Stepping back in time, in this article we take a look at one of Brisbane’s most influential architects, Robert (Robin) Smith Dods. During the Arts and Crafts era that spanned circa 1860 to 1914, he contributed greatly to Australian and European architecture.
A man of incredible achievements, Dods is one of Queensland’s most prolific and celebrated architects. During the early twentieth century, he significantly shaped Brisbane’s urban landscape with his Arts and Crafts influenced designs. Dods eloquently adapted the principles of this international movement to suit the Australian environment. His structures responded to the climate, took advantage of the aspect and provided suitable ventilation. Aesthetically pleasing, they were robust, well balanced and featured wide verandahs plus high pitched roofs.
Fine examples of his majestic buildings, private residences, homesteads, country churches and commercial premises can be found around the state. Many of those built in Brisbane’s CBD have been demolished or radically altered. Thankfully, his portfolio of projects and contribution to architecture is extensively documented.
Three prominent suburban landmarks include, St Brigid’s Church at Red Hill, The Mater Misericordiae Hospital in South Brisbane and St Francis’ Theological College (Old ‘Bishopsbourne’) at Milton.
We’re fortunate that Dods’ first building in Queensland, the heritage listed Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home in The Herston Quarter, still stands. Its past, present and future, and a brief background of the creator, is our topic for today.
Coincidentally, September 14 marks the 125th anniversary of the laying of a stone to commemorate the home’s construction.
About Robin Dods
Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 9 June 1868, Robert (Robin) Smith Dods is the son of Scottish parents Robert Dods Senior and Elizabeth Gray (nee Stodart). His father was a successful wholesale grocer and merchant, who after retiring, relocated the family to Britain in 1870. Robert and Elizabeth produced two more sons.
Robert Dods Senior died in 1876 at Edinburgh and left behind a young widow to raise three boys. As a result of Robert’s prosperous business ventures, Elizabeth was independently wealthy. After mourning the loss of her husband, Elizabeth sailed with the children to Brisbane, via Melbourne, to live with her mother and brother at Kangaroo Point.
Whilst at sea, a relationship blossomed between Elizabeth and the ship’s surgeon Dr Charles F. Marks. They married in 1879 and had four children together. The family lived at 101 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill, where Charles worked at a medical practice.
Robin attended Brisbane Grammar School from 1881 until 1886. After his final year, Elizabeth and Charles sent him to Edinburgh to study. Acquainted with Hay & Henderson architects, they’d arranged for him to undertake training with the firm. In addition, Robin went to night classes at the Edinburgh Architectural Association. This is where he met his life-long friend and fellow architect (Sir) Robert Lorimer.
‘Sir Robert Lorimer is renowned as being one of Scotland’s leading country house architects during the first two decades of the 20th century. He took a ‘traditionalist’ approach to architecture, drawing influence from the past whilst adhering to the Arts and Crafts ethos of simple facades built from local materials and rejecting the highly ornamental fashions of the mid-nineteenth century.
His commissions included St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh (c.1911), a project which earned Lorimer a knighthood in 1911. By 1919, Lorimer had been appointed an official architect to the Imperial War Graves Commission, and in this capacity designed over 300 memorials in villages, towns, and schools in Scotland and England as well as cemeteries in Greece, Macedonia, Italy and Egypt. The largest, and perhaps the best known of these commissions, was the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle (c.1919-27), for which he received a second knighthood.’ Excerpt from Canmore: National Record of the Historic Environment – Historic Environment Scotland
In 1890 Robert Lorimer moved to London and Robin followed shortly after. Robin secured employment at Dunn & Watson, a firm well regarded for their ‘freestyle’ Arts and Crafts inspired architecture.
In 1891 Robin was admitted as an associate to the Royal Institute of British Architects. He then toured Europe, where he met his future wife Mary Mariam King. Interestingly, they became engaged, yet continued on with their separate lives in different countries. The couple eventually married in 1899 at Woollahra, Sydney.
A side note about Mary Mariam Dods:
It is documented on the Design & Art Australia Online database that Mary was a woodcarver and embroiderer. Mary actively contributed to the interior designs of her husband’s architectural projects. Her carvings were adapted to plaster moulds and used on the ceiling of the NZ Insurance Building in Queen Street, which Robin designed in 1908. Mary was active in the Brisbane Arts and Crafts Society in 1912, and later in the New South Wales Arts and Crafts Society from 1914 to 1916. Several of her embroidery pieces are at the Queensland Art Gallery – Gallery of Modern Art.
Considering the next step in his future, Robin thought about relocating to Brisbane. His mother advised against the idea, as Australia’s prospects did not look promising due to the ensuing economic depression.
As detailed in ‘Defining Moments – The Depression’ by the National Museum of Australia…
Between 1890 and 1893, a severe economic depression gripped Australia.
Wool exports had boomed in the decades prior to the depression and Australians were enjoying some of the highest incomes in the world. Throughout the 1880s, this prosperity led to an increase in speculative foreign investment in the wool industry.
However, by the end of the decade a stagnating global economy had made international investors wary of investing in the Australian economy. This led to many financiers deciding to withdraw funds which created a run on financial institutions that in turn called in loans that businessmen and pastoralists weren’t able to repay.
The Commercial Bank of Australia, one of the country’s largest, shut down in April 1893 and a dozen other banks quickly followed. Thousands of small and large investors were ruined.
Taking his mother’s advice, Robin remained overseas. In the interim, he worked for a short spell for his friend Robert Lorimer, who had opened a practice in Edinburgh.
A skilled and in-demand draftsman, Robin represented several firms and received numerous awards for his designs. He was exceptionally accomplished, naturally charming and formed many friendships with dignitaries of the architecture fraternity.
In late 1894 Robin visited his mother in Brisbane. He stayed for the majority of 1895 and completed alterations to the family home on Wickham Terrace. During this period, the Brisbane General Hospital put forward a competition for the design of a new nurses’ home. Jointly with John Hall & Son, Robin submitted his drawings. Thinking nothing more of it, he returned to London via the United States, only to discover not long after that he’d won the competition, over 13 other entries.
Francis Hall of John Hall & Son offered Robin a partnership, which he duly accepted. Robin departed for Brisbane, though detoured again to the USA to see his fiancée Mary Mariam King.
In August 1896 he officially commenced the partnership with Francis Hall. Now known as Hall & Dods, the firm fortunately had the nurses’ home as a long-term project, as the country continued to reel from the fallout of The Depression.
Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home (c1896 to 1931)
The nurses’ home is named after Lady Lamington, the wife of Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland between 1896 and 1901.
The laying of a stone to commemorate the construction of the Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home took place on Monday 14 September, 1896. Below is a brief snippet of the lengthy 2,000 word plus article, printed in the Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 15 September.
A grand affair, the speakers praised the medical profession, discussed the education of nurses, and talked about the inspiration for the home. Details about the construction costs and the £700 shortfall in funds led to a request for subscriptions to be placed in the donation boxes provided.
‘Lady Lamington then formally placed the stone in position, using a silver trowel presented to her, and bearing a suitable inscription.’
After much ado and numerous votes of thanks given to Lady Lamington, they proceeded to mingle.
‘’The company then betook themselves to the lawn, where tea and other refreshments were provided, and where music was discoursed by a string band.’
Stage 1 begins -1896
Robin’s forward thinking E-shaped design of the home meant that it could be erected in three stages. The first to be built was the L-shaped section.
As detailed in ‘Robin Dods Selected Works’ by Robert Riddel…”The building featured a corner entrance between the two wings and a steep, ventilated roof clad in terracotta Marseilles pattern tiles, a material then unfamiliar in Brisbane. The construction was of face brick externally, with timber verandahs and was mainly two storeys in height.”
Overall, the design reflected Robin’s attention to aspect, ventilation and climatical conditions. Internally, the layout provided cubicle sleeping chambers for 50 nurses, along with sitting rooms and housemaids’ quarters.
Strictly supervised by the matron, all nurses answered to her both on and off duty. From her quarters located on the ground floor next to the main entrance, she could check on curfews and watch over everyone going in or out. Assisting the matron to monitor the nurses, the four charge sisters also had their rooms on the ground floor.
A work in progress, the second stage was added in 1913 to provide additional quarters.
In the early 1930s, the growing number of nursing staff warranted even more accommodation. The third section appeared in 1931 and completed Robin’s E-shaped design, as seen above.
Serving its purpose for many decades, Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home eventually fell by the wayside and sank into a state of disrepair. It forms part of the Brisbane General Hospital Precinct and was entered on the Queensland Heritage Register in March 2003.
Redevelopment and restoration in the Herston Quarter
Spanning a five hectare site adjacent the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the master planned Herston Quarter is set to become a world class health and research precinct.
Included in the redevelopment scheme is the refurbishment and customisation of the four heritage listed buildings at the site.
· Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home
· Lady Lamington North and South Towers
· Lady Norman building
· Edith Cavell building
Once again the Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home will provide accommodation, although this time it is for students…minus the vigilant matron and charge sisters.
Queensland Government – Queensland Heritage Register
Brisbane City – Local Heritage Places
Brisbane City Council archives
Centre for the Government of Queensland
Australian Dictionary of Biography
State Library of Queensland – John Oxley Library
Brisbane Grammar School – BGS Community – Summer 2019 – Celebrating 100 Years
Herston Quarter Fact Sheets – Herston Quarter Redevelopment – Australian Unity & Qld Government
Brisbane General Hospital Precinct Heritage Precinct DA Heritage Impact Statement prepared by Urbis
Defining Moments – National Museum of Australia
Robin Dods Selected Works – Robert Riddel
A Robin Dods Brisbane Heritage Tour – Compiled by Paul Sayer – Brisbane Heritage Group
Canmore – National Record of the Historic Environment – Historic Environment Scotland
The Life and work of Robin S. Dods – Neville Lund – undergraduate thesis, University of Queensland, 1954
Design & Art Australia online – University of New South Wales
Find a grave memorial 210883540 – Mary Mariam Dods