Sheath was employed as a caretaker at Government House.

There is no doubt that considerable planting had been done by the time Sheath was appointed, nevertheless the dominant features of the arcadian landscape which distinguish the grounds today can almost certainly be attributed to him.

1886
Telephone Link

A new telephone link was established between Government House and the Colonial Secretary’s Office as the first step in establishing full telephone exchanges in Perth and Fremantle by the electrical engineer, William J Hancock.

1898
First Home with Electricity

In May 1898 a contract worth £12.666 2s 1d was signed to commence work on the new Government House Ballroom.
By the end of 1898 sufficient progress had been made for Governor and Lady Smith to host a large New Year’s Eve Garden party on the domain and to serve refreshments in the new supper room attached to the ballroom.

One of the most innovative features of the new building was the extensive use of permanent electrical lighting, installed by the electrical branch of the Public Works Department under the direction of the government electrician, William John Hancock.

Government House balls had in fact already provided several opportunities to experiment with new lighting technology in the previous decade. For example, after the Western Australian Electric Light and Power Company had been set up by Charles Otte in 1888, the then Governor Sir Napier Broome arranged to have the old ballroom illuminated for a dance.

1899
New Rooms for the House

Other additions to the House during this time were the Dining Room and Billiard Room, on the south side of the building.

1899
Ballroom, Dining and Billiard Rooms added

The Ballroom replaced a previous one which was a largely wooden structure and built across the western end of the Establishment. The designs were signed off by John Grainger (as Government Architect) but they are known to have been the work of Hillson Beasley. Beasley had designed a building in the style of Free Classicism, then a popular architectural expression.

The Ballroom was completed in the Classical Revival style, contrasting with the Gothic Revival style used for the House.

The Ballroom was fully equipped with electric light.

1901
Septic System

A trial bacterial sewage system, consisting of a septic tank and a series of filters, was built in the grounds in 1901. They were located below the stables in the eastern section of the grounds, in the area now occupied by the Perth Concert Hall.

The seemingly large sum of one thousand pounds was allocated to test the system, as a preliminary to its introduction for the sewering of the metropolitan area..

The documentation for the project was comprehensive; and survives as an important archival record of what was new technology at the time and was to be come significant in the development of Perth’s suburban areas.

1904
The Gatehouse Lodge
 

The Lodge was built as a residential accommodation for the police orderly attached to Government House; as he was required to be on duty at all times. The orderly’s quarters had previously been located in the Public Offices in Stirling Square adjoining Government House, and in other accommodation near the riverfront.

The Lodge was designed by architect W.B. Hardwick of the public works department, who fashioned it in the then-popular Federation Queen Anne style.

It housed the police orderly, Sergeant George Cunningham, and family, for fifteen years. It is now used as office accommodation.

1904
Reclamation of the foreshore

The existing reclamation line was extended from the southern boundary of the Government House domain towards the Causeway; and a new foreshore, some 600 feet in width, was created.

The close connection between the House and the river were changed forever; the jetty that had provided river access to Government House for 75 years disappeared along with the governor’s boathouse; and the ponds on the lower grounds, which mark the old shoreline, were created, and can be seen today.

Terrace Road was built, and the old fencing and limestone wall that had marked the southern boundary along the river were replaced with a six feet high closed picket fence.

1906
Construction of the rose parterre

Governor Bedford took a special interest in overseeing work in the bottom sections of the Domain, which were redesigned after the reclamation of the foreshore. Additional improvements were initiated under Governor Bedford and his foreman gardener Henry Campbell (a Scottish immigrant who was appointed foreman gardener in 1904).

Fifty rose bushes were ordered to create a rose parterre which was laid out in four segments of a circle cut into the lawn.

Over a hundred trees were also planted, replacing the many fruit trees that grew in profusion. Most of the palms that can still be seen in the lower garden date from this period.

1863 to 1913
Government House
50th Anniversary

1914
Dame Melba Sings at Government House

Dame Nellie Melba attended a dance hosted by His Excellency Major-General Sir Harry Barron KCMG CVO and Lady Barron. Lady Barron also invited members of the Victoria Institute for the Blind in Maylands to this event and the children from the Institute were able to sing with Dame Nellie in a very moving performance.

1925
Murder in the Ballroom!

Cyril Gidley, a 25 year old English ship’s engineer, was fatally shot by Audrey Jacob while dancing with Maude Mitchell in Government House Ballroom. Miss Jacob was tried for wilful murder, but pleaded ‘not guilty’. The Crown presented a mountain of evidence suggesting that Jacob had acted as a ‘jilted lover’; however the jury determined that the shooting was accidental.

1934
West Australian Electrical Exhibition

Pressing a button in Government House, Canberra, His Excellency the Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, switched on festoons of electric lights, totalling 60,000 candle power, in the Government House Ballroom, Perth.

On Monday, 9 April 1934, by means of radio and the East West telegraph line, the Governor General officially opened the West Australian Electrical Exhibition. Every word of his address to an estimated crowd of 2000 people could be clearly heard through a series of loud speakers around the Ballroom, relayed by the East West telephone line from Canberra and broadcast by radio station 6WF.

1942
Governor Sir James Mitchell and Lady Mitchell move to Kalamunda Hotel

Early March, a brief notice appeared in the Perth press to the effect that Sir James, Lady Mitchell and their staff would be relocated ‘to a house in Kalamunda to make Government House available for State Government offices’. In fact, the viceregal couple were not moved to a house at all, but billeted for the remainder of the war at the Kalamunda Hotel.

1961
Government House awarded a National Trust ‘A’ Classiication listing

The viceregal residence was among the first sites in central Perth to be listed by the National Trust. In 1960-1961 Government House (excluding the ballroom) had been awarded an ‘A’ classification, the organisation’s highest rating, reserved for buildings ‘of major significance, and to be preserved at all costs’.

1863 to 1963
Government House 100th Anniversary

1978
Classified by The National Trust of Australia

Government House, Ballroom and Grounds were classified by the National Trust of Australia, Western Australia branch as a significant heritage site.

1980
Register of the National Estate

Government House, Ballroom and Grounds are entered on the Register of the National Estate as a place of significant heritage importance.

1987
The formation of the Government House Foundation

In 1987 Ruth Reid spearheaded the formation of the Government House Foundation of Western Australia, primarily ‘to promote an awareness of the significance of Government House, the Ballroom and the Gardens as part of the history and heritage’ of the state.

The Foundation directly supports the conservation, restoration and enhancement of this magnificent property raising funds to acquire appropriate works of art, antique furnishings, objets d’art and items of significant historical, cultural and contemporary value.

In 2006, the Government House Foundation commenced the Music on the Terrace series. A number of concerts of exceptional musical quality are presented each year, which provide a platform for local, national and international performers and opportunities for young Western Australian artists to shine.

1990
Conservation Plans

Premier Peter Dowding commissioned a full Conservation Plan for Government House, Ballroom and Grounds which was completed by experienced architect, Ronald Bodycoat AM in 1990. This plan (still presently in use as a strategic planning aid) led to subsequent conservation plans for the Grounds by Oline Richards in 1995.

1990
Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990

Western Australia’s new Heritage Act 1990 was ‘launched’ at Government House by the Governor, Hon Sir Francis Burt AC, KCMG, QC and the State’s first Minister for Heritage, Hon Jim McGinty MLA.

1992
Conservation Program for Government House

An ongoing Conservation Program for Government House and Gardens which began in 1992 and continues to the present day. Various stages have been completed particularly the public rooms.

1995
Entrance Hall Refurbishment Project

Supervisory Architect: Ronald Bodycoat AM
Builder: W Isherwood & Co (Martin Colgan – Project Manager)

1995
Governor’s Study Refurbishment Project

Supervisory Architect: Ronald Bodycoat AM
Builder: W Isherwood & Co (Martin Colgan – Project Manager)

1997
South East Corner Refurbishment Project – Drawing Room

Supervisory Architect: Allom, Lovell and Hocking
Builder: Sizer Builders (WA) Pty Ltd

1997
South East Corner Refurbishment Project – Morning Room

Supervisory Architect: Allom, Lovell and Hocking
Builder: Sizer Builders (WA) Pty Ltd

1997
South East Corner Refurbishment Project – Music Room

Supervisory Architect: Allom, Lovell and Hocking
Builder: Sizer Builders (WA) Pty Ltd

2000
Government House Ornamental Lake Re-development Project

Project Superintendent: Dr Tom Riggert
Contractor: D M Civil

2004
Ballroom Refurbishment Project

Supervisory Architect: Philip Griffiths Architects
Builder : Geo A Esslemont & Son

2010
Northern Boundary Heritage Wall Refurbishment Project

Consultant Engineer: Ian Maitland
Builder: Colgan Industries

2011
Government House Ballroom Supper Room, South Terrace and Ceremonial Forecourt and Driveways Refurbishment Project

Consultants: Philip Griffiths Architects
Builders: Colgan Industries

2011
Book published Government House and Western Australian Society 1829 – 2010 by Jeremy C Martens

The history of Government House was commissioned and the Government House History Committee was established to appoint a suitable author.

Dr Jeremy C Martens, from the History Department at the University of Western Australia was appointed author in 2008.

The book entitled, Government House and Western Australian Society 1829 – 2010, was published in 2011 by the University of Western Australia Press.

1863 to 2013
Government House 150th Anniversary

A spectacular tri-service cadet parade, a variety of musical entertainment, cultural dance performances, guided tours and the ceremonial cutting of a ‘birthday cake’ by the Governor, His Excellency Malcolm McCusker AC CVO QC marked the 150th Anniversary celebrations at the Government House Open Day on 17 November 2013.