OLD GOVERNMENT HOUSE (1834-1887)

 

Architect

Captain James Stirling, Royal Navy (RN), arrived from England to found the Colony of Western Australia which he proclaimed in June 1826.

The first Vice Regal residence was initially a tent set up on Garden Island between June and September 1829.   

In August 1829 with the founding of Perth on the banks of the Swan River, Stirling and his family moved to the corner of St George’s Terrace and Barrack Street (now Stirling Gardens).  They were housed in tents until 1832 when a temporary wooden structure was erected. In 1834 Stirling instructed civil engineer Henry William Reveley, who arrived with Stirling in 1829, to prepare drawings for a new Government House a short distance away, near the present day site.

The new building was spare, beautifully-proportioned and of the Georgian style, similar in its architectural excellence to the old Supreme Court nearby, which was also designed by Reveley and built in 1837.  In 1834 Stirling moved in, but construction continued into 1835.

The building was defective from the beginning, with leaking roofs, termites constantly consuming the flooring and the porous walls absorbing moisture. It was also inadequate, lacking visitors' accommodation and facilities for the large functions expected of the Vice Regal establishment.

Stirling resigned in October 1837 and left the Colony for England in January 1839.  Four successive Governors resided in Reveley’s first Government House, until 1855.

Destruction

In despatches to Lord Russell, the Secretary of State, Governor Arthur Edward Kennedy (1855-1862) wrote “The House was and is in such a state that I would not have occupied it had I been able to rent a suitable House.  It will be scarcely habitable in winter and there will be a constant outlay for repairs and replacing decayed woodwork etc, while it is occupied.” (Despatch No: 114, 9 November 1855.) Governor Kennedy and his family were forced to reside at Fremantle during the winter months.

Following a report commissioned by the Governor, in September 1858 Legislative Council passed an ordinance for funding, and on 17 March 1859 the foundation stone of the new Government House was laid in an impressive ceremony conducted by the Masonic Lodge St John. Lieutenant Colonel (later Sir) E Y W Henderson RE, Controller of Convicts, designed this new Government House with assistance from Clerk of Works, James Manning, and the colony’s surveyors.

The first Government House (‘Old Government House’) was demolished in 1887 and the site where it stood is part of the gardens of the present Government House.