Tuesday, June 16, 2015


GOVERNMENT HOUSE is one of Perth's most magnificent properties.  Built in 1863 and set in 3.2 hectares of beautiful gardens, both the buildings and gardens are listed on the State's heritage register.

History:   Captain James Stirling, RN, arrived from England to found the Colony of Western Australia which he proclaimed in June, 1829.

The first "Vice Regal" residence was originally a tent camp, set up on Garden Island, between June and September, 1829.   Later, following the founding of Perth on the banks of the Swan River in August, 1829, Stirling and his family moved to a site on the corner of St George's Terrace an Barrack Street (now Stirling Gardens ..which I showed in a previous post).  In 1832, canvas gave way to a temporary building for the Vice Regal family in that location.

Stirling's official designation of Lieutenant Governor was superseded by that of Governor in November, 1831.  In August, 1832, Stirling returned to England where he was knighted.  On his return to Perth in 1934, he took temporary possession of the newly completed Officers' Barracks and instructed Henry William Reveley, a civil engineer, who arrived in the Colony with Stirling in 1829 to prepare drawings for a new Government House (situated just inside the main entrance gates of the modern domain).

This "new" Government House was a severe but correctly proportioned Georgian building, similar in its architectural excellence of the Old *Supreme Court nearby (designed by Reveley and build in 1837). Stirling had moved in my 1834, prior to completion of the work in 1835.

From the beginning the building was inadequate.  Apart from such defects as roofs leaking, termites consuming the flooring, and the porous walls absorbing moisture, the House lacked accommodation for visitors and facilities for the large functions expected of the Vice Regal establishment.

Stirling resigned in October, 1837 and left the Colony for England in January, 1839.  Four successive Governors resided in Reveley's first Government House until 1855.

Governor Arthur Edward Kennedy (1855-1862) commented in despatches to Lord Russell, the Secretary of State:-  "The House was and is in such a state I would not have occupied it had I been able to rent a suitable house.  It will be scarcely habitable in winter and there will be a constant outlay for repairs and replacing decayed woodwork etc. while it is occupied."  (Despatch No. 114 of November 9, 1855)  Governor Kennedy and his family were forced to reside in Fremantle during the winter months.

Following a report commissioned by the Governor, eventually an ordinance passed by the Legislative Council in September, 1858 enabled funding for the erection of a new House.  The foundation stone was laid on March 17, 1859 in an impressive ceremony conducted by the Masonic Lodge of St John.  Lieutenant Colonel (later Sir) E.Y.W. Henderson, RE, Comptroller of Convicts, designed the second permanent Government House with assistance from the Colony's surveyors, particularly James Manning, Clerk of Works.

The new Government House was fated to endure the same problems of indecision and inconvenience as its predecessor with the shortage of private and skilled labour and difficulties with the site.  Costs spiralled from the original budget of £15,000 by June, 1863.

Governor Kennedy was never to occupy the residence he had done so much to create.  Governor John Stephen Hampton (1862) took up residence in 1863 prior to the completion of the House n 1864.  "Old Government House" was subsequently demolished in the early 1880s.

While Henderson modelled the new Government House on Jacobean archetypes, Gothic remains the central ingredient in his final design.  Government House has a picturesque architectural character demonstrated in the use of stone work and bonded brickwork, incorporating square mullioned windows, decorated gables and ogival capped turrets.  The attenuated Gothic arcading at fround floor level derives from another form of Victorian Revival expression in vogue in England during the nineteenth century - Fonthill Gothick.

Governnor Hampton was undertaking changes to the new house even before it was finished.  He wanted more space for official and public entertainment, an important aspect of his role, and ensured that space was created in the upper floor to accommodate a small ballroom.

Perth's Government House is not large by normal Vice Regal standards, but it gives an impression of spaciousness.  It has 16 rooms on the ground floor and 25 on the first floor.

By June 1867, a banqueting hall had been erected next to Government House (on the present ballroom site) in anticipation of a visit by Prince Alfred in 1869, the first "Royal" visit to Western Australia.  Some original drawings dating from 1897 show the early designs for adding a new ballroom, dining room and executive council room to the House  The Government architect of the day, Mr John Grainger, signed the drawings but the designs are believed to have been done by Hillson Beasley.  Although a major addition to the House, there apparently was no attempt made to conform to the original design.  The Beasley design was in the style of Free Classicism which was popular at that time.  Unfortunately even this design was not finally built.  The 1899 ballroom was much reduced in size and style to the original drawings.

Conservation:  In 1989 the government of the day commissioned a Conservation Plan for Government House which was completed by architect Mr Ron Bodycoat AM FAIA in 1990, and led to a series of restoration and refurbishment projects in the House and Grounds from 1990 to the present day.  The Conservation and Management Plan for the Gardens were completed in 1998 as an important part of the conservation strategy.

Well into the last century, Government House continued to be recognised as one of the State's most important society addresses, and while economic depression and was in the 1930s and 1940s diminished the viceregal residence's lustre, the post was urban renewal almost resulted in its destruction; over the past thirty years community interest, involvement, and activism resulted in a long overdue official heritage listing and renewed public interest in its chequered past.

The above information from www.govhouse.wa.gov.au website.   All the photographs are of the house and gardens in this modern age.

* This is the Supreme Court:


  1. How often is it open to the public? I do like to wander through such buildings and see how the other half lives...

    1. Not open as often as one would think it should be apparently. On the official website of gov house it says:
      Her Excellency the Hon. Kerry Sanderson AO is keen to encourage as many people as possible to visit and enjoy Government House and Gardens. She believes Western Australians and other visitors to our State, should have the opportunity to explore and experience part of their cultural heritage.
      Our next Open Day is scheduled for October, 2015, with the date to be confirmed.
      Musical entertainment in the Ballroom and Grounds is provided on a voluntary basis by a number of bands, choirs and music groups. If you are a member of a music group and would like to be involved in future Open Days please contact Government House.

  2. Hari OM
    My word, that was a chequered history!!! I guess everyone has their vision of the ideal house... YAM xx

    1. Yes indeed it had but the final product seems to be quite satisfactory.
      I'd hardly call that a house and certainly not a home but if you rise up in the ranks then you have to go with the flow. xx

  3. Being raised in the country and never knowing such extravagance makes me wonder if happiness lived there also? Hopefully such a vivid history allowed for simplicity too....:)JP

    1. I think all capital cities have their parliament house and government house built to look spectacular. I am not always sure there is a lot of home comfort in this type of place but important personages apparently need this type of accommodation. Visiting dignitaries would expect it too.
      It is the upkeep cost that always concerns me which of course comes from the taxpayer's pocket.

  4. A shame the original Government House had so many faults, very poorly built, for such an important place. And yet it lasted for quite some time.

    1. Definitely seems the original was thrown together rather haphazardly doesn't it?
      The present government house is quite spectacular, I remember going there to see mum presented with her MBE.