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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Blackett, William Arthur Mordey (1873–1962)

by George Tibbits

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

William Arthur Mordey Blackett (1873-1962), by Les Reynolds, 1928

William Arthur Mordey Blackett (1873-1962), by Les Reynolds, 1928

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10046136

William Arthur Mordey Blackett (1873-1962), architect, was born on 18 September 1873 at Fitzroy, Victoria, eldest son of Cuthbert Robert Blackett, chemist, and his second wife Margaretta, née Palmer. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, was articled to H. J. Proctor, and won several prizes in student competitions sponsored by the Australasian Builder and Contractor's News. In 1895-97 he worked as a draftsman in the Department of Railways and Public Works of Western Australia, and designed several post offices.

After his return to Victoria Blackett was in continuous practice from 1899 to the early 1940s. In 1900-03 he was in partnership with T. H. P. Rankin. His cousin William Blackett Forster served articles with the firm and joined him as partner in 1914-32. For a time Blackett was in partnership with Gawler & Churcher, and in 1936-41 he worked in association with (Sir Arthur) Stephenson & Turner on the Royal Melbourne Hospital complex.

At the outset of his career Blackett designed the Presbyterian Church, Heidelberg, and the children's wing and laundry of the Austin Hospital. He was noted for his house remodelling and as a designer of interior decoration and fittings. The partnership of Blackett & Forster designed several city buildings including Victor Horsley Chambers (1926) and Francis House (1927), both in Collins Street; in 1929 the firm received the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects' medal for Francis House. Outside the city, a few designs are known, including the Warburton Chalet (1929) and the Jessie Fraser Wing of Somers House, Black Rock (1935). The known houses of the practice are at Brighton Beach (1914), South Yarra (1917) and Euroa (1932). His short article on 'The smaller two-storey house' appeared in the Australian Home Builder, June 1924.

Blackett had a long and distinguished association with both the Royal Victorian and later the Royal Australian institutes of architects. He was an associate of the R.V.I.A. from 1892 and a fellow from 1905, a council-member in 1907-52 and president in 1916-18 and 1928-30. A founder and first president in 1930 of the R.A.I.A., he wrote one of its earliest publications, The Work of an Architect (Sydney, 1935?); in 1952 he was honoured with a life fellowship. In 1932 he was made a fellow of the Royal British Institute of Architects.

In February 1917 Blackett enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was assigned to the Educational Service. After the war he was active in the Melbourne Legacy Club, was vice-president in 1926-27 and designed its badge. He was also a force behind the realization of the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne. He was president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria in 1927-49, a trustee of the Allied Societies Trust Ltd in 1924 and a director of Ozapaper Ltd. Blackett was a solid, energetic man committed to the public advancement of the profession through the creation of strong and respectable State and national institutes. His achievements in this field far outstripped the fruits of his architectural practice.

On 14 September 1904 at Brighton Beach, Blackett had married Gertrude Lewis (d.1924); on 30 December 1930 at Sydney, Anne Lewis, née Hancock (d.1937); and on 12 April 1960 at Brighton Beach, Isabel Margaret McCallum, née Wills. He had no children. He died on 2 June 1962, survived by his wife, and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £25,637.

His brother, Charles Edward Blackett (1880-1964) was born on 25 March 1880 at Fitzroy and educated at Queen's College, St Kilda. He was a metallurgist at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in 1901-35, then general manager of New Occidental Gold Mines, Cobar, New South Wales, until 1946. Blackett had married Edith Bradley in 1901. He died on 20 July 1964 at East Melbourne, survived by one son and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, Journal, Mar 1916
  • Australasian Builder and Contractor's News, 31 Mar, 7 Apr, 25 Aug 1894
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 June 1962.

Citation details

George Tibbits, 'Blackett, William Arthur Mordey (1873–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

William Arthur Mordey Blackett (1873-1962), by Les Reynolds, 1928

William Arthur Mordey Blackett (1873-1962), by Les Reynolds, 1928

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10046136