William Pitt 1855-1918

William Pitt

William Pitt

William Junior, was born two years later, on 4 June 1855.

In 1872, when he was just 25, Browne had designed the Theatre Royal in Bourke Street for George Coppin.

William Pitt’s first major project came in 1879: he was associate architect for the Melbourne Coffee Palace in Bourke Street.

Master builder

‘There is no other such house in Australia; there are few to beat it in the whole wide world,’ rhapsodised The Bulletin when William Pitt’s Princess Theatre opened in Melbourne in 1886. ‘It is rich in marble steps, peacock blue plush, mimic waterfalls, refreshment rooms and Neapolitan ices – not to mention an open air lounge and a sliding dome. The latter arrangement enables one to gaze at the blue canopy of heaven and make astronomical surveys between acts. When the dome slides it is like being at a picnic without the earwigs.’

‘The Princess Theatre is Pitt’s most outstanding building in the luscious French Second Empire style,’ wrote architectural historian Philip Goad more than a century later. ‘William Pitt had such an extraordinary talent for eclectic invention that it seems hardly credible that the same architect designed the Melbourne Stock Exchange, the Rialto Building and the Princess Theatre.’

William Pitt’s father was a British-born scene painter and publican who migrated to Melbourne in 1853. His son, William Junior, was born two years later, on 4 June 1855. Pitt Senior managed the Olympian Hotel, attached to George Coppin’s Olympic Theatre in Lonsdale Street and he was also involved with Coppin in his Cremorne Gardens amusement park on the banks of the Yarra in Richmond. Pitt Senior was the first treasurer of the Victorian Academy of Arts and he exhibited his paintings in its shows. At the time of his death in 1879 he was licensee of the popular Café de Paris at the Theatre Royal, which was decorated with his paintings.

William Pitt Junior was educated at Hofwyl House Academy in St Kilda and at G. H. Neighbour’s Carlton College. He served his articles with the fashionable and flamboyant Melbourne architect George ‘Diamond’ Browne. In 1872, when he was just 25, Browne had designed the Theatre Royal in Bourke Street for George Coppin. In 1875, the year Pitt joined his practice, Browne was commissioned by W.J.T. ‘Big’ Clarke, an enormously rich pastoralist and businessman, to design the Academy of Music in Lydiard Street, Ballarat.

William Pitt’s first major project came in 1879: he was associate architect for the Melbourne Coffee Palace in Bourke Street. It was the city’s first temperance hotel and one of its tallest buildings. The following year he designed the Falls Bridge which connected Queen Street with the Melbourne’s southern suburbs.

Pitt’s first theatrical commission came in the in the early 1880s: alterations to the Colosseum music hall in Bourke Street and the erection of the Victoria Hall behind it. In Sydney Pitt prepared plans for a New Queen’s Theatre in York Street and for extensive alterations to the Opera House, but these did not proceed; neither did his 1883 design for a Comedy Theatre in Russell Street, Melbourne.

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Biographical references

Mimi Colligan: ‘William Pitt Senior’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Philip Goad: Melbourne Architecture, Watermark Press, 1999
Diane Langmore: ‘William Pitt’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 11, Melbourne University Press
Ross Thorne: ‘William Pitt Junior’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995