History of the U.S. Embassy
The first United States ship to enter an Australian port was the Philadelphia which arrived in Sydney in 1792.
Subsequently, American trading ships, usually bound for China, and American whaling vessels appeared in Port Jackson for trade or for replenishment of supplies. In 1833 American merchants opened trading branches in Australia. This led to increased commercial exchange and resulted in the appointment of the first Consul in Sydney, Mr. James Hartwell Williams, on May 20, 1836. However, he did not arrive to take office until February 19, 1839.
There was a considerable interchange of Australians and Americans during the Gold Rush days of the last century and several thousand Americans arrived in this country during the 1850s. United States consular representation was gradually expanded but official diplomatic relations, which had previously been conducted through the Government of the United Kingdom, were not established until January 1940. At that time, the Right Honorable R.G. Casey became Australia’s Minister to Washington and Mr. Clarence E. Gauss was appointed United States Minister to Australia. In July 1946, the rank of representatives exchanged by the two countries was raised to that of Ambassador. The American Embassy was the first embassy to be established in Canberra.
In constructing its Embassy in Canberra, the United States Government desired to show Australians something typically American which would nevertheless blend well with the atmosphere of Canberra.
The architecture chosen was a Georgian style which had been modified and adapted for use in the southern parts of the United States during the Colonial period of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Though eminently typical of Virginia architecture at the time of Washington and Jefferson, the buildings were inspired by those designed by Christopher Wren for Williamsburg, the capital of the Colony of Virginia from 1699 to 1779. The spirit and atmosphere of Williamsburg construction are very evident. Through the architecture of the Embassy buildings the observer is provided a glimpse of the charm and stately beauty of Colonial Williamsburg that was a fountainhead of liberty and freedom in the life of the new American republic, and ranked with Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Charleston, South Carolina, as a cultural, social and political center in the New World.
Australian materials, U.S. architecture
Australian marble in white squares, quarried on the south coast of New South Wales and in other parts of Australia, has been used in the main entrance and hallways. Other floors are of Australian tallow-wood. Most of the Embassy bricks were kilned in Canberra but additional bricks from the same source were not available in 1959 when it became necessary to expand the Chancery by the construction of wings on either side of the center building. When an exhaustive search made it evident that it would not be possible to match the original bricks in Australia, it became necessary to obtain matching bricks from the United States from a source near Williamsburg. As the buildings stand today, the Embassy is a happy blending of Australian and American materials and craftsmanship.
The foundation stone for the Ambassador’s Residence was laid jointly by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), Senator Collings and America’s Minister, Mr. Nelson T. Johnson, on the fourth of July, 1942. War-time shortages lengthened the construction time, but the building was occupied by Christmas, 1943.
The Residence is built of brick laid in waterproof cement mortar without cavities, and with rough ruled white joints. The 9” external walls in very exposed positions have never been penetrated by moisture. All structural floors are of reinforced concrete beam and slab construction, with tessellated Belgian black and Australian white marble paving to the entrance hall, sandstone flagging to the solarium, jarrah parquetry to the main floor, tallow wood parquetry to the upper floor, and linoleum on pine flooring to the service areas. The portico columns and other stone trim are of Hawkesbury sandstone and the roof is of purple Bangor slate.
The building has a commanding site with splendid panoramic views of the city and mountains, and the Chancery, set low on the fringes of the site, obscures none of the outlook.
As the Chancery and other support buildings are devoted entirely to office space and the Ambassador’s Residence is private living quarters, we regret that it is not feasible to permit visits through the buildings.