Monday, 29 April 2013

Hobart Town Hall

Hobart Town Hall, erected between 1864-1866, is important as the first permanent council chambers for Hobart Municipal Council. Designed by noted architect Henry Hunter, to complement the adjacent Royal Society of Tasmania Museum, the buildings of the Town Hall signify the establishment of municipal government in the Colony of Tasmania.

The site is associated with the first and second Government Houses established in 1804 and 1811 on the prominent site selected by Lieutenant Governor Collins at the head of Sullivan's Cove. Until 1857 the area was the administrative and residential centre of the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.
The area of Hobart dedicated to government functions was one of the first areas to be used by Lt Governor David Collins when he arrived in 1804 to replace Bowen, who had established an earlier settlement at Risdon Cove. The first Government House was erected in 1804 as a residence for Collins. The second Government House was begun within three years in the area of Elizabeth Street. Over the years works were undertaken to the rambling building which at times was in a state of decay. Further work on the building was suspended until 1853 when it was determined that a new Lt Governor's Residence would be built in the grounds of the Domain.

Hobart had been proclaimed a city in 1842. The four streets defining the site of the Town Hall were completed following demolition of the old Government House in 1858, on completion of the new building. The Municipality of Hobart was created in 1852 when the first Council meetings were held in temporary premises. In 1855 the Hobart Municipal Council applied for land in the Queens Domain to erect a Town Hall, but this was refused. In 1858, when the city was incorporated, meetings were still held in temporary buildings.

A competition held in 1861 was to determine the future design of the Town Hall. Henry Hunter, who had designed the adjacent museum, was invited to produce the final design for the new Town Hall. The building was to align with the adjacent Royal Society of Tasmania Museum and due regard was to be paid to the Argyle and Davey Street frontages as well as the two main frontages to Macquarie and Elizabeth Streets. In 1863 the Government notified the Council that it disapproved of the plans for the Town Hall on the grounds that it included new Police Buildings. The approved building works omitted the service wing on the Cove side of the site.

The foundation stone was laid in 1864, the building taking two years to complete by builder John Gowland and Clerk of Works James Porter. The stone for the buildings came from two separate sources: a quarry at Knocklofty, and a new quarry on the Derwent River, near Bridgewater. The first section erected included the Argyle Street wing fronting on to Macquarie Street. Tenders received in 1866 for the remainder of the building included one from Gowland and a second from Wiggins. The new contract was awarded to Gowland.

On completion of the building, Council described the structure as being attributed to the 'Italian style, producing some of the more striking characteristics of the Venetian School'. The overall detail and treatment of the elevations was styled after the Farnese palace in Rome. The classically styled Town Hall with breakfront and balancing wings makes an imposing contribution to the streetscape. The resultant urban space provides an appropriate setting for the building as focus of a historic precinct. The building is a fine example of a Victorian Italianate public building achieved through bold massing of architectural forms and intricate detailing. The overall cost of the Town Hall was close to 20,000 pounds.

In 1871 a stone wall was erected around the boundary, with trees obtained from the Botanical Gardens for landscaping.

The Town Hall has strong, ongoing associations with the Hobart community and is important as a place highly valued by the community for its symbolic, cultural and social associations. In the month leading up to the federation referendum of 3 June 1898, the Hobart Town Hall was the venue for a number of important federation meetings, as well as housing the office of the Southern Tasmanian Federal League. Shortly after its formation at a meeting at the Australian Natives Association’s rooms in Hobart on 3 May, this organization applied to the city's mayor to use, free of charge, a room in the Town Hall as an office space until the day of the referendum. The request was granted, whereupon the room became for the duration of the referendum campaign the centre of operations for the 'yes' vote.