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Victoria Square Cottages

These four modest red brick and iron matching Victorian Georgian style cottages, located just across the road from the dominant element of St Mary’s Cathedral, are a relatively rare and intact example of a nineteenth century group of cottages associated with the expansion of Perth at the turn of the twentieth century when the gold boom was reaching its zenith.  Their harmony in design reflect a style of residential grouping that was not as common in Western Australia as it was in other States, or at least not usually found in this part of the city.  

The cottages are located on what was Perth Building Lot A20 and were built for John Handran Smith in 1897.  However, the land had been owned by his father, Michael Smith, since 1849 who had built some earlier cottages using Ticket of Leave labour.  In 1897 Smith had become the sole owner of the land and the original cottages built by his father were demolished and five new cottages were built by Smith also as rental investments for the growing population of Perth in response to the gold boom.  

The cottages were built in an area which had been mainly associated with the Roman Catholic Church since 1859, when most of the land surrounding Victoria Square was granted to the Church and where it built its Cathedral and other Church-related buildings.  The Catholic Church purchased all five cottages in 1906, originally intending to demolish them to build a new Parish Centre.  Fortunately, however, they were retained and continued to be rented out as private residences.  In 1956, the Lot was subdivided, with the larger northern portion containing cottages No. 23-29 which remained as residential dwellings, leaving the cottage at No. 21 on its own and rented out separately by the Church as commercial premises, resulting in it now having a very different appearance to the other four cottages.  

In 1972 the Church started using them for their own purposes, as offices for the various services and departments associated with the Roman Catholic Church around Victoria Square.  Although there have been modifications made to convert them from residential to office premises, the original presentation of the cottages is mostly unchanged and the internal layouts and features are still discernible in varying degrees.  

Detailed Description

These modest four red brick and iron Victorian Georgian style cottages, located just across the road from the dominant element of St Mary’s Cathedral, are a relatively rare and intact example of a nineteenth century group of cottages associated with the expansion of Perth at the turn of the twentieth century when the gold boom was reaching its zenith.  Their harmony in design reflect a style of residential grouping that was not as common in Western Australia as it was in other States, or at least not usually found in this part of the city, with the only similar examples found in precincts such as Brookman and Moir Streets in Northbridge.  The decorative treatment of the front elevations of the cottages, and the repetition of these elements across the group, establishes a grand scale for the cottages and the visual quality of the landscape is enhanced by the descending terracing of the cottages, which reflects the natural fall of the land.  

The cottages are located on what was Perth Building Lot A20 and were built for John Handran Smith in 1897.  However, the land had been owned by his father, Michael Smith, since 1849 who had built some earlier cottages using Ticket of Leave labour.  The cottages were mainly rented out although sometimes occupied by members of the family.  Michael Smith, a carpenter, contractor and storekeeper by trade, had come to Western Australia in around 1850.  He married Catherine Handran, hence where Handran came from in John’s name and which was then traditionally passed down through the family.  Later, Michael Smith transferred the land to Catherine and also his unmarried sister Maria Smith.  Michael Smith died in 1885, and in 1895 John Handran Smith and his aunty Maria, became the joint owners of Perth Town Lot A20, although by 1897 John had become the sole owner.   

In his early career, John Handran Smith traded with James Grave under the business Smith and Co Merchants and later with David William Harwood as Harwood and Smith.  He was President of the Stock Exchange, Secretary and Handicapper for the WA Turf Club and also promoter of Swan Brewery when it was established and ran the Oceanic Hotel in Fremantle.  He lived at another of the Smith properties originally secured by his father, in Mervyn House on Howick (Hay) Street, with his wife Lavinia (nee Osborne) whom he had married in 1884. 

The original cottages built by his father at the Victoria Square property were demolished and five new cottages were built by Smith also as rental investments and originally numbered 75, 77, 81, 85 and 91.  The market was ripe for rental properties in Perth at this time, with the city experiencing a massive increase in population and wealth as a result of the rich gold deposits being found in the State’s goldfields, in contrast to the declining gold boom being experienced in the eastern states.  The cottages were built in an area which had been mainly associated with the Roman Catholic Church since 1859, when most of the land surrounding Victoria Square was granted to the Church and where it built its Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace as well as other several other Church-related buildings.  However, with the Smith’s being Roman Catholics, it may have been a reason they were attracted to the area.   

When the Catholic Church purchased all five cottages in 1906, it originally intended to demolish them to build a new Parish Centre.  However, instead they were retained and continued to be rented out as private residences.  They were often rented to widows and spinsters who in turn would operate boarding houses and lodgings to provide some income.   At this time the numbers of the cottages were changed to what they are today – 21, 23, 25, 27 and 29.   

In 1956, the Lot was subdivided, with the larger northern portion containing cottages No. 23-29 which remained as residential dwellings, leaving the cottage at No. 21 on its own and rented out separately by the Church as commercial premises.  In the 1960s quite substantial alterations were made to No. 21, including the removal of the front verandah and enclosure of the former porch and new windows installed to the front, which resulted in it taking on quite a different appearance to the other four cottages.  

In 1972 the Church stopped leasing out the four Victoria Square cottages as residences, and started using them for their own purposes, as offices for the various services and departments associated with the Roman Catholic Church around Victoria Square such as: 

23 – Catholic Missions Office/Catholic Immigration Office 

25 – Catholic Family Welfare Bureau/Catholic Marriage Guidance Council 

27 – Family Planning  

29 – Catholic Social Apostolate Legion of Mary Headquarters 

Between 2003 and 2005 works were carried out the cottages to replace the deteriorated roof cladding with Tuscan Red pre-painted corrugated galvanized steel.  Repairs were also carried out to stabilise existing barges, cappings and finials, and also repainting of all timber joinery and elements.  Although there have been modifications made to convert them from residential to office premises, the original presentation of the cottages is mostly unchanged and the internal layouts and features are still discernible in varying degrees.

Location