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A member of a family of architects and builders, David Elphinstone was the son of Alexander Elphinstone.
Elphinstone joined the building industry in 1868 as a carpenter under the tutelage of his father.
By 1879, he had become an architect and builder. His development of the Saint Philip's Church lands in Glebe made him Glebe's largest building contractor.
His son, David Bruce Elphinstone (born 1880), also became an architect.
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