JJ Talbot Hobbs, 1910

Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs

Born:  24 August 1864, London, England

Died:  21 April 1938, at sea (en route to France)

Occupation:  Builder, Architect, Military Officer

Hometown:  Perth, Western Australia

Joseph John Talbot Hobbs grew up and was educated in Surrey, England before working as a draftsman for builder John Hurst, who taught him the basics of architectural design and with whom he emigrated to Western Australia in 1886. The next year Hobbs established his architectural practice in Perth, soon followed by an office in Fremantle.

He joined the militia as a gunner with the Perth Artillery Volunteers in 1887 and was commissioned in 1889. In addition to architecture he then developed a second career as a soldier, undertaking further training in England at his own expense, several times over the next few years.

In 1890 Hobbs married Hurst’s daughter Edith. They lived in East Perth and the first of their seven children was born the next year. By 1898 Hobbs had built The Bungalow (now demolished), a magnificent home in Peppermint Grove, and the family moved there. He subsequently designed many of the beautiful, stately homes for which the heritage suburb is renowned. Included among many other significant buildings designed in this period are Fremantle’s Scots Church (1890), the Weld Club (1891), Claremont’s Christchurch (1892), Moir’s Chambers (1897), the Windsor Hotel in South Perth (1898), the Empire Buildings (1902) and Swanleigh (1904).

In 1904 he formed a partnership with E H Dean Smith and W J Waldie Forbes in Hobbs, Smith & Forbes, of which he was senior partner.

His dual careers having kept pace, at the outbreak of World War One Hobbs was given command of the 1st Division Artillery. He was at the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 and served through to November when he was evacuated off with dysentery. He then served with distinction on the Western Front where he commanded a division, according to Sir Cyril Brudenell White, “with great distinction, made fewer mistakes than most, and earned the undying affection of 20,000 men” and Sir John Monash praised his “sound common sense, and his sane attitude towards every problem”.

Hobbs returned to Western Australia in October 1919 at the rank of Lieutenant General and a Knight Commander to both the Order of the Bath and of St Michael and St George. He resumed his practice and went on to design more of Perth’s significant buildings including the set comprised of WA Trustees (1925), Royal Insurance (1929) and Newspaper House (1932) at the top end of the Terrace.

World War One left Hobbs with a new commitment to acknowledge the contribution and sacrifice of the Australian soldiers during the Great War in the form of memorials and monuments, and in 1929 he was chosen to design Western Australia’s State War Memorial atop Mount Eliza.

It was he who convinced Prime Minister Billy Hughes to build an Australian memorial at Villers Bretonneux and in 1938 he, Edith, and their daughter Nancy were on their way to France to see it opened when he suffered a fatal heart attack on 21 April. His body was brought back to Perth and he was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery with full State and military honours.

In 1940 a life-sized bronze bust of Talbot Hobbs, possibly Western Australia’s greatest architect, was erected on the Esplanade. This was relocated to the Supreme Court Gardens on Barrack Street with the redevelopment of Elizabeth Quay.