Basic Biographical Details

Name: William Hardy Wilson
Designation: Architect
Born: 14 February 1881
Died: 16 December 1955
Bio Notes: William Hardy Wilson was born at Campbelltown, New South Wales on 14 February 1881, the second son of William Joshua Wilson, agent and his wife Jessie Elizabeth Shepherd, both Australian-born Presbyterians of Scottish descent. He was educated at Newington College 1893-98 and articled to Harry Kent of Kent & Budden in 1899. While in his office he took lessons in draughtsmanship and painting from the artist Sydney Long, exhibiting his work at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales in 1903-04; and in the evenings he studied architecture at Sydney Technical College where he was president of the Architectural Students Association. He graduated in 1904 and remained with Kent & Budden as assistant until 1905.

In that year a legacy enabled him to travel and seek wider experience. In 1906 he sailed for London and early in 1907 he was engaged by William Flockhart at a salary of 30/- per week. There he made a particular study of interior design and furniture while working on Flockhart’s domestic projects for Duveen and other wealthy clients. He passed the RIBA’s qualifying exams in 1908 and was admitted ARIBA on 1 March 1909, his proposers being Flockhart, Edwin Alfred Rickards and Hendry Vaughan Lanchester. In Flockhart’s office he became friendly with Flockhart’s son-in-law Leonard Rome Guthrie (‘Rothie’) who introduced him to Chelsea Arts Club of which Wilson was for a time secretary. With Stacey Neave, an assistant of Aston Webb, of he had known in Kent & Budden’s office he made several visits to Europe, and sometime before March 1909 he visited the USA where the architecture of Colonial America and its recent revival made a lasting impression on him as a parallel to the early Colonial architecture of Australia.

In 1910 Wilson returned to Sydney with a collection of antique furniture and objet’s d’art and married Margaret Rachel Reid Mackenzie on 22 November. He commenced independent practice, forming a partnership with Neave in 1913. War Service brought about a temporary closure of the office in 1916 and when it re-opened in 1920 John Berry was taken into partnership, the practice title becoming Wilson Neave & Berry.

Throughout the years following his return Wilson had made a profound study of Australian colonial architecture; and by 1921 he had become interested in the relationship of East and West, making an extended study tour of China in 1921-22. He exhibited at the Society of Artists and founded the Fine Arts Society, a commercial gallery presumably modelled on London’s Fine Art Society. But later in 1922 he withdrew temporarily from the Wilson Neave & Berry partnership and returned to London where he had a considerable hand in the Exhibition of Australian Art at Burlington House in 1923. He travelled in Europe as far as Athens and sought out the best printers – eventually selecting Max Jaffe in Vienna for his ‘Old Colonial Architecture in New South Wales and Tasmania’, published in 1924.
Wilson’s later years were somewhat unsettled. He returned to his Sydney practice in 1925 but retired to devote himself to painting and writing in 1927, settling for a time in St John’s Wood, London, where he published the autobiographical ‘Dawn of a New Civilisation’ in 1929. Later that year he returned to Sydney, but in the following year moved to Melbourne, moving again to north-west Tasmania to farm at Flowerdale, somewhat unsuccessfully as too much time was spent painting and writing. He returned to Melbourne in 1935 and was recommended as Director of the National Gallery of Victoria in September 1936 but the Government declined to ratify his appointment.

In 1938 Wilson acquired a property in Wandin, Mount Dandenong and settled there but in the following year Margaret Rachel died. He remarried on 27 February 1940, his second wife Elsie Rose Hughes Maclean (née McMurtie) also being of Scottish descent. Thereafter he lived mainly at her home at Kew, Melbourne. He died at Richmond, Melbourne, on 16 December 1955, survived by his second wife and a son of his first marriage.

In person Wilson was very tall, knocking himself out on the doorframe of Flockhart’s office when first interviewed. He last major architectural writing returned to the theme of East and West in ‘Grecian and Chinese Architecture’ (1937). Thereafter he was more concerned with his belief in unified world civilisation which found expression in ‘The Collapse of Civilisation’ (1936), ‘Instinct’ (1945) and Atomic Civilisation (1949), his 1929 autobiography being brought up to date in ‘Eucalyptus’ (1941).

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1William Flockhart19071910(?)Assistant 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3William Flockhart1 March 1909For Associateship
Item 2 of 3Henry Vaughan Lanchester1 March 19091For Associateship
Item 3 of 3Edwin Alfred Rickards1 March 1909For Associateship


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 4Australian Dictionary of Biography Australian Dictionary of Biography   
Item 2 of 4Grove Dictionary of Art Grove Dictionary of Art   
Item 3 of 4Indyk, Ivor1981William Hardy Wilson Transitions, June 1981 
Item 4 of 4National Trust of Australia1980William Hardy Wilson, a 20th Century Colonial 1881-1955. National Trust of Australia 

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1Held by DMWCorrespondence from Alan Calder to David Walker Personal recollections of Diana Hardy Wilson, granddaughter, per Alan Calder.