Empire, Education and Nationalism: The School Architecture of William Edmund Kemp, 1880-1896

University of Queensland Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Fabrications, 2011, 20 (2), pp. 60 - 85
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Fundamental to an examination of the school architecture of William Edmund Kemp (1831-1898) is an understanding of the man and the culture of the colonial society that shaped him. During his lifetime there was a changing imperial relationship between New South Wales and Britain, the introduction of self-government (1855) and a movement towards nationhood. As the nineteenth century progressed, the theories of empire and nation building that dominated the British worldview were modified by emerging ideas of colonial difference. There was a general recognition that British people living in the Australian environment had been changed and had developed their own distinctive character. The growing independence of the colony accelerated the development of education, culminating in the New South Wales Public Instruction Act of 1880. Kempâs position as Architect for Public Schools was established at this time â a position he occupied for sixteen years (1880-1896) during which he designed hundreds of new schools for the colony. In a previous article, I have documented the design of Kempâs school buildings within the context of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century standards of school design and the British-Australian system of pupil-teacher primary education. Here I also demonstrated that the style adopted by Kemp for his schools was derived from the Italianate style. The purpose of this article is a largely biographical one: to trace Kempâs development as a leading Sydney architect in conjunction with changing ideologies and practices in colonial society and architecture. Faced with the challenge of devising a new typology of school building to accommodate the introduction of free, compulsory and secular elementary education, Kemp was keenly aware that his schools should also express their purpose as symbols of colonial progress and civilisation.
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