Architect Personal DetailsArchitectural works in South Australia
Firms or Professional PartnershipsBibliographic Sources

Architect Personal Details



First name

James William








A contemporary of early colonial architects such as Daniel Garlick, Henry Stuckey, James Macgeorge and James Cumming, James Cole designed both secular and ecclesiastic buildings, particularly for non-conformists, during a career which promised much but spanned only 15 years.

At the age of 25, James Cole left his three sisters and his father, William (c.1796-1843), in Westminster, London, to sail to Tasmania on the barque Vibilia. In December 1833 he married a fellow passenger, Mary Best (1799-1882), from a family of cabinetmakers and upholsterers who had similarly settled in Hobart. Finding house-carpentry and joinery work, James gravitated to Launceston where his three children, Judith (1835-1916), William George (1837-1919) and Alfred (1840-9), were born. After spending seven years in Tasmania, the Coles transferred to Portland in south-western Victoria. James proved himself equal to the post of Superintendent of Public Works and stayed five years before heading westwards again. In a covered wagon drawn by six oxen and guided by a home-made compass, James. Mary and the children travelled overland to Adelaide, arriving in the second summer of 1846 (Cole: passim.).

Reckoning he had sufficient experience to call himself an 'Architect and Surveyor', James Cole opened an office at the corner of Grenfell Street and Gawler Place on 15 December 1846 (SA1846: 5). His first project, secured immediately, was the design of a Wesleyan Methodist Mission House to be built in Gawler Place. Work for Adelaide's many dissenting churchmen would follow but a period letting and selling property on commission intervened. Within 18 months, James had £30 to buy 10 acres near the Bowmans' Barton Vale, Enfield, (OLR: 1848) where he built a cottage. Invitations to design other outlying and inner-city houses and shops accumulated, such that the loss of his younger son did not impede his progress. Joining both the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Total Abstinence Society (SAR 3.1851; 1.1851: 2; 3) (where he met the unrelated G.W. Cole (1823-93), for 50 years its secretary) led to trusteeships and surveyorships of building societies and speculators' housing estates, e.g., Newhaven at Pt Adelaide. A steady rise in status and prosperity did not, however, stop James from trying his luck prospecting at Amcrovan Gully, Bendigo, for the best part of a year in 1852 (Cole: passim.).

Returning to an office in the prominent Waterhouse Building at the corner of King William and Rundle Streets, his contacts both at the edge of society and within the temperance movement found him bearing witness lucratively in building disputes brought to court and accepting publicly-subscribed fees for overseeing the design and construction of chapels for several different denominations. During the 1850s, James Cole's work ranged from terraces of two-storeyed houses to warehouses and shops but he developed a specialisation in small churches and schoolrooms. G.W. Cole recommended him to erect a Temperance Hall in North Adelaide from 1855 onwards (SAR 1855: 3); chapels for the Bible Christians - a peninsular sect of Methodists - in the city and in Bowden succeeded this in 1856. The latter chapel replaced a smaller building put up by G.W. Cole's father, George, at the instigation of the Rev. James Way, father of Sir Samuel (SAR 1856: 1).

Feeling himself established and respected after ten years in the colony, James stood for parliament, with the result that he and the druggist, Luther Scammell, won the seats for West Torrens in 1857. Soon afterwards, it was reported that '… In the House of Assembly he [came across] as an activist. While not wishing to appear altogether a red republican, he discoursed witheringly on the governor's cocked hat and feathers.' (SAR 11.1857; 12.1857: 3) James simultaneously, but only briefly, filled the prestigious position of City Surveyor of the Adelaide Council (SAR 11.1858: 2), and in June 1859 became one of the founding members of the Association of Architects, Engineers and Surveyors - an exclusive coterie (SAR 1859:3). William George Cole, James's older son, was also groomed for the profession but preferred a country life after assuming the management of the Bowman brothers' rural holdings.

Further ecclesiastic commissions arrived: for the Anglicans at Enfield; Bible Christians at Virginia and Kooringa; for the Primitive Methodists in the city; and for the Baptists in North Adelaide. After hours, he often volunteered to address audiences gathered to renounce 'the demon drink'. To a meeting of a local Band of Hope, he stated that '… teetotallers were not such miserable persons as some supposed. … Youngsters … could enter into the spirit … and keep up the steam, especially when they had a live Cole among them … .' (SAR 11.1857: 3) By 1860, he was building 'villa residences' of some size for Adelaide's minor gentry. One of these, later known as 'Fountain Villa' and, later still, 'Royalston', was ordered by J.S. Hare MP, Manager of Railways, to address East Terrace from Town Acre 218 (ACA, SAD: 1859-60). But the ascendancy of both his practice and parliamentary standing was restrained by a protracted illness he refused to believe could be terminal. James Cole MHA died intestate, aged 53, on 23 June 1861 (SAA 1861: 2). Mary Cole's claim to the Enfield house was not contested.

No particular architectural style was favoured. Buildings were generally constructed of brick-dressed, limestone rubble walls under trussed roofs covered by timber shingles. Window heads could be flat-arched, round-arched or pointed. Too few identified houses survive to be able to describe with certainty any domestic style used by Cole which may have been atypical of the age. Although the non-conformists usually abjured pointed arches, the Young Street Chapel was given a crude Gothic Revival treatment. The contemporary Temperance Hall, by contrast, received a Classical temple front. Since the architect often had to step in to organise the work of trades one by one, construction of the chapels could take several years to complete. James Cole thus facilitated a freedom of worship among the more sober citizens of South Australia who especially objected to the patronage of the government during these formative years.

Giles Walkley

Citation details
Walkley, Giles, 'Cole, James William’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2014, Architects of South Australia: []




Architectural works in South Australia

Name Suburb Year Designed
Baptist Chapel (fitting-out) North Adelaide 1849
Christian Chapel (additions) Adelaide 1851
Temperance Hall North Adelaide 1855
Bible christian Chapel and Schoolroom Adelaide 1856
Bible Christian Chapel Bowden 1856
St Clement's Anglican Chiurch Enfield 1858
Bible Christian Chapel Virginia, Peachy Belt 1858
Bible Christian Chapel Kooringa (now Burra) 1859
Printery additions Adelaide 1849
Primitive Methodist Chapel Adelaide 1859
Hare house and outbuildings Adelaide 1859
Baptist Chapel North Adelaide 1860

Firms or Professional Partnerships

Name Dates Worked
J.W. Cole, Architect & Surveyor 1846-61 

Bibliographic Sources


William Dawson Cole, ed., The Journeys of James William Cole, 1808-61, Norwood, 1986
Arnold D. Hunt, The Bible Christians: Their Origin and History, 1815-1900, London, 1905
Arnold D. Hunt, The Bible Christians in SA, Uniting Church Historical Society, SA, 1983
Biographical Index of South Australians, 1836-85, SAG&HSociety, 1986
Indices of Births, Deaths & Marriages, 1842-1972, SAG&HSociety, 1997-2006
The SA Methodist, 5.9.1958, p. 7
Public Notice, The South Australian, 15.12.1846, p. 5
Tenders, Mission House, SA Register, 6.1.1847, p. 1
Valuable Town Property, ibid., 12.8.1848, p. 1
Trusteeships, surveyorships, ibid., 28.7.1849, p. 2; 26.9.1850, p. 2
Court case, ibid., 18.8.1849, p. 2
Tenders, North Adelaide chapel, ibid., 5.12.1849, p. 2
Tenders, Stephens's printery, ibid., 15.12.1849, p. 1
IOR, Total Abstinence Society, ibid., 8.3. 1851, p.2; 2.1.1851, p. 3
Bentham Street Chapel, ibid., 10.12.1851, p. 1; 21.4.1853, p. 1
Change of Address (Tenders), ibid., 10.12.1851, p. 1; 2.12.1854, p. 3
New Temperance Hall, ibid., 26.5.1855, p. 3; 20.4.1859, p. 3
Young Street Chapel, ibid., 12.5.1856, p. 4; 26.8.1858, p. 2
Bowden chapel, ibid., 8.9.1856, p. 1
Parliament, ibid., 14.2.1857, p. 2; 3.3.1857, p. 2; 27.11.1857; 7.12.1857, p.3
Temperance Meeting, ibid., 4.11.1857, p. 3
St Clement's, ibid., 17.5.1858, p. 1
Virginia Chapel, SA Weekly Chronicle, 11.9.1858, p. 8
Municipal Council, SA Register, 30.11.1858, p. 2
Tenders, Pirie Street house, SA Advertiser, 29.1.1859, p. 1
Association of A, E & S (est. 18.9.1858), SA Register, 9.6.1859, p. 3
Tenders, Kooringa Chapel, SA Weekly Chronicle, 17.9.1859, p.1; 16.6.1860, p. 1
Tenders, Morphett Street chapel, SA Advertiser, 30.3.1860, p. 1; 11.6.1860, p. 3
Tenders, Brougham Place chapel, SA Weekly Chronicle, 25.8.1860, p. 1
Obituary, SA Advertiser, 25.6.1861, p. 2
Obituary, SA Register, 28.8.1884, p. 3S

Land at Enfield, Memorial 30, Lot 4, Section 353 (Old Land Registry), 15.7.1848
ACC Rate Assessment Books 1859-60, microfilm, Adelaide City Archives
SA Directories,
State Library of SA, Pictorial Collection, B 913, B 914, B 3308, B 21526

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