Beatrice Hutton 1893-1990

Beatrice Hutton

Beatrice May Hutton became Queensland’s first woman architect when she was accepted as an associate member of the Queensland Institute of Achitects in March 1916. She worked on many buildings in Rockhampton and also in Sydney, where she moved in late 1916.  In Sydney she worked as an architectural assistant.  She was registered in Sydney in 1923.

Beatrice (always called Bea) Hutton’s  first design was probably the 1915 house in Spencer Street Rockhampton for the manager of the  Bank of Australasia. Domestic architecture was her chief focus as she thought it was there that women architects could have a particular impact.

Education and training

Beatrice Hutton commenced her training as an articled pupil of leading Rockhampton architect Edwin Morton Hockings in June 1912. When Hockings joined the armed forces in World War I, she became chief draftsman of Hockings and Palmer.

On her admission to the Queensland institute of Architects the Salon Architecture and the Allied Arts reported that the:

Queensland Institute is, we believe, the first Australian Institute of Architects to admit a lady as a member. The Royal Institute of British architects has several lady members, the first of whom was enrolled as a student in 1895. At the last general meeting 30 October ..1916…of the Queensland Institute, Miss Beatrice M. Hutton of Rockhampton, was elected an Associate Member. Miss Hutton has served articles with Messrs. Hockings and Palmer of Rockhampton. The credentials placed before the Institute Council by the candidate show that Miss Hutton was an earnest and industrious student and her application was supported by her principals. Miss Hutton is about to proceed to Sydney to seek further opportunities for acquiring knowledge of her profession.

In Sydney her first approach for employment was rejected for, though her drawings portfolio found favour, the firm regretted they ‘could not take on a lady because they lacked a female ‘powder room’’.  In April 1917, Hutton commenced working for architect and consulting engineer Claude William Chambers who had previously practised in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Beatrice Hutton with a colleague.
Beatrice Hutton with LT Palmer in Rockhampton c1916. Photo courtesy Judith McKay


Though based in Sydney, Beatrice  Hutton returned to Rockhampton to work on various projects including the Myles House (c 1919), a house for a school friend’s parents, the WH Rudd house (1923) and her own parents’ retirement house in Brecknell Street (1926).

Her experience with the Claude Chambers firm enabled her to register with the New South Wales Architects Registration Board on 26 June 1923. The Board recorded that she had no academic qualifications but qualified for registration through her completion of five years work in the state.

That year Beatrice Hutton designed her grandest house, ‘Ngarita’, in the Sydney suburb of Bellevue Hill.  It was for her aunt and uncle, the wool textile manufacturer and philanthropist Sir William Vicars.  The plans however name  his brother, James Vicars as the architect. It was in interviews in the 1980s with Judith McKay that Beatrice Hutton confirmed that she had designed ‘Ngarita’ and that after it was completed she had travelled with her aunt and uncle to the United States of America in late July 1926.

After Lady Vicars died in 1945, ‘Ngarita’ was sold, the sale advertisements extolling the high quality of the internal fittings. The house was later divided into two flats.  In 1986 new owners engaged an architect who sympathetically returned the house to its original use, retaining original fittings such as the stained glass entrance doors and windows.

Beatrice Hutton worked for the firm of Claude W Chambers on a range of projects including the design of the NSW Masonic Club building, a twelve storey sandstone building in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. The building, completed in 1927 at a cost of £100,000, is considered a fine example of the Inter-war Commercial Palazzo style and is listed on the NSW heritage register.  The Sydney Guardian asked in 1930:

How many men who admire the architecture of their big new . . .. Masonic Club in … Castlereagh Street, realise that for half their comforts they have a woman to thank. And how many people who look up at the massive building ever think that a woman might have had some hand in its planning?

In January 1930 Beatrice Hutton was made a junior partner to Claude W Chambers and henceforth the firm was known as  Chambers & Hutton.  In the above article dated January 26 1930, the Sydney Guardian described Hutton as

‘a very modest woman with a strong but feminine personality.  Miss Hutton shows by her neat silken clad ankles no woman needs to ape the man to do a man’s job.’   

By that time Hutton’s extensive experience included  ‘flats, residential clubs, wool stores, and homes’.  In Sydney newspapers of the day, Chambers announced that the new partnership was based in his former office in the 8 storey Sirius House building in Macquarie Place, whose design ‘owes something to Beatrice Hutton’.  He had shifted his practice there in late May 1925 on the building’s completion.  Under the new partnership a house in Leura was advertised for tender later that year.

Later life

Beatrice Hutton returned to Rockhampton when her father’s health failed.  After his death on 22 November 1933, she moved to Brisbane with her mother. She turned 40 that year.  In the next decade she returned to Sydney at various times to catch up with friends and family.   By August 1938, Hutton and her mother opened a Brisbane craft gallery The Glory Box where they sold their own work including pottery, rugs, embroidery and wood carvings.

Beatrice Hutton died on 7 October 1990, aged 97 years.

Early life

Beatrice Hutton was born on 16 July 1893, the second of the seven children of Clara Susannah and Falconer West Hutton.  She grew up on their property Comet Downs near the central Queensland town of Comet. The extended drought in 1902 forced them to to sell Comet Downs.  They moved to Rockhampton in 1906.

She was a student at Rockhampton Girls Grammar School from 1908 until 1910, then worked in her father’s surveying office for a year while completing a course in Pitmans shorthand at the Rockhampton Central College.

Beatrice Hutton’s mother encouraged her creative artistic abilities.  She developed these through an interest in arts and crafts as well as through her architecture. She exhibited her own work and in 1931 joined the Arts and Craft Society of NSW. A very keen bridge player throughout her life, she enjoyed the popular past-time in Sydney and apparently taught in NSW country towns as well as giving regular classes in contract and auction bridge when she was in Rockhampton. Golf and horseriding were sports at which she excelled.

Contributed by Pauline McDonough


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NSW Architects Registration Board, Certificate naming Beatrice May Hutton as a legally qualified architect in New South Wales, 26 June 1923

Woollahra Council, Heritage Planning Section and Woollahra Library and Information Service,  ‘Ngarita’ information and photographs, January 2012

Correspondence from Rockhampton Girls Grammar School, November 2011