1869: A significant milestone

Anketell Matthew Henderson (1853-1922)

Throughout 2019 the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning celebrates 150 years of built environment education at the University of Melbourne. Given the breadth of this endevour there are many significant points that could be identified as worthy of celebration. For example, the first architectural subjects were offered at the University in 1861 (under the Engineering program). However, the year 1869 has been recognised as a significant point in time; in that a student joined the University with the specific and expressed intent to practice within a built environment field. This year, 2019, marks 150 years since that enrolment.

That graduate was Anketell Matthew Henderson (1853-1922), an Irish migrant who went on to become a significant figure in Australian architecture, engineering and surveying, both as a practitioner and educator.

Henderson enrolled in the Engineering Certificate here at the University in 1869. He took architecture subjects while completing articles concurrently with the Melbourne based architecture firm Reed & Barnes (which continues today as Bates Smart). Henderson completed the program in 1872, only the fifth candidate to graduate from the program.

Following Barnes’ retirement, Reed took Henderson as a partner. With Reed, Henderson & Smart, he was responsible for work for the Bank of Australasia and for a significant body of work here at the University of Melbourne. This includes the (now) Elisabeth Murdoch Building (1884); Natural Philosophy (1886); the professors’ houses, of which only one survives –University House (1884); and the Biology Building, now Baldwin Spencer (1887-88). Henderson had been partner-in-charge of the latter but lost the job when the firm split and he left to form a new practice in 1890.

In a rousing speech at the RVIA’s 1913 Annual Dinner, Henderson positioned a university-based architectural education as suitable training for the future leaders of the profession.

Following a recommendation for the establishment of a chair in Engineering and a Lecturer in Architecture, Henderson was appointed as a part-time lecturer in Architecture in 1893. The long-term future of the architecture program was then far from assured and Henderson’s role with the University was somewhat spasmodic, but it was an association that continued on and off until 1916 and in an honorary capacity thereafter.

Within Engineering, Architecture was taught as a science but Henderson and his successor Rodney Alsop, both stressed its aesthetic aspects. Henderson played an integral role in establishing independence for the program and in 1902 the University approved a four-year, full time Architecture course leading to a Diploma of Architecture. Sadly, Engineering ceased to offer Architecture lectures in 1903 due to an economy drive and Henderson was dismissed.

Yet the call for architectural education remained, and a program (albeit part-time and shorter) was reinstated as its own diploma course in 1907 on the recommendation of a University Council enquiry, with the support of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects (RVIA). Henderson was also reinstated at this time.

In a rousing speech to the RVIA’s 1913 Annual Dinner, Henderson positioned a university-based architectural education as suitable training for the future leaders of the profession, relegating the technical colleges as “the proper place for training the foreman and the workman”[1]. He knew of some thirty students ready to commence the course at the University of Melbourne, referring to the Victorian Architecture Students’ Society who had lobbied the University for greater availability of architectural education[2].

Along with the Victorian Architecture Students’ Society, the RVIA then worked closely with the University to make the diploma course viable. As a result, the University of Melbourne admitted students to the architecture diploma without matriculation from 1914, that saw the enrolments explode from single-figure numbers to fifty-one that year.

In 1919, Henderson was on the committee the created the Melbourne University Architectural Atelier, a joint venture between University and RVIA that offered post-graduate design-focused education in architecture. This year marks the centenary anniversary of the establishment of that program.

The association between Henderson and the University, which spanned more than fifty years, left a significant legacy. The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes: “[H]e was a major influence on students and staff alike both in matters of practice and design theory... The R.V.I.A.'s eventual support of the teaching of architecture at the university was achieved mainly by his endeavour.”[3]

A diabetic, Henderson died on 15 November 1922. He was survived by his wife, Mary Louisa, née Andrew, two daughters and two sons.

  • [1] ‘RVIA Annual Dinner’, Journal of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, Vol 11 (January 1914), p.253.
  • [2] Freeland, The Making of a Profession, p.216.
  • [3] Balderstone, 'Henderson, Anketell Matthew (1853–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 9, 1983.