The book’s cover ...
Interor of the Town Hall ...Rosie Hastie Photography
Tonight ( TT here ) we celebrate the history of the building that more than any other reflects the social, cultural, religious and political history of Hobart over 150 years.
The Town Hall was not just the location of the municipal bureaucracy and a meeting place for citizens, but also symbolised the prestige and power of municipal government. Moreover, when first conceived it had to be a building worthy of a capital city and one that the Launceston Municipal Council could not match.
Yes inter-city rivalry was alive and well then too! Clearly a building of such significance for our city deserves to have its rich history documented with great care, skill and insight. There is no doubt that author and architect Peter Freeman has achieved just that in the book we are launching tonight Municipal Magnificence: The Hobart Town Hall 1866 to 2016, a chronological account of the history of our beloved building and the stories of the people associated with it.
Peter is well qualified for a task that had to be completed in a very short period of time, at my reckoning of less than eight months. An architect with over five decades of experience in conservation architecture research, Peter had completed a conservation management plan for the Town Hall precinct in the mid-1990s and has written a number of books on buildings.
Recent books include The Wallpapered Manse: The Rescue of an Endangered House about a former Presbyterian manse in a coastal town on the south coast of New South Wales. This book was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s History Awards for Community and Regional History in 2014. In 2015 Peter, with the help of Paul Johnston and Peter Walker, completed Domain House: The University of Tasmania Returns to the Queen’s Domain. I commend both these books to your attention.
Now Peter Freeman has completed another fine book with Municipal Magnificence. This time Peter has been helped by Brendan Lennard, the City of Hobart’s senior cultural heritage officer, anointed very deservedly on Sunday by the Lord Mayor Sue Hickey at the launch at the Town Hall as a hero in getting the book published so quickly. Brendan’s wide-ranging expertise includes the musical heritage of the Town Hall. Other helpers include Dr. Kathryn Evans, Hobart-based historian, who helped with research, and Professor Henry Reynolds, who wrote a chapter on the Aboriginal landscape of Sullivan’s Cove. Angela Marshall as editor, Hannah Gamble as graphic designer and Nikki Davis as indexer complete the main members of the team who have put together this marvelously evocative history. Congratulations to them all.
May I also at this point congratulate the Hobart City Council for its outstanding support of historical work on Hobart’s history.
I am sure many ratepayers get irate at what the council does or does not do, but I must take this opportunity of thanking the Council for the various reports it has commissioned on different aspects of Hobart’s history as well as publishing very significant books on its own municipal history such as Growing with Strength: A History of the Hobart City Council 1846-2000 by myself and Alison Alexander that Peter has used to write Municipal Magnificence and Hobart’s Tram Trilogy by David Kirby.
Municipal Magnificence adds greatly to this substantial volume of work on the City Council’s history. What first strikes one is the abundant images on virtually every page. The book is certainly replete with well-chosen images of individuals who had some association with the Town Hall, but there are also hundreds of plans, photographs of the building at various stages of its history and from different angles and the activities that have been held in the ballroom in particular. I am sure that when you buy a copy of Municipal Magnificence you will be immediately attracted to those images, some of which, in a nice touch, have been placed most unusually on the index pages, and have been sourced from various collections, public and private.
But don’t be so absorbed by the stunning images that you do not read the text itself. When you read about the history of the Town Hall you will be amazed at the struggle it took to build a Town Hall in the first place and what a hive of activity it became for the people of Hobart. Peter provides three chapters on the background to the building of the Town Hall and how the men of vision or as Manning Clark might call them enlargers managed to triumph over the penny-pinchers to secure the funds to build the Town Hall. Perhaps the most colourful critic was Legislative Councillor Thomas Yardley Lowes, who called the Town Hall ‘a monstrous piece of extravagance and a model of our folly’. Lowes was a large property owner and businessman and Hobart was in the middle of a long depression so that probably explains his opposition, but from the perspective of the 21st century we can hardly agree with him.
Perhaps because of his own experiences as an architect, Peter Freeman seems to have relished writing chapter 3 on the scheming and dubious practices— corruption is too strong a word—that led to Henry Hunter’s design finally being chosen as the basis of the Town Hall. Hunter of course was an architect of some quality and was responsible for a number of impressive buildings around Hobart before his departure for Queensland in 1888. Hunter’s Pugin inspired churches and his small Italianate Royal Society Museum still exist, but Hunter’s original design of a Gothic ecclesiastical style for the Town Hall did not impress aldermen. Fortunately aldermen gave Hunter another chance and he produced what we now have fronting Macquarie Street, an Italianate Renaissance style building modeled on the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. While Peter Freeman praises Hunter’s original design, he is shall we say less impressed, in a very retrained way of course, with some of the excrescences that were added to the Town Hall in the twentieth century.
One can only shake one’s head over the poverty of the twentieth century architectural imagination in Hobart or at least the unwillingness of governments at all levels to channel the spirit of Henry Hunter when designing buildings.
The move of many of the City Council administrative functions to the old Hydro-Electric Commission building in 1995 gave the Town Hall a new lease of life as Peter documents and the Council is committed to conserving the building.
I do not have time tonight to more than sketch the many recurring themes that Peter writes about in Municipal Magnificence. One theme is how royal visits have been associated with the Town Hall since the visit of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868 when the Town Hall frontage was illuminated with his name. The visits of the Prince of Wales in 1920, Queen Elizabeth II on regular occasions from the 1950s and royal visitors from foreign countries such as the King and Queen of Thailand in 1962 are discussed in Municipal Magnificence. The Mercury reported that ‘Beautiful and charming Queen Sirikit made a particularly good impression, and a number of Hobart kittens were called after her’. A delightful snippet of information!
Many entertainments were held in the Town Hall, but these were not at first welcomed. In 1869 the Mercury opposed entertainment as it did not want the Town Hall ‘reduced to the level of the Big Room at a Roadside Inn’ or to compete with private halls. Aldermen disagreed as they wanted Hobartians to use the space and to make money from renting out the Town Hall to artists and performers. Throughout its history the Town Hall has been a venue for such entertainments by many men and women who are not known to us today. Some more famous names include the Tasmanian Nightingale Amy Sherwin and Nellie Melba. In 1909 the Mercury was enraptured by the performance of Melba: ‘It will be something for Tasmanians present to remember that they have been regaled with music from the throat of the greatest singer of the age while still in the zenith of her fame’.
Many readers will be surprised by the chapter on the very talented City Organists, who contributed so much to Tasmania’s musical history after the appointment of Frederick Packer as the first City Organist in 1870. In March of that year the Mercury called the opening concert ‘the inauguration of the most memorable epoch in the history of musical matters connected with this colony’. The concert included excerpts from Haydn’s Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah and ended majestically with the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Unfortunately, the position of City Organist was abolished in 2000.
The Town Hall has paid host to a number of controversial figures. In the late nineteenth century religious firebrands won top billing. The most notorious was Pastor Charles Chiniquy, the apostate Catholic priest who joined the French Presbyterian Church. Chiniquy provoked Irish Catholics by questioning the morals of Catholic priests and girls. Catholics from all over southern Tasmania arrived with clubs, rocks and some claimed guns to stop Chiniquy speaking. I must hastily say you will not need to resort to such actions to stop me tonight! In the twentieth century perhaps the meetings that generated most controversy and heat were those held on the flooding of Lake Pedder. Peter also deals with controversies or puzzles of a different kind such as those over the Town Hall chandeliers and the ‘cells’ in the basement of the Town Hall that some aldermen have made much of based on a misreading of very slim evidence. Another controversy before World War One was whether the Town Hall should be open on Sunday or not.
At times of disaster the Town Hall held concerts to raise funds for Hobartians who had been affected by floods. The Town Hall became a receiving centre for the homeless during the 1967 bushfires.
The Town Hall housed a library from about 1870 until a new building was built at its rear with a generous donation from the Scottish American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1907. That building with its undeniable heritage value was fortunately saved from demolition after strong public opposition in 1974.
We must not forget the balls and soirees, spring flower shows, film showings, peace celebrations in the aftermath of war, photographic exhibitions, dinners, conferences, welcomes to famous people and naturalisation ceremonies. In fact in 1953 the Town Hall was the venue for the first naturalization ceremony in Tasmania and the second in Australia for as they were called New Australians from Latvia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands and Austria.
I have only sampled the rich pickings that you will find when you read Municipal Magnificence. As Peter notes, ‘The Hobart Town Hall has always been the place that the citizens of Hobart have turned to in times of celebration, formality, darkness and light. It was, is and always will be the cornerstone and centrepiece of the City of Hobart’. Let us hope that will turn out to be the case in the next 150 years.
For now, I have great pleasure in launching Peter Freeman’s book Municipal Magnificence: The Hobart Town Hall 1866-2016.
*Peter Freeman introducing Stefan Petrow …
Thank you Chris, and thank you to you and Janet for hosting this book launch. It’s
great to be back in Tasmania. In many ways I consider myself to be part Tasmanian,
as my father was born here and I have spent half my life commuting to work here. I
also now have my oldest son and two grandchildren living here, so it was natural that
I would leap at the opportunity of writing a book about the Hobart Town Hall.
My earliest real connections with the Hobart Town Hall was in the early 1990s when I
was asked by the Hobart City Council (via their cultural heritage officer Brendan
Lennard) to prepare a Conservation Management Plan for the place, such that the
Council might be guided into the future with a conservation policy for the building
and its grounds.
That project meant combing through the building, into its basements, sub-floors, ceiling
spaces, roofs, and of course the grand spaces that made up the Town Hall’s formal
areas. Two Tasmanian assistants, both of whom were extraordinarily diligent, assisted
me in this work. Kathryn Evans undertook the very important historical and archival
researching of the building, and Michael Grant (a builder and heritage enthusiast)
architecturally documented the Town Hall and Carnegie building (as it was still
called then) in meticulous detail.
Subsequently I undertook other major Hobart heritage projects, and a variety of published
and unpublished works have followed those projects, including most recently a
book about the eclectic Domain House in the Domain. Then late in 2015 Brendan, on
behalf of the City of Hobart asked me to produce in super quick time, an illustrated
social history of the Hobart Town Hall in order to celebrate the building’s sesquicentenary.
I said that it was impossible in terms of timing but we convinced each other
that this could be done.
Naturally I approached Kathryn Evans to help me with the project and Brendan offered
his expertise and knowledge in guiding the project and in contributing two
chapters; one on the Town Hall organ and the City Organists, and another a reflection
on the Hobart Town Hall into the future. But this was only half the team. The other
indispensable specialists were Hannah Gamble our graphic designer, Angela Mar2
shall our editor, and Nikki Davis our index editor. The City of Hobart graciously allowed
the use of a selection of Hobart Town Hall photographs taken by Nick Osborne
(2005) and Rosie Hastie (2014-16).
Three eminent Tasmanian historians have also contributed greatly to this book.
Professor Henry Reynolds has written an eloquent prologue to the narrative, which
provides an understanding of the Aboriginal landscape of the Cove, prior to European
settlement. Associate Professor Stefan Petrow generously agreed to review
every chapter at draft design stage. Stefans’ 2008 book Growing with Strength on
the history of the Hobart City Council, co-authored with Alison Alexander was indispensable
reference for my work on the Town Hall. The Launceston-based architectural
historian Eric Ratcliff and I shared a number of phone and email conversations
about aspects of C19th architectural style.
Finally I wish to thanks my wife Tanny, who put up with me (and my absurd) hours
over the period between October 2015 and today. Thank you Tanny!
It will probably be quite obvious to those gathered here that the City of Hobart have
generously subsidised the retail cost of this book, and for that we are thankful. This
project would not have happened without the whole hearted commitment of the
City of Hobart and the Lord Mayor to the project, plus unfettered access to the
comprehensive resources of Tasmanian’s cultural lending institutions, particularly the
Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office (TAHO), the Tasmanian Museum and Art
Gallery (TMAG) and the UTAS Special and Rare Collections library.
What we have achieved is a book for the people of Hobart and Tasmanian to be
proud of, and for the people of the mainland to envy. This is a book, which tells the
social, community and architectural history of this magnificent municipal masterpiece.
I have now pleasure in inviting Stefan Petrow to launch MUNICIPAL MAGNIFICENCE.