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Mansfield, George Allen (1834–1908)

The death took place yesterday of Mr George Allen Mansfield F.R., I.B.A., at his residence, Darling Point, at the age of 73. His death removes one of Sydney's oldest and most respected architects for few men have had more to do with the beautifying of the chief city of Australia by the designing of some of its most prominent public and commercial buildings than the deceased gentleman. The late Mr. Mansfield was a native of this city. He was the eldest son of the late Rev. Ralph Mansfield, a name closely identified with the early history of the colony. George Allen Mansfield was educated at the school of the late Mr. W. T. Cape, and amongst his contemporaries were the late Mr. Justice Windeyer, the late Sir George Innes and the late Mr. Alexander Oliver. In 1850 Mr. Mansfield was articled to the late John Frederick Hilly, who was then the leading architect of Sydney. Soon after the expiration of his articles he was taken into partnership and for several years the firm of Hilly and Mansfield carried on business in this city. Finally Mr. Mansfield entered into business on his own account and he received the support of the principal capitalists of Sydney, and rapidly acquired an extensive business. Amongst the principal buildings erected from his designs and under his supervision were the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the A.M.P. Society's building in Pitt street, the Australia Hotel, the Savings Bank of New South Wales, the old and new City Bank, the City Mutual Life Assurance Company's offices, the Civil Service Co-operative Stores, Commercial Bank of Australia, Pitt-street, and the country branches of the Commercial Bank. Nearly the whole of the principal buildings in O'Connell street, including the stores of Messrs. Bradley, Newton and Lamb, and David Cohen and Co., were erected by him. In the year 1860 the Government of the colony invited designs for new Houses of Parliament in Sydney, the competition for which was thrown open to the world, first and second premiums of £600 and £300 respectively being offered for the most successful designs. A large number of plans were received from England, and the Continent of Europe, and even from America, with a few from the colonies. Though a very young man and with the limited advantages of a then colonial education, Mr. Mansfield determined to compete for the prize. A commission was appointed by the Government of the day to adjudicate upon the designs which were sent in under motto. After long and careful consideration three designs were selected from which the final choice had to be made. The first and second were accorded to designs from England. The third design which approached so nearly to success was found to be the work of the young Australian architect.

Not very long after this the office of colonial architect became vacant, and the position was offered by the late Sir Charles Cowper, then Premier, to Mr. Mansfield, who declined it, preferring the freedom and the chances of private practice. In 1867 when the Council of Education was established under the Public Schools Act, Mr. Mansfield was appointed as its architect, and assumed the charge of all existing Public school buildings, and the designing and construction of all new ones. At this time the Public schools were in a very unsatisfactory condition, as to lighting, ventilation, and sanitary arrangements. A marked alteration soon took place. A type of building was selected by Mr. Mansfield which admitted of wide differences in size and cost, yet stamped a uniform character on all the new schools built at that time. Examples of the larger schools erected in this style may be seen in the fine buildings at Crown-street, Surry Hills, Cleveland-street, Pyrmont, and Sussex-street. In December, 1879, a Ministerial Department of Instruction took the place of the Council of Education, and it became necessary that all officers connected with it should come into the Civil Service. As this would have involved the loss of Mr. Mansfield's private practice he resigned his position as architect to the department. He was, however, paid the compliment by the newly appointed Minister, Sir John Robertson, of being asked to name his successor. In 1871 the architects of Sydney decided to form an association, and the first Institute of Architects was established. Mr. Mansfield was unanimously chosen its first president, and on August 21, 1871, he delivered an inaugural address before his Excellency the Governor, Lord Belmore, and a crowded audience in the Chamber of Commerce. For many years he filled the post of president to the institute. In 1873 Mr. Mansfield was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was the first Australian-born architect to attain to that distinguished honour. For many years Mr. Mansfield acted as architect to the Australian Gaslight Company, and he designed and erected all the buildings connected with the Darling Harbour establishment, in addition to many difficult and important engineering works.

Mr. Mansfield was one of those who took an active part in the establishment of the volunteer system of national defence in the colony in 1860. He was one of the first enrolled in one of the original companies, that of the Glebe, and for five years he held a commission as first lieutenant in that company, devoting much time and attention to promoting its efficiency. For nine years he was an alderman of the borough of the Glebe, and afforded much assistance in the laying out of the borough by his professional knowledge. Though not a prominent politician, Mr. Mansfield always took a keen interest in the public affairs of his native country. On several occasions he was urged to stand for East Sydney, but always declined. He was, however, appointed to the Commission of the Peace. For many years Mr. Mansfield practised as an architect in this city with his brother Ralph, and some of Sydney's leading architects to-day, men such as Mr. John Reid, Mr. Robertson, Mr. Marks, Mr. John Kemp, and others, received much of their training in his office.

For the last three years Mr. Mansfield's health precluded him from taking an active part in his business, which has been carried on by his son. Although an active business man Mr. Mansfield was also well known in sporting circles, having been a keen cricketer. He was the founder of the old Toxteth Cricket Club. He was also a successful yachtsman in his young days. He leaves a widow and a family of seven.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 January 1908, p 12

Citation details

'Mansfield, George Allen (1834–1908)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mansfield-george-allen-29099/text36299, accessed 19 September 2019.

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