Ewell's Henry Kitchen in Australia

1996/4 pp9–10

Ewell's Henry Kitchen in Australia

 

Henry Kitchen, son of carpenter and property owner Henry Kitchen of Church Street, Ewell, trained as an architect under James Wyatt, a popular and prolific Regency architect. By 1813 Henry was practising on his own and exhibited at the Royal Academy a design for Ewell Castle that was built for Thomas Calverley in 1814.

 

Henry Kitchen senior died in 1804. In 1816 Henry junior sold the house in Church Street and emigrated to Australia, where he died in 1822.

 

Mr. Michael Tucker, who was a pupil at Ewell Castle School from 1943 to 1951, settled in Australia and has made enquiries that have brought to light some interesting new facts that have been incorporated in this brief account of the life of Henry Kitchen in Australia.

 

Henry left Cork on 14 July 1816 on the sailing ship Surry and arrived at Sydney on 20 December 1816 via Rio. He was a free settler, but many of the passengers were convicts on their way to the penal colony. He carried a recommendation from Lord Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, but shortly before he arrived Francis Greenway had been appointed Civil Architect for the colony. Greenway was an architect from Ashton, near Bristol, who had financial problems that he had attempted to solve by forgery. It led to his being sentenced to death at Bristol Assizes in March 1812, a sentence that was commuted to transportation. He arrived in Sydney at an opportune time: an architect was desperately needed to superintend the erection of public buildings and Greenway was given the job.

 

With a competent rival ensconced, Kitchen could make little progress in obtaining commissions, although he was involved in building a church designed by Greenway at Windsor on the Hawkenbury River some 40 miles from Sydney. However, there were complaints of shoddy workmanship and he was discredited. Kitchen seems to have attempted to disparage the work of Greenway, but this was not helpful. Furthermore, he was in poor health: indeed it is possible that he had left England in the hope that the Australian climate would improve his health. There are some telling remarks in a letter he wrote to an acquaintance in 1821:

 

‘With regard to my own affairs I am happy to say that my health is now so much improved that I am able to pursue my professional avocations with renewed activity, my prospects here in private practice are daily becoming brighter, and I have no doubt but my exertions will ultimately be crowned with success. I am now employed in erecting a Dwelling House for Mr. McArthur at the Cowpastures, where we have succeeded in burning a quantity of Lime-stone for Cement.’

 

In 1822 Kitchen became seriously ill and died on 8 April. He was buried in the Sandhills Cemetery that came into use in 1819 when the original burying ground at the centre of Sydney was found inadequate. Sandhills remained in use until 1868. In 1901 the land was needed as the site of Sydney Central Railway Station, and more than 30,000 bodies were exhumed and re-interred in other cemeteries by the State Government. Many headstones were also removed. The records show that Henry Kitchen was moved to La Perouse, now part of Botany Cemetery.

 

In 1972 an area of the cemetery to be known as Pioneer Park was set aside for displaying stones with legible inscriptions in a garden setting. More than seven hundred memorials have been re-erected and they represent an interesting cross-section of the pioneers, some of whom arrived as free man, others as convicts, who helped lay the foundations of Sydney.

 

Henry Kitchen’s headstone appears not to have survived: however, the cemetery register gives his epitaph as follows:

 

‘HENRY KITCHEN ESQRE,

Architect

Formerly pupil of the justly

Celebrated JAMES WYATT, Esqre, deceased

Died April 8th 1822

Aged 29 Years

Subjected, almost from the hour of his landing in these Colonies to that of his death, to a series of the most relentless and unmerciful oppressions, a severe and sudden illness contracted in the too-ardent pursuit of his profession snatched him prematurely to the grave. At a time, too, when to render his fate the more to be lamented, a change, the most propitious for the Colony, was but just developing his superior talents, and that promised to him many years of much happiness, and ultimately of fame and honour in his scientific labours. By these Colonies he is regretted as a professional loss not easily to be retrieved, by his friends as a friend for whom his misfortunes, gentle manners and cultivated genius had contributed to excite the highest respect and regard’.

 

(Thanks are due to Mr. Michael Tucker and Mr. Maurice Exwood for much of the information used in this article).

 

Charles Abdy