Hennessy & Hennessy
Born: 8 January 1887, Sydney, New South Wales
Died: 4 September 1955, Sydney, New South Wales
Hometown: Sydney, New South Wales
John Francis ‘Jack’ Hennessy was the son of Matilda (nee Silk) and prominent Catholic architect John Francis ‘Jack’ Hennessy.
Born in Sydney in 1887 young Jack was schooled in Sydney and studied architecture at Sydney Technical College. Then, like his father and at his urging, Jack continued his studies in the United States, at the University of Pennsylvania. After his return Jack joined his father in 1912, in the new partnership of Hennessy & Hennessy.
Jack the elder, in his former partnership of Sheerin & Hennessy, had enjoyed a mutually beneficial and lucrative relationship with the Catholic church which continued under Hennessy & Hennessy, and beyond his father’s retirement in 1923.
According to John East in the University of Queensland’s Fryer Folios (2014), young Jack was a close friend of clergyman James Duhig. Appointed Archbishop of Brisbane in 1917, Duhig continued his rise up the ranks. Beside him was his friend Hennessy, who quickly became Duhig’s favoured builder. With his father, Hennessy had constructed many churches and public buildings in New South Wales; he now began expanding into Queensland.
In the late 1920s Hennessy invested in Benedict Stone, a US-developed, reconstituted stone product used in building facades. With plans to use it in the construction of a Brisbane cathedral, Duhig set up a factory there in 1929 using local stone, but the costs of doing so, and the Great Depression, came close to bankrupting him.
Hennessy had already refurbished the Sydney offices of Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Company (CML) and designed their new building in Brisbane. CML was so pleased with it when it was completed in 1931, a mutually satisfactory agreement was then made between Hennessy, Duhig and CML to construct the same buildings, all with Benedict Stone, throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Perth’s CML building, to these same blueprints, was constructed on the Sherwood Court corner of St George’s Terrace in 1936.
Around this time the University of Queensland, without considering other architects, controversially appointed Hennessy to design a new campus at St Lucia. Hennessy’s reputation was tarnished when, as East says, it “may or may not have been a Catholic conspiracy, but it certainly seemed that way to many people in Queensland.”
The previously great and beneficial friendship between Hennessy and Duhig came to an end in the late 1930s, leading to the evaporation of Hennessy’s future design contracts. The advent of World War II and post-war recovery halted any new construction until the mid-1950s, but in a changed, modern world, Hennessy’s neo-Gothic architecture was seen as having had its day.
Hennessy died in Paddington, NSW, in 1955, aged 68.