Edward George Kilburn Photographs

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In 2001 a collection of photographs was discovered in the Architecture Branch Library, University of Melbourne, by the librarian, John Maidment, still wrapped in newspapers dating from 1934. They had been the property of the architect Edward George Kilburn (1859-1894), and were probably given to the Faculty of Architecture by Doris Kilburn in about 1960. Although there are European photographs in the collection, the most interesting are those from the United States - a conspectus of what an Australian saw as cutting edge American architecture in 1889.

E G Kilburn was born in Tasmania, but attended Scotch College in Melbourne. He returned to Tasmania and was appointed chief draftsman to Henry Hunter of Hobart in 1882, then in January 1885 entered partnership with the Melbourne architect W H Ellerker. Ellerker, who had been a relatively conservative architect, entered politics, and took thirteen month trip to Europe and the United States. It seems that he had substantially withdrawn from the practice, and that the office was effectively conducted by Kilburn. Kilburn was already an enthusiast for American architecture, and the house 'Coornor', Kew, of 1888, though described by a contemporary as 'German Gothic', seems closely related to Richard Morris Hunt's 'Linden Gate', Newport, Rhode Island, of 1873.

In December 1889 Kilburn returned from a nine months tour of Europe and America, and after his return the firm produced two full blown American Romanesque designs in competitions for the Commercial Bank of Australia headquarters in Melbourne, and the Broken Hill Municipal Buildings, New South Wales. Neither of those was built, but the more modest 'Priory' school in St Kilda was begun in the same year, and was the first thoroughgoing example of the American Romanesque in Australia.

At the end of 1890 the partnership dissolved, and Kilburn entered sole practice. His T B Guest house, 'Cestria', in Hawthorn, was another of the earliest local examples of the American Romanesque, and another building at 64 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne in 1892 was reported to be 'both inside & out ... in the Romanesque style with very original treatment quite unlike anything seen in Melbourne'. Kilburn died in April 1894 of typhoid fever, aged 34, and was recorded in the minutes of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects as 'undoubtedly one of the leading Artists of the Profession in our Colony.'

It can be seen that Kilburn's visit to the United States had a major effect in introducing current United States architecture to Australia. The photographs which Kilburn brought back from his trip are interesting not only for that reason, but because in a more general sense they illustrate what was seen as being the most interesting current work in that country, doubtless in the eyes not just of Kilburn himself, but of those Americans whom he consulted. Although Kilburn was himself a competent photographer, most or all of these photos seem to have been acquired from commercial sources, principally J W Taylor of Chicago, and there seem to be few identical photographs held in the USA. However Mary Woolever of the Ryerson Institute reports having found at least four prints of Chicago interiors 'like' those in this collection, amongst a box of unidentified Taylor photographs held at the Institute which she planned [2002] to investigate more fully.

Only a few of the illustrations bear the photographer's own identification, but almost all have been annotated in pencil, presumably by Kilburn. Sometimes this annotation is rudimentary - such as merely 'Chicago' - sometimes it is incorrect, and sometimes names are misspelt. An attempt is made below to correctly identify as many as possible, but it is hoped that scholars involved in the field may be willing to provide more information.

Most of Taylor's, and some others, have their own numbering system, but all have also been numbered in pencil by Kilburn in six sequences ('K no' column), so that any one of the sequences may contain the work of more than one photographer. The photo details in the following table are generally what was printed on or under the image by the photographer, whilst the inscriptions are manuscript additions presumed to be by Kilburn. The photo is described under 'content', and the identification is based upon these details plus any text which may be referred to.

I would be very grateful to receive any corrections, or new identifications of the photographs, accompanied by documentary references.

Miles Lewis