The true cost of Kennedy’s Folly

Original Government House, 1861

Original Government House, 1861

The first Governor had a nice place to live, which was built in 1834 for James ‘young brides’ Stirling. But by the 1850s, the new Governor, Arthur Kennedy, whined it was unsuitable and a bit cold in winter. Declining to have it repaired, he demanded a new Government House, more in keeping with the lifestyle to which Arthur wished to become accustomed.

The Government tried to get England to pay for it, but they told us to bugger off. Originally estimated at a massive £5,000, by September 1858 this had risen to £7,000.

Designed by an army major with no training in architecture, a foundation stone was laid in March 1859 with lots of Masonic pomp. The project was then handed over to the Royal Engineers to mismanage. Remarkably the same amateur architect was later tasked with designing an asylum in Fremantle. To no one’s surprise, this was also a disaster.

Costs kept spiralling due to constant indecision and daily changes to the design. No sooner had a wall been erected than it was torn down again for a new idea. After three years labour, the convicts working on the place had made very little progress. People complained there were better things for them to do. Like fix the awful roads.

When a roof was finally put on the building it was nearly a miracle. However, it was far from finished, needing several more towers and an interior.


Kennedy’s Folly

In January 1863 it was sufficiently finished to allow for a party in the upstairs ballroom. A ballroom that should not have been there. When the building was nearly complete, the new Governor demanded six rooms be converted into somewhere he and his wife could entertain their cronies.

Completely redesigning the structure of the upper floor was, of course, very expensive and time consuming. And no one remembered that the six rooms were guest bedrooms, so Government House was unable to put up visitors.

In March 1863, it was realised the red brick pillars on the colonnades did not match the stone arches above them. So they started painting the pillars a marble colour.

When the furniture arrived not only was it hideously expensive it was also hideous. And badly made. So yet more money was spent replacing it.

Finally, in mid-1864 the Governor moved into his new residence. By this time more than £18,000 in cash had been spent, along with the wages of the Royal Engineers on the project, so the total cost was nearer £50,000.

When opened for inspection, while the outside was pretty enough, the interior was a disaster. A better building could have been knocked up for under £10,000. It was given the name ‘Kennedy’s Folly’, which is a little unfair. It was so long in construction, Arthur Kennedy had moved on and never even got to look inside.