BLACKET, Edmund Thomas (1817-1883)

BLACKET, Edmund Thomas (1817-1883)
son of a London merchant, was born at Smithfield, London, on 25 August 1817. He was educated at the Milhil school, a Congregational college, near Barnet. On leaving school he went into his father's office and three years later, at the age of 20, took a position in a linen mill in Yorkshire. He was much interested in architecture and spent his holidays sketching and measuring old buildings, but his father opposed his taking up this profession, and in June 1842 Blacket left England intending to settle in New Zealand. He had letters of introduction to residents of Sydney, and obtaining a position as an inspector of buildings and teacher in the Church of England schools, decided to stay there. In 1845 he began to practise as an architect, and in 1850 was appointed colonial architect at Sydney. His salary was only £300 a year and the discovery of gold having caused much increase in the price of living, Blacket in 1854 resigned from the public service and began private practice. He had been promised the main building for the university, which was begun at the end of that year and finished about 1860. The main front measures 410 feet in length, and has a tower in the centre 90 feet high. The great hall, a beautifully proportioned piece of work at the right hand end, is 135 feet by 45 feet, with an open-timbered roof 70 feet from the floor. Blacket was also responsible for the St Paul's College building.
Blacket became established as a leading architect in Sydney and was especially known for his churches. Among these may be mentioned St Andrew's cathedral, Sydney, for which he was not entirely responsible; Goulburn cathedral; St Philip's, Sydney; St Thomas's, North Sydney; St Mark's, Darling Point; St John's, Glebe; St Stephen's, Newtown and St Paul's, Burwood. It is possibly regrettable that he was not asked to work out a plan for later university buildings, but it is likely that the immense development of the university would have caused such a plan to have had little value. Blacket died suddenly at Sydney on 9 February 1883. His wife died many years before and there was a large family. One of his sons, Cyril Blacket, born in 1857, was in partnership with his father, afterwards designed the chapter-house for St Andrew's cathedral, and was elected president of the Institute of Architects, New South Wales, in 1903.
Blacket was a remarkable example of a self-taught architect. He began his work at a bad period, and there was little beyond his natural good taste and his drawings of old Gothic buildings to guide him. The facade of the university building remains one of the finest pieces of Gothic in Australia, and though objection has been taken to a want of proportion between his towers and spires and the churches to which they are attached, his works have still a high place among the buildings of the period. Personally he was a man of the strictest probity with a great love for his profession.
Art and Architecture, 1905, p. 1; The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 February 1883; H. E. Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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