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ALFRED LEWIS SMITH, ARCHITECT, MELBOURNE LIBRARY of SUPREME COURT

Six French covers appeared on Ebay, two of which were addressed from Paris to Alfred L. Smith, a celebrated and at times controversial architect in Melbourne, Victoria. The cover was an entire with no identification of the sender, with no postmarks on the reverse, and it was addressed to Alfred L. Smith Esq., Architect, Bourke Street East, Melbourne, Australia. There was a black ink ms. ‘3' and two double circle cancellations of PARIS/31/ DEC/53, but the two imperforate pairs of ‘EMPIRE FRANC’ 40c. stamps with the bust of Emperor Napoleon III were postmarked with a rectangular block of dots. The left hand pair of stamps had a horizontal bisect of the lower stamp. There was also a small red handstamp of a boxed ‘PD’ (Figure 1).

 

The second item was addressed to Alfred L. Smith Esq., Architect, at Melbourne, Victoria, Australie and the single ‘EMPIRE FRANC’ 80c. stamp with the bust of Emperor Napoleon III stamp was postmarked with a 6-pointed star of dots with the figure ‘18' in its centre. There was a double circle PARIS/ 18 JUIN/ 66 cancel as well as a black boxed ‘APRES/ LE/ DEPART’ handstamp as well as a red boxed illegible handstamp (Figure 2).

The reverse had 2 double circle MARSEILLE/ 20 JUIN/ 66 transit postmarks as well as an arrival MELBOURNE/ Z/ AU (–)/ 66 postmark, and the sender was not identified (Figure 3).

This is very much a paper still in progress for after an extensive search almost nothing has been learnt of his family, of a personal and business biography, other than he was born in 1830 and he died in 1930. In 1858 he was elected a member of the Philosophical Society of Victoria, as an architect. His major claim to architectural fame was when Alfred L. Smith and Arthur E. Johnson won the design competition in 1873 and prepared the working drawings for the Melbourne Supreme Courts and Library, which were erected from 1874 and 1884. The Courts are constructed in brick on bluestones foundations and faced with Tasmanian freestone. The Library is a freestanding structure within the central quadrangle of the Law Courts and is symmetrical in plan. Internally the Library dome has a diameter of 16.8 metres. The Shallow copper-clad dome is supported by 24 Ionic columns set on a drum. The inside of the Supreme Court Library is shown in Figure 4.

 

The second example of Alfred Smith’ architectural skills cannot compete with the above. The present Steam Packet Hotel was constructed in 1862-63. Tenders were called by architect, Alfred L. Smith in March 1862 for "rebuilding the Steam Packet Hotel, Williamstown for Simon Staughton". The origins of the hotel formerly on the site now occupied by the Steam Packet are unclear. In the 1850s it is understood that the licence of an earlier hotel, the Ship Inn, was transferred to the Steam Packet which took its name from the type of small passenger carrying ferry which shuttled between Williamstown and Melbourne. By 1858 the rate book of the time lists that the Steam Packet was a wooden hotel owned by a 'Simeon Staughton'. It is very likely that this was the same Simon Staughton in 1862 when this wooden building was destroyed by fire and tenders were called for by the trustees of the estate of Samuel Staughton, the son of Simon. A picture of Steam Packet Hotel is seen in Figure 5.

The remainder of the scanty information on Frederick L. Smith was derived from the invaluable National Library of Australia Beta site for Victorian newspapers, in particular, The Argus (Melbourne). The first entry was headed ‘Benevolent Asylum Fancy Bazaar’ in The Argus 29 July 1856. The para of importance was as follows: ‘due consideration will be given to the economical carrying out of the requirements of such an institution. The building is to be erected under the superintendence of Mr. Alfred L. Smith, architect of Temple Court, who has been connected with the institution for the past 3 years, and whose competition plans have been recommended for adoption by the Hon. Commissioner of Public Works.

The next item was headed ‘Institute of Architects. The Designs for the New Post Office’ in The Argus 22 March 1859 when Alfred was one of the architect attendees at a meeting of 20 architects. He moved a resolution of censure of the Government in the way the Government was acting in regards to withholding from any of the authors of the prize designs of the new General Post Office. The next item was headed ‘The Mechanics’ Institute’ in The Argus 31 October 1872. "Mr. Alfred L. Smith is the architect and Messrs. Turnbull & Dick are the builders. The cost of the work will be £7,000."

The greatest controversy associated with Alfred Smith was published in The Argus on 28 May 1873 and was headlined ‘The New Law Courts Designs. Inquiry Respecting Mr. Clark." The first witness called at the enquiry was Mr. Alfred L. Smith who accused that Mr. Clark had been offered a partnership with the firm of Reed and Barnes, the architects who were placed second to Smith for the prize of winning the contract for the new Law Courts. Mr Clark would leave the Public Service for a partnership with them, but as Reed and Barnes only were placed second to Smith, Smith claimed that Clark then requested a partnership with him, Smith. The enquiry was very complicated, and Smith’s evidence cast considerable concerns about Clark’s behaviour in this matter, for Smith ‘could trace Clark’s hands’ in the designs of Reed and Barnes for the Supreme Court design. The enquiry decision was that Smith’s charges were groundless. Smith replied in The Argus on 31 May 1873 as seen in Figure 6.

There can be no doubt that Smith’s design for the Melbourne Law Court and Library has stood the test of time.

Addendum (August 2009):  At several sites Allfred L. Smith's middle initial was for 'Louis' not 'Lewis'.  Alfred, like Henry Ginn had worked for the English builder Cubitt, and after reaching Victoria he entered the Colonial Architect's Department in about 1851, resigning in 1853 for private architectural practice.  In that year, Smith won the competition for the Model School and in 1856 with Pritchard  the competion for the Legislative Council Chambers.   In 1856 he became a member of the Victorian Institute of Architects, and from 1864-70 he practised in partnership with  Thomas Watts.

When Smith won the Law Courts competition in 1873, he was discovered to have had help from A.E. Johnson, who judged the competition.  Johnson discreetly resigned and Smith and Johnson went into partnership.  This unusual situation did not stop Johnson from becoming President of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1893.  Johnson died in office in 1895(as President)  and Smith retired from practice at about the same time, due to age and infirmity.  Smith died 19. 9. 07 at 'Bedford Lodge', St. Kilda having "suffered for a few years from paralysis, and living in absolute retirement in his suburban home."

I am indebted to Paul Dee at the State Library of Victoria for this additional information on Alfred L. Smith.

 
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