Rowland Rees was a prominent colonial architect who also served as a member of parliament. He was an early advocate for the registration of architects.
Rees was born in Gibraltar on 25 September 1840. His father, also Rowland, was an officer in the Royal Engineers, and later Mayor of Dover in England’s south-east. Rees was educated in civil engineering and architecture in Hong Kong and at Wesley College, Sheffield (Feeney 1976) and was awarded a number of academic prizes (Loyau 1978). He served his articles with H.E. Kendall, one of the founders of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and with Thomas Hawksley, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (Feeney 1973). Rees reached Adelaide in December 1869 and the following year he married Ada Caroline Sandford (Feeney 1976), a solicitor’s daughter.
Page (1986: 82) presumes that Rees practised architecture in England before his arrival in South Australia where he went into partnership with Thomas English from 1870 to 1873. Short associations followed with several other individuals but Rees’ personality appears to have been better suited to solo practice (Page 1986).
Rees was active in public life in South Australia (Loyau 1978) and wrote to the press on a range of matters (Bagot 1958). Between 1878 and 1896 he contributed his services to several cultural institutions: the Board of the South Australian Institute and the Fine Arts Committee of the Public Library, the South Australian Museum and the Art Gallery (Feeney 1976). He was on the committee of the Total Abstinence League from 1873 to 1874. In addition to community involvement he was active in his profession as a member of the Council of the South Australian Institute of Architects (SAIA) of which he was elected Vice-President in 1887 (Feeney 1973).
Rees entered parliament in 1873 as Member for Burra (Feeney 1973). He held Burra until 1881 and then Onkaparinga from 1882 to 1890. In parliament he spoke up on a variety of subjects including free education, the regulation of gambling, and equal rights for women in suing for divorce. Drawn towards his colleague Edward Davies’ view that architects should prove their qualifications before practising (Freeland 1971), in 1889 he argued unsuccessfully for an architects’ registration bill but failed to continue championing the cause after the bill’s initial defeat (Freeland 1971; Feeney 1973; Page 1986).
Before arriving in South Australia, Rees had become well-versed in architectural styles and trends in Victorian Britain as well as elsewhere overseas. On the one hand a ‘practical architect and engineer’ (Page 1986: 82), he was known for producing ‘ebullient Italianate facades’ (Feeney ADB online). According to his biographer, Alan Feeney, his projects covered most building types and can be identified in their ‘careful attention to detail, the bold structure of ... [the] chimneys, pronounced hood-moulds, decorative pilasters and capitals, use of parapets with baroque pediments and expert siting of buildings’ (Feeney ADB online).
Amongst Rees’ earliest commissions were the Moonta Methodist Church (1873) and the residence Essenside, Glenelg (1873), for Andrew Tennant (Manning Index). Commercial projects included the Kither building in Rundle Street (1879-80), for butcher William Kither (Marsden et al 1990), the Industrial Buildings (1884) a three storey shop and office complex in King William Street which incorporated a hydraulic elevator for tenant use (Feeney 1973), and the St Peters Town Hall (1885) (altered). Industrial commissions were the Lobethal Woollen Mills (1883) and the G.E. Fulton & Co. Foundry, Kilkenny (1885-86). Rees was Chief Engineer in 1879-80 for an important engineering project, the privately financed Holdfast Bay Railway from Glenelg to Adelaide (Feeney 1976; Page 1986).
Rees designed several houses on prominent streets in Adelaide and North Adelaide in the 1870s and 1880s. Examples include 53-56 and 57-60 Strangways Terrace for G.H. Catchlove (Bagot 1958; Marsden et al 1990), and two attached houses on North Terrace, Adelaide, for Dr John Fisher (with Thomas English). He is credited with designing a house at 217-221 Stanley Street (1878), North Adelaide, for John Harvey Finlayson, philanthropist and editor of the Register from 1878 until 1897 (Marsden et al 1990).
Various examples survive of hotels that Rees designed. The unadorned British Hotel (1883) on Finniss Street, North Adelaide, contrasts with the elaborate Huntsman’s Hotel (1882), O’Connell Street, North Adelaide. He designed several for the Simms Brewery, all of which survive today: the Oxford Hotel (1884) and adjacent National Bank of Australasia (with Daniel Garlick), O’Connell Street, North Adelaide, the Cumberland Arms Hotel (1884), Waymouth Street, Adelaide (Freeland 1976), and the Newmarket Hotel (1884), corner West and North Terrace, Adelaide (Feeney 1973). The Oxford Hotel is an example of a typical practice of its time – the rebuilding of an earlier hotel by ‘cloth[ing] in Italianate stuccoed trim’ (Marsden et al 1990: 301). Paired with a bank, it forms an unusual grouping of buildings but one that commands a strong architectural presence in the streetscape.
By 1886 Rees was in financial difficulty, and having received few commissions in Adelaide between 1896 and 1899 he moved to Western Australia where he hoped to benefit from the development boom sparked by the discovery of gold (Feeney 1976; Page 1986). However, work was not forthcoming and he returned to Adelaide in 1903 where he died on 13 October 1904 (Feeney 1976).
Christine Sullivan and Christine Garnaut