Born in Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, and baptised on 27 August 1807, George Strickland Kingston was the son of timber merchant George Kingston and Hester Holland. He had three siblings, William, Elizabeth and Mary. Kingston married Henrietta Ann Stuart McDonough (known as Harriet) in 1829, and they had one child who died at birth. Harriet died aged only 32 in South Australia in 1838. Kingston later married Ludovina Cameron in 1841 with whom he had two daughters and three sons. Following her early death aged 27, Kingston was remarried in 1856 to Emma Lipson.
Kingston was a self-taught architect but had studied engineering in Birmingham, England and was articled to Mr Rofe, engineer of the Birmingham Waterworks (Langmead 1994: 12). He successfully applied for the post of Deputy Surveyor for South Australia in 1835 (Langmead 1994: 15). In this role he was to be in charge of temporary and permanent buildings and the preparation of the plan of Adelaide in collaboration with Surveyor General Colonel William Light. While in London Kingston was involved in the preparation of an ideal plan for the town of Adelaide in 1835 (Langmead 1994: 238). The rectangular grid-iron plan of Adelaide features city squares, an extension across the River Torrens to North Adelaide and a ring of parklands. During this time Kingston took on an articled pupil, Robert George Thomas who travelled to South Australia with the colonists.
Kingston sailed for South Australia on the ‘Cygnet’ arriving at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island on 11 September 1836 (Langmead 1994: 44). Among academics there has been much debate surrounding the planning and siting of Adelaide (Freestone 2008). As Deputy Surveyor Kingston found and recommended a location to site Adelaide and on 28 December 1836 Colonel Light ‘formally affirmed the site chosen by his Deputy’ (Langmead 1994: 59). The city was surveyed largely under the supervision of Kingston (Prest 1967: 64) with the setting out of the town beginning at the corner of North and West Terraces (Langmead 1994: 65). Once completed then the land sales of town acres could occur and this was completed by 28 March 1837 (Langmead 1994: 69). Just over two months later Kingston returned to London, sailing on the ‘Rapid’ on 5 June 1837 in order to report to the Board of the South Australia Commission not only on the progress of the survey (Langmead 1994: 73) but ‘to report first-hand the dissension in South Australia, stimulated mostly by Hindmarsh’ (Langmead 1994: 87). As a result decisions were made to proceed with a running survey for country South Australia and dismiss Governor Hindmarsh. However when Kingston arrived back in Adelaide in June 1838 he found the country surveys complete, although with enough inaccuracies to need them to be re-done. With the resignation of Colonel Light, Kingston assumed control of the Survey Department on 2 July 1838 (Langmead 1994: 97) depleted by a mass resignation of assistant surveyors. Kingston later resigned from this post in October 1838.
Following this resignation Kingston began work as a privately practising architect. As Langmead pointed out, ‘Kingston was a self-taught architect, a view supported by appraising his work. Its aggressive simplicity, consistently identified by critics, sprang from uncertainty and ignorance rather than confidence’ (1994: 179). ‘Kingston had neither a personal style, nor a consistent approach to design’ (Langmead 1994: 193). His first commission was the stuccoed brick Wesleyan Chapel in Gawler Place, Adelaide (1838) (Langmead 1994: 119) which featured heavy Doric columns to the street frontage. His second church was Freeman Street (now Gawler Place) Congregational Chapel (1839), which was constructed of stone with pilasters along the front façade (Langmead 1994: 190).
Kingston’s public buildings were the first to give Adelaide an air of permanence, although today only two of these early structures survive – the Adelaide Gaol (1840) and Government House (east wing), Adelaide (1838). The others were the Public Offices in Victoria Square, Adelaide (1839) and a Customs House at Glenelg (1839), which were begun while Kingston was working as a private architect. Governor Gawler had instructed Kingston to prepare plans for Government House in late 1838. The result was a white stuccoed two storied Georgian/Regency mansion house with a bow window on the eastern façade. Employed as Civil Engineer and Inspector of Public Works, Kingston was charged with designing Adelaide Gaol (1840). It is of a panopticon radial design with towers. It was constructed using a combination of Dry Creek stone, bricks, sandstone and limestone by builders Borrow and Goodair.
In 1840 Kingston was employed as rates collector and town surveyor for the Adelaide Corporation (Langmead 1994:135). ‘Assessment information provided data for a useful map of Adelaide. With his assistants he produced the large scale – one inch square to an acre – cadastral map giving location, size and construction of all buildings, and in many cases indicating ownership. When it was published as a coloured lithograph in England in 1842 by the S.A. Company’s secretary Edmund Wheeler, Kingston and Edward Stephens jointly owned the copyright. The map became available in Adelaide in mid-1843, and was commended by Governor Grey as “a highly gratifying mark of colonial skill and spirit”’ (Langmead 1994: 137).
Of Kingston’s private works was the elaborate Gothic styled monument to Colonel William Light, who had died in 1839, the design of which was the result of a competition in 1842. It stood in Light Square and was 45 feet or 15 metres tall. Michael Page described it as a ‘compartmented, niched, arched, pierces and lavishly decorated structure [which] … was exactly in tune with the love of mediaeval fantasy that permeated the English speaking world after Queen Victoria ascended the throne’ (1986: 19). The pentagonal structure was topped with a Gothic cross and made of sandstone, which deteriorated, and by 1905 it was replaced by a simpler memorial, still standing in Light Square. Also in 1842, Kingston designed the West Terrace windmill which stood near the north east corner of West Terrace and Waymouth Street on acre 186. It belonged to flour miller Mr H.W. Phillips and was only the second windmill constructed in the city. Built of brick masonry with three foot thick walls, the windmill stood at 65 feet or 22 metres and comprised six floors internally. In February 1845 it was damaged severely by a storm and following this was refitted as a steam mill. In 1860, the mill was described in the Register as forming ‘a conspicuous and picturesque object in the north-western portion of the city’ (Register 2 February 1860: 3). The mill was eventually destroyed following a fire in 1876.
Kingston designed many houses but, ‘[o]f two dozen houses, only eight remain and all have been altered, some almost beyond recognition’ (Langmead 1994: 187). Among theses was the 1842 ‘Seacombe’, a country house near Marino, for Edward Stephens, the manager of the Bank of South Australia. Ayers House on North Terrace, Adelaide (1858) was another of Kingston’s private commissions. Designed as additions to a cottage purchased by Henry Ayers, the new wings reflected Ayers’ success in mining and political ventures (Langmead 1994: 223). Kingston’s additions for the Younghusband House on the corner of Hill Street and Strangways Terrace, North Adelaide (1859) for William Younghusband junior were on a massive scale (Langmead 1994: 222). Other houses include ‘Rosehurst’ (1856), designed for Lavington Glynde, and Edward Wright junior house (1856) on South Terrace Adelaide. Later, the Maurau house, Reynella (1865) for Dr Louis Maurau incorporated consulting rooms for Maurau’s medical practice (Langmead 1994: 219).
In 1851 Kingston was elected to Parliament, becoming Speaker of the House of Assembly in 1857, a position he held for twenty years. This move into politics preceded the eventual cessation of his architectural work. Kingston was also the Chairman of the South Australian Mining Association and their Surveyor. Kingston was elected as a Vice-President of the South Australian Association of Architects, Engineers and Surveyors when it formed in 1858, however, his Parliamentary commitments meant he had to resign this position in 1859, rarely being able to attend meetings (Langmead 1994: 167).
‘Historians acknowledge that his principal contribution to South Australia was as a politician, a champion of civic and religious liberty’ (Langmead 1994: 240). He was knighted in 1870 and, following his retirement in 1880, left South Australia for India. He died on the voyage and was buried at sea off the Ceylonese coast on 26 November 1880.
This entry has been based on work by late University of South Australia Adjunct Professor Donald Langmead, particularly his 1994 book Accidental Architect: The Life and Times of George Strickland Kingston, published by Crossing Press, Sydney.
Collins, Julie, ‘Kingston, George Strickland’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2013, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=111]