Edwin Hubert Henderson Architect

This site is dedicated to the life and work of Edwin Hubert Henderson, architect (1885-1939). Henderson was Chief Architect of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1929-1939.

Henderson’s Professional History

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Henderson was greatly esteemed in the architectural profession as his membership of professional bodies here and in the UK shows.


Henderson was elected an associate of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales at its annual meeting held at the Royal Society Hall in March 1920.   The meeting was notable for a dispute over the validity of the election of the President of the Institute (Mr Arthur Pritchard), which had led the Secretary in protest.  The meeting agreed to submit the matter to the Institute’s legal adviser.

It appears that Henderson became a fellow of the Institute by 1933.

In “Architecture”, 1 November 1939, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects New South Wales Chapter reported that its Council regretted the passing of Henderson.  On 20 June 1939, the Council resolved to write a letter of condolence to Mrs Henderson.  In the minutes of the meeting of 31 August 1939, the Council noted that Mrs Henderson had written in thanks for the letter.

He was registered with the NSW Board of Architects on 26 June 1923.  His NSW registration address for 1924-1930 was the Departments of Works and Railways, Customs House, Sydney and for 1931-1939 was the Federal Capital Commission, Canberra, ACT.

In terms of Henderson’s career with the Commonwealth, the archives reveal the following career timeline
  • 2 November 1912 – starts as temporary draftsman
  • 6 January 1915 – appointed on probation as draftsman class 3  Sydney
  • 9 August 1915 – passes probation, Public Service Commission confirms appointment
  • September 1916  Director-General reports that it would be in the best interests of work if Henderson was detailed to work in Melbourne
  • August 1918 – Senior Draftsman Sydney
  • June 1920 – Supervising Architect, NSW
  • September 1929 – Principal Designing Architect  (Division III)
  • 1936 – Title of Chief Architect conferred on Henderson

Henderson’s role in Canberra was described in some detail during a decision by the Public Service Arbitrator in 1936:

The position designated “Principal Designing Architect” in Canberra has somewhat similar duties [to Works Directors in the States] which, from the normal control of works, point of view, is limited to the comparatively small Federal Capital Territory.  The responsibility for the design and supervision of construction of buildings, however, for the Capital City covers not only important public buildings, but also private homes for public servants.  The two main divisions – Maintenance and New Works – are responsibilities of this office.  In addition, however, the Principal Architect is charged with the responsibility of exercising an oversight of the design of new buildings of importance to be erected in the several states.  The plans for such buildings must be submitted for his concurrence in design and he may alter or recast the design if he thinks that such action is desirable.  (tabled in the House of Representatives 22 May 1936)

United Kingdom

Henderson was articled to the firm of Marshall & Tweedy in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1900 (aged 15).  He completed his articles in 1905 (aged 20) and remained with the practice a further 5 years (til aged 25).  After moving to Australia, he practised with J Reid in Sydney (1910-1912) before joining the Commonwealth.

He was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1930 (Member no. 2802).   His residence is noted as Hotel Kurrajong Canberra.  Evidently having just located to the capital, he had not yet been provided the house in Torrens Street in which he lived until his death.  This may have awaited his marriage to Muriel in 1933.

RIBA candidates statement by Henderson

In his candidate’s document, Henderson was called upon to list the principal buildings in which he had been involved  (erection, alteration, restoration, decoration) as at 12 September 1929.  He listed 14 examples:

  1. Commonwealth Bank of Australia at Ipswich in Queensland;
  2. Post Office, William St, Sydney
  3. CBA Albury, NSW
  4. CBA, Goulburn, NSW
  5. CBA Head Office, Sydney  (listed twice – perhaps two extensions?)
  6. Offices of the Commonwealth Government, Phillip St, Sydney (listed twice)
  7. Bank details, Goulburn NSW
  8. Bank details, Albury, NSW
  9. Haymarket Post Office, Sydney
  10. Telephone Exchange Sydney
  11. Small post offices, NSW

The last example is hard to decipher.

As a fellow, Henderson executed a declaration in which

“in consideration of my having been so elected (I) promise and agree  that I will not accept any trade or other discounts, or give or accept illicit or surreptitious commissions or emoluments in connection with any works in execution of which I may be engaged to superintend, or in which I may be employed”.

Evidently he took this declaration very seriously.

What is most interesting to note is the stature of those nominating Henderson for membership.

His membership was proposed by John Smith Murdoch, his predecessor as Chief Architect.  In his proposer’s statement, Murdoch describes Henderson’s skills in this way:

“As the technical head of the Department, I consider the numerous buildings designed by Mr Henderson express scholarship and individuality and embrace modern methods of construction”.

Murdoch is perhaps best known as the architect of Old Parliament House in Canberra, but his career and influence is much wider.  Of most relevance is his contribution to what might be called the “Commonwealth Departmental style”, a stripped down modern  renaissance style upon which Henderson built during his tenure.  Dr David Rowe, a Melbourne heritage architect, wrote a meticulously researched and very thoughtful doctoral thesis on Murdoch.  You can read the introduction here.    We will return more to the architectural influence of Murdoch on Henderson later.

John Smith Murdoch

The only known photo of John Smith Murdoch (photo source: Museum of Australian Democracy

His fellowship was proposed by two other eminent Australian architects:  Leslie Wilkinson Bertrand Waterhouse.

Leslie Wilkinson (1882-1973) was a highly influential professor of Architecture at the University of Sydney.  A brilliant student and talented draftsman, Wilkinson practised in London and became an assistant professor at University College London.  Following war service, he interviewed in top hat and tails for the newly created chair of architecture at the University of Sydney and was appointed.  He was greeted on his arrival by the Premier, Lord Mayor and other worthies.   Wilkinson saw architecture as

 “an art and those who practised it were discriminating  gentlemen to whom good manners were all important.  His emphasis on the intellectual and the artistic over the more mundane aspects of construction and practice sometimes brought him into conflict with other members of the profession” (Clive Lucas, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, 1990)

Wilkinson was hugely influential on a generation of Australian architects.  Not a modernist, he emphasised Mediterranean and colonial styles.

At the time of nominating Henderson, Wilkinson was a councillor of the Institute of Architecture of NSW.   He was the inaugural President of the state chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1934.   Read more on Wilkinson here.


Prof Leslie Wilkinson

Bertrand Waterhouse (1876-1965), Henderson’s other nominator, was a British born but Australian educated architect who went on to have a successful practice and be highly influential in the profession.   Waterhouse was a collaborator with Leslie Wilkinson in some university buildings.  His work in domestic architecture had a notable Mediterranean influence, a notable example being May Gibbs’ house, Nutcote, at Neutral Bay (which can still be visited today).

Like Wilkinson, Waterhouse was active in the Institute of Architects NSW holding the office of vice-President on seven occasions.  He was a councillor of the Royal Institute of Australian Architects (1932-1934) and its NSW Chapter (1934-48).  He was also President of the NSW Board of Architects (1929-49).  He became a fellow of RIBA only shortly before Henderson in 1928.

Bertrand Waterhouse

Portrait of Bertrand Waterhouse by William Dargie (Art Gallery of NSW)

Waterhouse was also an artist and deeply interested in the arts.  He was President of the Art Gallery of NSW from 1939-58.   You can read more about Waterhouse here.

It is pleasing to know that Henderson received professional endorsement from three such eminent architects.

Note: my thanks to the Australian Institute of Architects (NSW) and the Royal Institute of British Architects for documents used in this post.


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