Collingwood Notables Database
Benjamin William Tapner
Architect, councillor, Mayor, honorary magistrate
Collingwood-born Benjamin William Tapner was an active participant in the Abbotsford and Clifton Hill community as an architect, member of the congregations of St Philip’s and St Andrew’s churches, and Mayor and councillor. Having earlier lost his son in the Great War, he also designed the Soldiers Memorial Hall, (named on completion the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Hall), which still stands in Hoddle Street. His photograph, in mayoral robes, hangs in the Collingwood Town Hall.
His father, Benjamin Tapner senior, had briefly visited Melbourne as a naval cadet in 1849 and returned as an immigrant in 1851. After a number of years on various goldfields, he began quarrying on the Merri Creek and settled in Hoddle Street Abbotsford. Here he owned four houses, between Bloomburg Street and Greenwood Street. He had perhaps built these himself, as he was later described as a contractor and builder. On 3 January 1861 at St Mark’s Anglican Church in Fitzroy he married Caroline Gardiner, who had arrived in Melbourne around 1855. Later that year their first child Benjamin William was born at Hoddle Street. The family lived in the larger of the houses, a six-roomed house of bluestone and brick. The neighbouring four-roomed house was brick, while the other two were built of brick and iron and had only three rooms.
The family were active parishioners of St Philip’s Anglican Church in Hoddle Street Abbotsford. Young Benjamin William also belonged to the St Philip’s Mutual Improvement Society and was a prize-winning essayist. He was successively secretary, treasurer, and vice-president of the society, and an auditor of the church. He attended the Collingwood School of Art and Design. In the early 1880s he won a series of bronze and silver prizes for his architectural designs submitted to the exhibitions organised by the Technological Commission which oversaw the Schools of Design. In 1880 he participated as a pupil in the first annual exhibition of the Victorian Institute of Architects; the following year he was awarded the vice-president’s pupil prize of £5.5.0 for the best design for combined shop and offices. In adulthood he was one of the instructors at the School of Art and Design, teaching Mechanical and Architectural Drawing.
In the 1880s the family moved to 13 Clarke Street, Abbotsford. Their house was on the corner of Valiant Street, and a short distance away, on the corner of Valiant and Paterson Streets, lived Emily Green, daughter of cab owner John Green, also a parishioner of St Philip’s. Emily and Benjamin william married at St Philip’s in December 1890.
The young couple bought a house in Dwyer Street Clifton Hill and started a family. There were a few difficult years. With a toddler and a baby to manage, Emily had to cope with her father’s death in 1894, followed by her mother coming to live with them, and then dying a few months later. Emily’s older sister had died some years earlier. Benjamin was working in the city office of architect Peter Matthews but when Matthews took a job with the Western Australian government in the late 1890s, Tapner set up his own office at what was then number 131 Queens Parade, one of the shops in the front section of the Albert Hall before it was re-modelled. He remained here for just a few years before returning to a city office, at 97 Queen Street.
Benjamin and Emily moved to Heidelberg Road by 1904, after a brief interlude in another Dwyer Street house. Tapner may well have designed the house himself. He gave it the name Arundel,the small town in Sussex from which Mr Tapner senior had migrated. (The elder Tapners would eventually move to St Kilda and also call their house Arundel). Emily died in 1904, leaving Benjamin with a young family of three children. But in 1909 he married Sarah Pride of Carlton, in a Methodist church, probably to suit his bride whose uncle performed the ceremony. They had two children, Jean and Clifton.
Benjamin William was active in Clifton Hill: he was auditor at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, and acted as committee secretary for Fitzroy Councillor John Hooper (of J W Hooper and Son, brass founders, and resident of South Terrace Clifton Hill). Finally he made the move to stand for Collingwood Council on his own account, and was elected in 1913.
In the meantime his elder son, Benjamin Stavely had been training as an accountant, but after the outbreak of war he enlisted in January 1915. In May 1916 the Australian Natives Association asked Collingwood Council for support for support for the conscription movement. The mover and the seconder of the motion in favour were both to lose their sons to the war within a few months: Tapner, and Cr Arthur Collins. The motion was passed, though with some dissent. In any case the ensuing referendum on conscription failed and the vote in the Yarra electorate was more than 70% against.
Benjamin Stavely Tapner died of wounds on 29 July 1916 at Pozieres and was buried in Puchevillers Cemetery. The flag at the Collingwood Town Hall was flown at half-mast as a mark of respect. Councillor Collins’ son Arthur was killed on 3 September 1916. The files on Lieutenant Tapner make harrowing reading. He was badly wounded, but nobody could go out to fetch him for some time because of heavy shelling. In response to his father’s request for further information on his death and burial, a Red Cross investigator obtained information from various friends and colleagues who described the frightful extent of his wounds and his death in a field hospital.
In 1917-18 Tapner was elected Mayor, and in 1920 he was appointed a magistrate. On Council he was a liberal at a time when the Labor influence was becoming increasingly powerful. When he decided not to re-contest in 1922, the Labor faction became dominant and remained so for decades.
As in many localities, a campaign had begun in Collingwood in 1920 aimed at building a Soldiers Memorial Hall. Council was willing to put up part of the funds, and fund-raising efforts were instigated, with many local firms donating generously. John Wrenalso gave £100. Tapner was chosen to be the architect. A funding shortfall delayed the letting of tenders, but as donations and raised funds accumulated, Tapner advertised tenders on 23 July 1923. On 1 December of that year, two foundation stones were laid, by Brigadier-General Smith and local Victoria Cross winner William Ruthven. The Hall was opened 29 June 1924.
The Memorial Hall is a well-executed red brick building in the classical revival style often chosen for memorial halls of the period. The municipality of Collingwood’s World War I Honour Roll was installed in the entrance hall and remains there though not currently available for public view. It formed part of a civic and community precinct with the town hall, library, courthouse, police station, church, vicarage, Pioneers Hall and sporting clubrooms. Not much is known about Tapner’s other architectural designs, other than a brick building for brass founder J W Hooper and Sons at 500 Latrobe Street, Melbourne in 1893, additions to the Collingwood Crèchein 1921, and a building for the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in the city. He seems to have mainly carried out domestic designs, some of which were located in Abbotsford and Clifton Hill. In 1921 he was commissioned for alterations to shopfronts in Spensley Street Clifton Hill.
Around 1928 Tapner and Sarah and their two children moved from Heidelberg Road, Clifton Hill, to Kew; Tapner spent the last years of his life at 7 McEvoy Street until his death in Richmond in 1930. Sarah and the children remained in McEvoy Street for some years.
Memorial Hall in 2018
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Emily Catherine Green, died 23 August 1904||3 December 1890, St Philip's Anglican Church||Edith Mary 30 Sep 1891- 19 August 1947, Benjamin Staveley 1893 - 29 July 1916, George Harold 1898.|
|Sara Pride, c. 1871-1967||8 June 1909, Carlton||Jean Caroline 1910, Clifton Presley 1913.|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|34 Hoddle Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|Belle Vue 13 Clarke Street||Abbotsford||Extant|
|61 Dwyer Street||Clifton Hill||Extant|
|29? Dwyer Street||Clifton Hill||Demolished|
|Arundel 81 Heidelberg Road||Clifton Hill||Extant|
|Work Street||Work City||Status of Building|
|127-129 Queens Parade||Clifton Hill||Modified|
|St Philip's Anglican, Abbotsford|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|6 July 1930||Richmond||MGC|
The Ballarat Star;The Argus;Illustrated Australian News;The Age; Geelong Advertiser; Mercury and Weekly Courier; Leader; The Herald; The Australasian;Weekly Times;Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruit; MMBW Detail Plan No. 1284; Butler, City of Yarra Heritage Review; Tapner mayoral photo, The Allan Studio, HFA294, courtesy City of Yarra; Memorial hall in 2018, courtesy Qinkblu.
Trove list: "Benjamin Tapner".