Colonial Georgian

Classically-inspired Georgian architecture was the dominant English style when Australia was colonised in 1788.

At its grandest, Georgian architecture was embodied by England's country homes and elegant townhouses of the wealthy in the Imperial centre – the work of James Wyatt and others. At the farthest edge of Empire it was often manifested in understated structures that made the most of the materials and expertise at hand. The defining characteristics of symmetry and elegance, achieved in the absence of ornamentation, were particularly suited to the strictures of the early colony. As the historians Richard Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds note, ‘The first Australian settlements were hardly the place for the finesse of classical architecture... Even so something of the orderliness of the Georgian style could be seen, for instance, in the plain uniformity of brick-walling and the simple rectangularity of double-hung sash windows.’ (A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture, p.24) Sydney's natural sandstone, which was relatively easy to cut and shape into uniform blocks, assisted in the creation of this 'orderliness'.

Many of the buildings constructed in St Leonards (present-day North Sydney), from the early 19th century through to the 1870s, were Georgian in their sense of ‘orderliness’, ‘plain uniformity’ and symmetry. With the addition of generous verandahs – introduced from Bengal in the early years of colonisation – the Georgian cottage became the Australian bungalow or homestead. And with verandah and French doors the bungalow embraced its setting – perhaps more than any other form of architecture before the open plan Modernist homes of the post war era.

The Georgian style was supplanted, first by the more ornate Gothic villas of the mid-19th century, and then by the Italianate and various English Revival idioms of the late 1800s and early 20th century.

Significantly, it was Colonial Georgian architecture that the architect, artist and writer William Hardy Wilson thought best exemplified an Australian style. He subsequently led the Georgian Revival in the first decades of the 20th century.