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

Architect Personal Details

Surname

Thomas

First name

Robert George

Gender

Male

Born

16/02/1820

Died

14/04/1883

Biography

Robert George Thomas was among the first colonists who arrived in South Australia in 1836. Aged only sixteen he travelled on the ‘Cygnet’ with Deputy Surveyor George Strickland Kingston to whom he was an articled student. His parents, Robert and Mary Thomas, arrived weeks later on the ‘Africaine’ with their other children.

Thomas worked for architect George Strickland Kingston as draughtsman and it is probable that he drew the original plan of Adelaide (Langmead 1994: 15). When Kingston left the colony for England Thomas then gained employment as a draughtsman in the government Survey Office and drafted the first official map of Adelaide. On the return of Kingston to Adelaide in June 1838 some of the staff of the Survey Office resigned under the mistaken belief that Kingston had censured them whilst in London (Langmead 1994: 15). Thomas then gained employment as a draughtsman with Light Finniss & Co, a real estate and surveying company formed by the disgruntled surveyors. The practice lasted only a short while and following the death of Colonel William Light dissolved in September 1839. During this time Thomas worked principally on land subdivisions.

In 1839 Thomas returned to work for Kingston, principally as a clerk. In 1841 Kingston began work for the Adelaide Corporation as Town Surveyor and Rates Collector with Thomas as his assistant. In 1842 a windmill on West Terrace, Adelaide for H.W. Phillips may have been Thomas’ first built work (Langmead 1994: 17), however he left Kingston in 1843 and following some lean years in the colony formed a partnership with William Parry James in January 1845 with the result of the practice gaining some small commissions. During the mining boom of the 1840s James and Thomas gained some work for Adelaide Mining Association undertaking mineral surveys (Langmead 1994: 17) before they decided to return to Britain.

When Thomas and James returned to Britain in 1846 they practised for some years in Newport, Wales where Thomas was involved with over fifty projects, amongst which were villas, chapels, offices and shops, principally in the Gothic style. Thomas married Charlotte Annanette Shum Tuckett in 1856 whist in Britain and they had two children before returning to Adelaide in June 1861. They had a further seven children over the ensuing decade, two of whom died in infancy (Gormly 1993b: 5-7;16-30).

Thomas became engaged for some time in private practice designing many large public and private buildings and was made a Fellow of the Royal British Institute of Architects in December 1866 (Gormly 1993b: 27). In July 1866 he was appointed as Assistant Government Architect and in 1868, Government Architect. The office was abolished in 1870 and Thomas resumed private practice, continuing to work predominantly in Italianate or Gothic Revival styles. After the 1873 Health Act was passed Thomas was appointed Secretary of the Central Board of Health, a position he held from 1874 until his death on 14 April 1883 (Gormly 1993b: 36).

Thomas’ first commission on his return to Adelaide in 1861 was the Gothic style bluestone and sandstone Flinders Street Baptist Church, Adelaide, followed by the Italianate styled Alberton Baptist Church (1863), the Italian Gothic warehouses in King William Street, Adelaide for Thomas Johnson, constructed of Glen Osmond stone with freestone columns (1865), the substantial Matthew Goode Residence on the corner of Wakefield and Hutt Streets, Adelaide (now demolished) and Stow Memorial Congregational Church (now Pilgrim Uniting Church), Flinders Street, Adelaide in early French Gothic style (1866). He also designed the Register Chambers (1865) for his family’s newspaper and printing business, Adelaide.

As Assistant and the Government Architect between 1866 and 1870, Thomas designed Mt Gambier Hospital (1867-9), the Supreme Court Buildings, Adelaide (1867) and the Parkside Lunatic Asylum (later called Glenside Hospital) (1868), Greenhill Road, Glenside. When he returned to private practice commissions included St Augustine’s Church, Unley Road, Unley (1869) in English Gothic style, the Bagster House (1872), Unley Road, Unley, and the Port Adelaide Institute (1875), Commercial Road, Port Adelaide in Venetian Italian style and constructed of Dry Creek rubble stone.

Christine Sullivan

Citation details
Sullivan, Christine, 'Thomas, Robert George’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=62]

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Architectural works in South Australia

Name Suburb Year Designed
Alberton Baptist Church Alberton 1863
Supreme Court Buildings Adelaide 1865
Register and Observer Office and Register Chambers 1865
Matthew Goode House Adelaide 1865
Johnson warehouse Adelaide 1865
Beeby and Dunstan store Adelaide 1865
Additions to St. Paul’s Church Adelaide
Stow Memorial Congregational Church Adelaide 1867
Parkside Lunatic Asylum Glenside 1868
Modifications to the General Post Office Adelaide
Prince Alfred Sailor’s home Port Adelaide
Flinders Street Baptist Church Adelaide 1861
Institute at Port Adelaide Port Adelaide 1875
Bagster house Unley 1872
Payneham Institute
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Firms or Professional Partnerships

Name Dates Worked
George Strickland Kingston 1836-1837 
Surveyor General's Department 1837-1838 
Light, Finniss and Co 1838-1839 
George Strickland Kingston 1839-1843 
James & Thomas 1845-1846 
Robert George Thomas -1866 
Government Architect 1866-1870 
Robert George Thomas 1870-1873 
Central Board of Health 1874-1883 
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Bibliographic Sources

Name

PUBLISHED
Books
Andrews, B (1984) Gothic in South Australian churches, Flinders University of South Australia.
(1986) Biographical index of South Australians 1836-1885, South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society, Adelaide.
Bond, C. & Ramsay, H. (eds.) (1978) Preserving Historic Adelaide, Rigby, Adelaide.
Collins, J (2012) 'Thomas, Robert George' in Goad, P. and Willis, J. (eds) The encyclopaedia of Australian architecture, Cambridge University Press: 702.
Duncan, B. (2008) Mary Thomas: Founding Mother, Wakefield Press, Kent Town.
Freeland, J. (1971) The Making of a Profession A History of Growth and Work of the Architectural Institutes in Australia, Angus and Robertson in association with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Sydney.
Jensen, E. and Jensen, R. (1980) Colonial Architecture in South Australia: a definitive chronicle of development 1836-1890 and the social history of the times, Rigby, Adelaide.
Langmead, D. (1994) Accidental Architect: The Life and Times of George Strickland Kingston, Crossing Press, Sydney.
Marsden, S., Stark, P. and Sumerling, P. (eds.) (1990) Heritage of the City of Adelaide, Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Adelaide.
Morgan, E.J.K. and Gilbert, S.H. (1969) Early Adelaide Architecture 1836-1886, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Page, M. (1986) Sculptors in Space, South Australian Architects 1836-1986, RAIA SA Chapter, Adelaide.
Thomas, E.K. (ed.) (1925) Diary and Letters of Mary Thomas 1832-1866, W.K Thomas, Adelaide.

Journals
Langmead, D. (1990) ‘The Mild Colonial Boy: R.G. Thomas, Architect, of Newport’, Gwent Local History, Autumn, no.69, Langmead Collection S219/5/3, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia (AM).

Newspapers
Advertiser, 18 Oct 1932.
Observer, 16 January 1864.
Observer, 12 November 1864.
Observer, 23 March 1867.
Observer, 13 April 1867.
Observer, 4 May 1867.
Observer, 8 June 1867.
Observer, 19 June 1867.
Observer, 22 July 1867.
Observer, 24 August 1867.
Observer, 31 August 1867.
Observer, 12 October 1867.
‘Obituary. The Late Mr RG Thomas’, Observer, 21 April 1883: 34c.
'New Baptist Chapel Mt Crawford, SA Advertiser, 19 December 1861: 3b-c.
SA Register Supplement, 30 Jan 1875: 13f.
SA Register Supplement, 29 Jan 1876: 11e.

UNPUBLISHED
Reports
Foundas, E.M. (n.d.) ‘The SA Museum’, student project, Langmead Collection S219/5/2, AM.
Gormly, R.G. (1993a) ‘Robert George Thomas: Bagster House Commentary and Ways and Means of The Time, from papers by K. Ziemer and The History of Unley’, University of South Australia, Langmead Collection S219/5/2, AM.
Gormly, R.G. (1993b) ‘Robert George Thomas: Pioneer Architect and Engineer’, University of South Australia, Langmead Collection S219/5/2, AM.
Pederson, Kate (n.d.) ‘Historical Study of Flinders Street Baptist Church’, Student paper on R G Thomas, Langmead Collection S219/5/2, AM.
Schneider, Lawrence (1956) ‘The Life and Works of RG Thomas’, Student paper on R G Thomas, Langmead Collection S219/5/2, AM.
Zielinski, S. (1989) ‘Paper by S Zielinski regarding research into R G Thomas in Adelaide’, University of South Australia, Langmead Collection S219/5/12, AM.

Archival
Langmead, D. (c.1980-90) Research notes, letters and paper on colonial architect Robert George Thomas. Includes colour photographs and negatives, Langmead Collection S219/5/1, LLSAM.

Thesis
Langmead, Donald (1983) 'George Strickland Kingston: Pioneer and Architect', submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosphy, School of Humanities, Flinders University of South Australia, AM.

Electronic
Databases
Biographical cuttings on Robert George Thomas, architect and civil engineer, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals, Trove, accessed online at http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/35874505 on 30 April 2012.

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