WARDELL, William Wilkinson (1824-1899)


WARDELL, William Wilkinson (1824-1899)
architect
was born in 1824. He was a pupil of A. W. Pugin and was establishing a reputation in England as a designer of churches, when in 1857 the state of his health compelled him to go to a warmer climate. He came to Melbourne early in 1858, and in September of that year was commissioned to prepare a design for St Patrick's cathedral. He was also in the same year appointed inspector-general of public works for Victoria. In the preparation of his plans for the cathedral Wardell was to some extent hampered by two conditions, one that the materials of a church already being built on the site should be used, and the other that part of this building should be incorporated in the new design. As a result the building on the north side and at the east end is below the level of the street. In spite of this Wardell produced a remarkably fine design, one of the best gothic buildings in Australia. He also designed several other churches at Melbourne, and among other buildings, the English, Scottish and Australian Bank at the corner of Collins- and Queen-streets. Wardell lost his government position in January 1878, when he was one of the victims of "Black Wednesday". Going to Sydney he practised there as an architect for the remainder of his life. He had already designed the new Roman Catholic cathedral of St Mary's, which was begun in 1866, and was responsible for St John's College in the university of Sydney, a fine example of fourteenth century gothic, and many other buildings in New South Wales.
He lived to see St Patrick's completed in 1897 except for the spires, but St Mary's was much less advanced when he died at Sydney on 19 November 1899. He married and was survived by at least two sons.
Wardell was a distinguished architect, and his two cathedrals rank among the finest modern examples of gothic. The three spires of St Patrick's cathedral, added long after Wardell's death, were re-designed, and though beautiful it is doubtful whether their increased height has kept the proportions so well as in the original design, an illustration of which will be found in Moran's History of the Catholic Church in Australasia, opposite p. 760. The west front of the building is perhaps a little narrow, but the interior is well proportioned, and the apsidal chapels are particularly well managed. The dark basalt used for this building is somewhat unsympathetic, but the sandstone of St Mary's at Sydney is a beautiful yellow-brown. The interior of this building is very impressive in spite of the fact that the roof is high when compared with the width of the main aisle, and the general effect does much to justify the claim that St Mary's is the "best specimen of decorated gothic to be found in Australia".
The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November 1899; The Advocate, Melbourne, 2 October 1897; St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne; Journal of the Institute of Architects, New South Wales, October 1904, and January-February 1905, p. 7.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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