William Hardy Wilson (1881–1955) was born at Campbelltown, New South Wales, and educated at Newington College and Sydney Technical College. He was articled to the architectural firm of Kent and Budden and also took lessons from the artist Sydney Long. In 1905 he sailed to England and was employed in a London architectural firm. He was secretary of the Chelsea Arts Club and became known to expatriate artists such as Arthur Streeton and George Lambert. In England he was strongly influenced by the Georgian Revival and he also acquired a keen interest in Chinese and Japanese art. He visited the United States and was attracted to its early colonial architecture.
In 1910 Wilson returned to Sydney and in 1913 he formed a partnership with Stacey Neave. He mostly designed small commercial buildings and houses, most notably Eryldene in Gordon (1914) and Purulia in Wahroonga (1916). Both houses were based on colonial houses and for some years Wilson travelled widely in New South Wales and Tasmania making drawings of colonial houses. In 1920 the firm took a new partner, John Berry. Wilson continued to exhibit paintings regularly and was one of the founders of the Fine Arts Society. He contributed articles to newspapers and Art in Australia and in 1924 published Old Colonial Architecture in New South Wales and Tasmania, with 50 collotype reproductions of his drawings.
Wilson gave up his architectural practice in 1927 and for some years led an itinerant life, moving from Sydney to Europe, London, Tasmania and Melbourne. In 1938 he acquired a farm in the Dandenongs and from then onwards lived either there or at the home of his wife in Melbourne. He was a committed anti-modernist and his later writings castigated the decadence of Western society, warned of the threat of communism and called for the fusion of East and West in architecture and in civilisation generally. His books included Cow Pasture Road (1920), Collapse of Civilization (1936), Grecian and Chinese Architecture (1937), Eucalyptus (1941), Instinct (1945), Atomic Civilization (1949) and Kurrajong (1954).
Despite the opposition of the Treasurer, the Hardy Wilson Collection of drawings of old colonial architecture was purchased by the Australian Government for the Library in 1926. In 1935 Wilson donated 50 drawings of Greek and Chinese architecture and in 1942 he transferred some furniture designs. He presented his Kurrajong drawings in 1951–54. In 2007 a substantial collection of paintings, drawings and photographs was donated by Margaret McCredie, the grand-daughter of Wilson.
Two manuscripts were received from Wilson in 1949 and 1955. The rest of the manuscripts and personal papers were donated by Margaret McCredie in 2007.
The Hardy Wilson Collection originally fell into three main groupings. The colonial architecture collection, created between 1912 and 1922, consists of 100 pencil and crayon drawings and sketches and 50 measured drawings of old colonial buildings of New South Wales and Tasmania. Many of the drawings show the front façades of the buildings, while others give details of doorways, gateways, entrances, fanlights, mantels, pulpits and other features. They depict the buildings as they would have been in their heydays, with no modern elements. The foregrounds show men in top hats and frock coats and women in crinolines and bonnets.
Sydney buildings represented in the collection include Burdekin House, Elizabeth Farm Cottage (Parramatta), Hornsley (Smithfield), The King’s School (Parramatta), Liverpool Hospital, Newington, Old Education Office, Old Government House (Parramatta), St James’s Church, Subiaco (Rydalmere) and houses and cottages in Albion Street, Macquarie Street, Richmond Terrace and Parramatta. Outside Sydney, there are drawings of Cobbity churchyard, Fernhill (Mulgoa), Oldbury Farmhouse (Berrima), Riversdale (Goulburn), Royal Hotel (Windsor), St John’s Church (Camden), St Matthew’s Church (Windsor), St Peter’s Church (Richmond), St Thomas’s Church (Mulgoa), Tirranna (Goulburn) and a cottage at Wollongong. There is also a map of Cow Pasture Road. The Tasmanian drawings include Clarendon, the Lady Franklin Museum (Hobart), Longford House, Panshanger (Longford), St John’s Church (Launceston), the Wesleyan chapel at Ross, and houses and cottages in Davey Street and Macquarie Street in Hobart.
The second grouping, dating from Wilson’s visits to China in 1921 and Greece and Italy in 1923, comprise 50 pencil drawings of Greek and Chinese buildings. The Greek drawings are mostly of ancient buildings in Athens, such as the Erechtheion, Parthenon, Propylaea, Temple of Nike, Theatre of Bacchus and the Thesion. There are also some drawings of Greek buildings in Paestum in Italy. The Chinese buildings include an ancestral hall at Guangzhou (Canton), the British Legation at Beijing, the Great Wall, the Guardian Gate at Hangzhou (Hangchow), the Summer and Winter Palaces at Beijing, and the Temples of Confucius and the Sleeping Buddha at Beijing.
The final grouping are the 46 Kurrajong drawings, dating from about 1948 to 1953. Kurrajong, near Sydney, was the site for Wilson’s ideal city, which would represent a fusion of Eastern and Western architectural styles and philosophies. The pencil and crayon drawings include a sketch plan of the city, the Kurrajong Library and Civic Centre, the Grose Gate, the Monument of Atomic Hope, the Sun Temple, 12 pilaster capitals (birds representing various countries and regions), and trees and birds.
In addition, the collection contains 23 drawings and 26 tracings of furniture designs and a sketch plan and drawings of Celestion, a Chinese-style house that Wilson designed for a site at Pymble, which was never built.
The works acquired in 2007 consist of architectural plans, drawings, sketches, paintings and photographs. They include sketches for a school of arts at Bourke, the ground floor plan for Celestion, designs for Lachlan Hardy Wilson’s home in Launceston, a drawing of a cloister at Barcelona Cathedral and design sketches for furniture. There is a parchment map of Cow Pasture Road (1919), a number of Kurrajong sketches, and photographs of Eryldene, the war memorial at Newington College and Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst. In addition, there are several Japanese and Chinese paintings.
Manuscripts and Personal Papers
The collection includes several manuscripts and typescripts by Wilson, including ‘Chinese and Australian Furniture’, ‘Architecture in Australia’, ‘Cultural War’, ‘Collapse of Civilization’ and ‘Kurrajong’. The personal papers include correspondence (1911–54), personal documents, financial papers, diaries (two volumes, 1938–49), newspaper cuttings, photographs and printed items. There are many later papers relating to Wilson, including drafts of the book edited by Zeny Edwards, drafts of a thesis by Brian Kooyman and papers concerning exhibitions.
The Wilson drawings are held in the Pictures Collection (R478–730, 735–37, 10625–26). They have been individually catalogued and most of them have been digitised.
Apperly, Richard E., Wilson, William Hardy (1881–1955), Australian Dictionary of Biography online.
Bonyhady, Tim, A Detestable Business: The Hardy Wilson Collection, in Peter Cochrane (ed.), Remarkable Occurrences: The National Library of Australia’s First 100 Years 1901–2001, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2001, pp. 61–75.
Edwards, Zeny, et. al., William Hardy Wilson: Artist, Architect, Orientalist, Visionary, Watermark, Sydney, 2001.
Heyward, Nicholas, William Hardy Wilson: the prophet of a new creativeness 1881–1955, BA thesis, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1977 (MS 5834).
William Hardy Wilson, a 20th Century Colonial, 1881–1955, National Trust of Australia, Sydney, 1980.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)