Walter Liberty Vernon (1846-1914)
Walter Liberty Vernon was born on 11 August 1846 at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England. Walter was articled in 1862 to the London architect W. G. Habershon while attending Sir Robert Smirke’s lectures at the Royal Academy of Arts and night school at the South Kensington School of Art.
On completing his articles, Vernon worked for Habershon & Pite and from 1869 took charge of their branch office in Wales. He then ran an office for the London architect Charles Moreing at Hastings where he set up his own practice in 1872. As a member of the Surveyors’ Institution from March 1880, he opened an office in Great George Street, London, while retaining his practice at Hastings. This was a period when British architects and designers were embracing English Revival styles in reaction to the classicism of Georgian times in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Vernon was influenced by the architects George Devey and Richard Norman Shaw who found inspiration in medieval and Tudor architecture. Following a recurrence of asthma in 1883, Vernon was advised to leave England. He emigrated to Sydney with his wife and three children.
Vernon established a private practice in Sydney, and then entered into a partnership with William Wardell from 1884 until 1889. Vernon assisted with works already in progress, designed buildings and supervised Wardell’s Melbourne projects in 1884-85. Vernon was an alderman on East St Leonards Municipal Council in 1885-90, serving as Mayor from 1887 to 1888. Elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1885, he joined the (Royal) Art Society of New South Wales in 1884, (Sir) John Sulman’s Palladian Club and the Institute of Architects of New South Wales in 1887, and the Sydney Architectural Association in 1891. On 1 August 1890 Vernon was appointed as the NSW Government Architect.
As an architect practising in Australia, Vernon favoured a number of the Federation Styles, such as the Free Classical, Arts and Crafts, and Free Style.
Examples of his Free Classical style include a fire station in St Johns Road, Glebe, Jenolan Caves House in the Blue Mountains and the Public School, Military Road, Mosman. Examples in the Free Style include fire stations in The Avenue, Randwick; Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst; and Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont and the former police station, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst. He designed the (former) police station in Bourke Street, Surry Hills in the Romanesque style.
For more substantial public buildings, Vernon continued the tradition whereby such buildings were designed in a Classical style. Notable examples of his more substantial public buildings, built in the Classical style include the Art Gallery of NSW, the Mitchell Library, Central Railway Station and Newcastle Court House.
Vernon also designed significant additions to existing buildings, such as Customs House in Circular Quay; Randwick Police Station; the Chief Secretary’s Building, Sydney; Balranald Post Office; Armidale Post Office; and the former Premier’s Office, Sydney. His office was also responsible for the public decorations during the Federation celebrations of 1901.
Vernon retired as New South Wales Government Architect in 1911 and returned to private practice, establishing a partnership with Howard Joseland. The latter, also born in England, was a practitioner of the Federation Arts and Craft and Federation Bungalow styles.
Following the amputation of a leg, Vernon died of septicaemia and gangrene in 1914.
Between 1890 and 1911, Vernon designed and delivered over fifty projects in NSW, some of Sydney’s most famous buildings, a number of which are still standing and in use.
Hestock, 14 Crescent Street Hunters Hill, built in 1885 in the early Federation Arts and Craft style, also known as Le Chalet (Source: realestate.com.au)
Ranger’s Residence Centennial Park built by Vernon in 1898 in the Federation Arts and Craft style (Source: Centennial Parklands website)
Neutral Bay Lodge at 45 Kurraba Road Neutral Bay (Source: Neutral Bay Lodge Website)
Caves House, Jenolan Caves Hotel, built in 1897 by Vernon as a wilderness retreat, using the alpine ‘Federation, Arts and Crafts’ style. (Source: Jenolan caves Hotel)
Peter Reynolds, ‘Vernon, Walter Liberty (1846–1914)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vernon-walter-liberty-8916/text15667, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 April 2020.