Wednesday, 11 March 2015

John Lee Archer's Burial Site

John Lee Archer (1791-1852), architect and engineer, was born on 26 April 1791, the only son of John Archer, an engineer of County Tipperary and Dublin, Ireland, and his wife Charlotte, née Lee, formerly of Kent, England. From 1809 to 1812 he was trained in the office of Charles Beazley, a London architect, and then worked for five years under John Rennie, who designed the London, Waterloo and Southwark bridges across the River Thames. Returning to Ireland, Archer spent the next eight years on architectural and engineering works, including the Royal Canal, Dublin.

On 2 December 1826 he was appointed by the secretary of state for the colonies 'to fill the situation of Civil Engineer in Van Diemen's Land'. Arriving at Hobart Town in the Langin August 1827, he was instructed by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur to take up the duties of civil engineer and colonial architect. He served in those capacities for eleven years, in the first nine being responsible for all government buildings including those for penal and military purposes.

Among the buildings designed by Archer are Parliament House, (formerly the Customs House), the public offices used by the Treasury and the Audit Department in Hobart, the Ordnance Stores in Salamanca Place, several buildings at Anglesea Barracks; St John's Church with the orphan schools and the parsonage at New Town; the nave of St George's Church at Battery Point; Old Trinity (the Penitentiary Chapel) in Hobart; St Luke's Presbyterian Church at Bothwell, St Luke's Church of England at Richmond, the gaol and gaoler's house at Richmond, and parts of the gaol in Campbell Street, Hobart.

St Luke's Church, Richmond
Parliament House, Hobart
In the engineering field his outstanding work was the stone bridge which still carries the road from the Midland Highway over the Macquarie River into Ross. With a committee he prepared in 1827 a plan for improvements to Sullivan's Cove which laid down the main lines for development of the port of Hobart. On another committee in 1835 he provided designs for the causeway in the River Derwent at Bridgewater.

Richmond Gaol
Ross Bridge
Archer's buildings possess the virtues of simplicity and good proportion, combined with a satisfying sense of stability. His public buildings in the Georgian Renaissance manner contribute to the interesting architectural character of the city of Hobart. While there was no doubt about Archer's architectural skills, the Governor expressed some reservations about his administrative and supervisory capabilities. In the early years Archer relied on unqualified and often unskilled workmen and was assisted by only one clerk.

In 1832-3 around 200 artisans were attracted to the colony with a 20 pounds contribution towards their fare. Archer designed the east and west wings for the Richmond Gaol as well as the gaoler's house (1832). His work included government stores and churches, which were built by the government in the early days.
Archer was married on 3 September 1833 to Sophia Mattinson of Hobart and made his home at Jutland, off Augusta Road, New Town.

After the arrival of officers of the Royal Engineers in Van Diemen's Land in 1836, works for military purposes were taken over by Captain Roger Kelsall. Two years later, as a measure of economy, Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin abolished the position of civil engineer and colonial architect, giving its remaining duties to the director-general of roads and bridges. Archer was retrenched in 1838, and reminded the authorities that he had been appointed on a salary of 500 pounds for life, subject to his good behaviour. In October 1838 Archer accepted an appointment as police magistrate for the district of Horton. He filled this office, living at Stanley, until his death on 4 December 1852. He was survived by his widow, two daughters and several sons. His grave is in the Church of England section of the cemetery at Circular Head in the shadow of The Nut.

Main Text & Information Source – 
Australian Dictionary of Biography - John Lee Archer
Updated 7 Jan 2016


  1. Archer's buildings in the Georgian Renaissance were perfect for the era and for the place. I couldn't agree more.

    Yet the governor didn't like Archer's administrative skills. So the committees that controlled the planning of the main lines for developing the port of Hobart should have been more active. The committee could have easily provided the supervision, the clerical backup, the skilled labourers etc.

    Nothing has changed! Committees still chatter.

    1. Couldn't agree more. The whole things comes across as very political, undoubtedly a pretty common occurrence for the time!

  2. Hi Geoff

    Love your blog. Beautiful photos and extremely interesting articles. Congratulations.

    I thought I would write a comment because John Lee Archer is my Great, Great, Grandfather. My mother and I have been researching him for over 25 years, but we haven't been able to locate a painting or sketch of him anywhere in England, Ireland or Australia.

    The photo at the top of your page is actually a photo of a Stanley local man that was only taken a few years ago by the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service as part of a display at Highfield House. The photo unfortunately has the caption 'John Lee Archer', even though it isn't John Lee Archer at all. When they were creating the display, Highfield House for some strange reason decided, that instead of contacting family members to try and obtain real images, or use computer software to create likenesses for people without photos (e.g., using pictures of sons or daughters which would have been smarter and more accurate), they instead took photos of locals dressed up in period costume saying that it helped to obtain interest from local people in the project. I'm sure it did, but it's just not correct information! They even made up photos for important Tasmanians who have extant paintings. Strange. There is a full wall of fake photos up there. It's a dreadful travesty. People will think that the photos are authentic.

    We have tried talking with them, writing to them, and writing to various politicians, but noone has done anything. They say that there is a small disclaimer at the bottom of the wall and so it's OK, but it's so wrong.

    The Parks & Wildlife Service, who are in charge of Highfield House, may be looking after the building, but history is also about protecting information and facts. They aren't protecting Tasmania's heritage properly.

    By the way, we have discovered that John Lee Archer was born in Kent, England, not Ireland. I love research and I am currently in the process of writing a book about him, so if you would like more information about John Lee Archer at any time, please let me know.

    Kind regards
    Anne Lee-Archer

    1. Hi Anne,
      Thank you very much for your comments. Thank you for the comments regarding the photo of John Lee Archer. Its certainly very disappointing if this is what has been done I'm sure many others, like myself, thought the photo was of the man himself. I'll replace that photo on the post. I would certainly love to read your book when you have completed it. I love the work that John Lee Archer has done. I think the man had a very special talent! Please keep in touch as I'd love to read your book when completed.
      Kind Regards

    2. Hi Anne,
      Could you please contact Rosie Sever at TMAG when have the time. She is looking to produce a talk on John Lee Archer and would like to talk to you if possible.
      Her email is


  3. Could the modern portrait of the NW Coast man falsely identified as being that of John Lee-Archer please be removed ?


    1. Done. My apologies as I meant to remove the photo when notified by Anne Lee-Archer back in June 2015 but forgot to do so at the time.