John Verge (1782—1861) was an English architect, builder, pioneer settler of New South Wales, who migrated to Australia and pursued his career there. Verge was one of the earliest and the most important architect of the Greek Revival in Australia. He also brought more comprehensive range of Regency style than any contemporary architects. His design indicates the increasing of sophistication compared to previous architect's design.
Life and career
John Verge was born in Christchurch, Hampshire. Many generations of the Verge family had been bricklayers and stonemasons. Verge married to Catherine Bowles at the age of twenty-two and went to London. From 1804 to 1828, he worked in London in the building trade, becoming a man of means. Verge's marriage eventually failed and, in 1828, he migrated to Sydney, Australia with his son George Philip, intending to take up a land grant. The First land grant in 1829, he took up land on the Williams River, south of Dungog, New South Wales called Lyndhurst Vale. The second land grant in 1838, he took up land on the Macleay River named Austral Eden. The Having insufficient capital to pursue pastoralism, Verge returned to the building industry between 1830 and 1837, fortuitously at a time when the colonial economy was prospering and designers and builders were in high demand. Between 1830 and 1834 was his maximum architectural activities. He was patronised by many of prominent businessmen and colonists. After 1837, his architectural work was decreasing and restricted. Retiring from architectural practice, he settled at 'Austral Eden', a pastoral property by the Macleay River in northern New South Wales. In 1858, Verge married Mary, 50-year-old daughter of John Alford at Austral Eden. Verge died on July 9, 1861 at the age of 79 in Austral Eden. He was buried as an Anglican in St. Thomas's burial ground in Port Macquarie.
In the 1830s Verge produced a number of fine houses in Sydney's eastern suburbs, notably several of the 'Villas of Woolloomooloo Hill', the spine of elegant villas largely built by the senior civil servants of the colony on a series of land grants that stretched from Darlinghurst Hill to Potts Point. These villas included Rockwall, built for surveyor John Busby, Tusculum for merchant Alexander Brodie Spark for whom Verge also designed Tempe House, and Goderich Lodge, for Thomas Macquoid. Others including Barham and Rose Bank have been attributed to his hand. Further east he built Rose Bay Lodge for James Holt. To the west of the town he built Lyndhurst, for Dr James Bowman, and Toxteth Park for George Allen, in Glebe. Verge is also credited with Elizabeth Bay House, built at adjacent Elizabeth Bay for Alexander Macleay, the Colonial Secretary. It is theorised that Verge largely worked on a plan provided by Macleay, as his business ledger does not denote amounts that would reflect a full commission. John Bibb, an accomplished draftsman employed by Verge, also worked on the project and James Hume from Scotland supervised the building. The relative contributions of Verge, Bibb and Hume are unknown. The house's beautiful oval saloon, with its geometric stair and domed lantern, is likely the most celebrated interior in early Australian architecture.
Verge's work was not confined to Sydney. 'Bedervale' homestead, near Braidwood, built in 1842, was designed by Verge. Aberglasslyn, built for George Hobler near Maitland, NSW, has been attributed to Verge. Like Elizabeth Bay House it never received its intended colonnade, the victim of the crippling colonial depression of the 1840s. Wyoming, 1837, is in the suburb of that name north of Gosford. The house he built for himself at Austral Eden was unfortunately destroyed by flood in 1864, three years after Verge's death, and no known sketches survive. Most of his papers were also lost in the flood.
Verge's best known work is Camden Park House, built south west of Sydney for John Macarthur, the wool pioneer and successful colonial businessman. As Macarthur was debilitated towards the end of his life with mental illness his son William seems to have administered much of the building, and is named in Verge's ledger rather than his father. This has caused confusion with some architectural historians as to the actual client.
- Camden Park, Menangle (1835)
Camden Park House is completed on 1835, a year after John Macarthur, the client death. This house is still occupied by the Macarthur family and become one of the great mansions of Australia. The style of this house is Palladian style with central two-storey block, one-storey wings and extensions at each side. The façade is giving a colonial elegancy sense of looking, where there are white stucco walls, stone porch and window trimming that results a visual excellency of feeling. This colonial house’s floor level is very near to ground level, which gives an air of intimacy, and also the overhanging roof has a secret gutter that avoids the ugly-looking gutter which usually put it in the front façade of the wall.
- Denham Court, Ingleburn (1832)
Denham Court which is located in the local government areas of the City of Campbelltown and City of Liverpool placed on south west of the Sydney Central Business District. Originally, this building was a single-storey house but around 1832 to 1833, Captain Richard Brooks as an architect was enlarging this house by adding two-storey wings with two flanking bow-fronted one storey room. This court is regency influenced with trim lines, stucco walls, and the simple shallowly recessed panels projecting porch. Denham Court’s room is 14 feet high with a geometrical stair along the west wall of the house and also there is a large living hall that extending across the width of the house between the bows fronted. The floor in this house is paved with flagstones diagonally with 18 inches square each. Moreover, in the west of this court, there is a Denham Court chapel, which is a mimic of the church at Denham in England. Those churches were designed by John Verge as well with the style of it is Gothic, where mostly this style is taking over the style of every church.
- Elizabeth Bay House (1835–1838)
Elizabeth Bay House, which is a historic home, is located in the suburb of Elizabeth Bay in Sydney, New South Wales, and Australia. It is built between 1835 and 1839. It was known as ‘the finest house in the colony’ as well as a home in the Regency style, originally surrounded by a 54-acre garden, but now situated within a densely populated inner city suburb. It shows Verge at his best and worst as a designer. The main elevation is a simple Regency front, whilst the sides, less ambitious but perhaps more pleasing, have large curved bays, running through the two floors. The general impression given by the design is of quietness and good taste, the severely stuccoed walls being relieved only by the somewhat stiff mouldings run in the plaster work and the elaboration of the entrance. The rear of the house is unstudied and lacks the neatness of the other elevations. The interior has some splendid rooms, the stair hall being one of the finest and perhaps the best, of such things in Australian Colonial architecture. Elliptical on plan, the stair and its upper landings sweep completely round the curved walls. The French windows on the northern front give beautiful light and superb views to main apartment. Verge seems to tire and falter when trying to coordinated all the parts into a whole.
- Rockwall House, Potts Point (1831–1837)
Rockwall House, which is still well-known, is located at Rockwall Crescent that is the well-preserved Regency house that Verge designed for John Bushby. It is quite close to Tusculum. The Rockwall House shows Verge in his most restrained and pleasing mood, although the columned porch seems to overpower the flanking verandas in scale.
- St Scholastica’s College(1831–1900)
St Scholastica’s College, which formerly was Toxteth Park George Allen Estate, is located in Avenue Road Glebe, built in 1831. Toxteth Park was built for George Allen (1800–77). It was a rectangular two-story block with single-story wings, s a stone-flagged veranda on two sides, with the kitchen and servants’ quarters behind. The style of St Scholastica’s College is original structure Old Colonial Georgia (still visible), Second story and tower Victorian Italianate added in the 1870s. Handsome Inter-War Romanesque chapel added in the twenties. It is made of brick. Moreover it was originally House, then convent and Education.
Partial List of Works
- St Paul's Church, Cobbity, circa 1840
- Camden Park, Menangle, 1835
- Extensions to Denham Court, Ingleburn, 1832, and chapel, 1838
- Lyndhurst, Glebe, Sydney, 1835
- Church of the Holy Innocents, Rossmore, circa 1848, possibly by Verge and Bibb
- Extensions, coachhouse and stables to Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta, 1830s
- Tempe House, Arncliffe, Sydney, 1836
- Barham, Darlinghurst, Sydney, 1833 (now Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School)
- Elizabeth Bay House, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, 1835–38
- Vestries and eastern porches of St James's Church, Sydney, 1834
- Brownlow Hill, Cobbity, alterations of 1834 attributed to Verge
- Bedervale, Braidwood, 1836
- Christ Church, Bong Bong, 1845
- Tomago House, Raymond Terrace, 1843, attributed to Verge
- Rockwall House, Potts Point, Sydney, 1831–37
- Aberglasslyn House, Aberglasslyn, Maitland, circa 1840
- Toxteth Park, Glebe, Sydney, 1831, State Heritage listing (now St Scholastica's College)
- Rose Bay Cottage, Rose Bay, Sydney, 1834, State Heritage listing
- Lietrim (renamed Pine Villa in 1843), Newtown, Sydney, 1833 
- Wyoming Cottage, Gosford, 1837-1843 (designed 1832). 
- Historic Properties Website:Retrieved 26th June 2009
- "Bedervale Braidwood history". Victoria Royds. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
- The Heritage of Australia, Macmillan Company, 1981, p.97
- State Register:Retrieved 28th June 2009
- State Register:Retrieved 28th June 2009
- Tocal History Notes XV:Retrieved 15 December 2010
- History of Wyoming - Gosford City Council: Retrieved 2 February 2014
7.Elizabeth Bay House
8.St. Scholastica’s College
9.Early Australian Architectural History
11.B. James, "THE GOLDEN DECADE OF AUSTRALIAN ARCHITECTURE", The David Ell Press Pty Ltd, 1978
12.G. Will Verge, John Verge, early Australian architect : his ledger & his clients, Sydney, Wentworth, 1962
13.M. Herman, The Early Australian Architects and Their Work, Sydney, 1954
14.S. John, The Verge of Philosophy, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2008