Architect George Johnson designs the layout of the village and initial two cottages

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Architect George Johnson designs the layout of the village and initial two cottages

June 20, 2019

Architect and surveyor George Johnson drew inspiration from alms houses in England when he designed the layout of the ‘institution’ for old colonists or ‘inmates’ as the residents were then called. His design included a large hall in the centre, with four semidetached cottages on either side. Each cottage was designed to house two people.

Although the hall was not built until 1890, Johnson’s first design was for a pair of cottages, known as Founder’s Cottage and Association Cottage. For these cottages, Johnson eschewed the fashionable ornamental bricks of the times, preferring solid bluestone bricks. He also designed the first actors’ cottage.

Born in England, he was one of eight children of William Johnson, a carpenter turned contractor, and his wife Fanny. George Johnson was articled to George Hall, architect to the Midlands Railway Co before moving to practice in London for three years.

Johnson arrived in Queensland in 1862, where he designed government buildings before moving to Melbourne in 1867. In his early Melbourne days, he spent his time designing villages and cottages in St Kilda and East Melbourne. Among these were the alms houses in St Kilda Road for the Jewish Philanthropic Society. It was likely that the Old Colonists’ approached him consequently.

By the time, the Association had raised enough funds to build more cottages a decade later, Johnson had moved onto other projects. These included the Metropolitan Meat Market (1879), and Fitzroy, Collingwood, and Hotham (North Melbourne) town halls which are still in use.

Johnson went to Western Australia during the financial depression. On his return journey to Melbourne in 1898 on the Pilbara, he fell ill and died of septicaemia at sea. His wife, three sons and four daughters survived him. One son Harry Melbourne Johnson (1867- 1931) became an architect.

Photograph: Melbourne: Ebenezer and David Syme, Oct. 10, 1870. State Library Victoria

Picture of Johnson himself: George Johnson, 1888, Illustrated London News, 3 Nov 1888, p 501

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