Benjamin Mountfort - New Zealand

New Zealand

Mountfort arrived in Canterbury full of ambition and drive to begin designing in 1850 as one of a wave of settlers encouraged to immigrate to the new colony of New Zealand by the British Government. With him and his wife from England came also his brother Charles, his sister Susannah, and Charles' wife, all five of them aged between 21 and 26. Life in New Zealand at first was hard and disappointing: Mountfort found that there was little call for architects. Christchurch was little more than a large village of basic wooden huts on a windswept plain. The new émigré's architectural life in New Zealand had a disastrous beginning. His first commission in New Zealand was the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Lyttelton, built in 1852. The building proved vulnerable to high winds and was considered unsafe. It was demolished in 1857. This calamity was attributed to the use of unseasoned wood and his lack of knowledge of the local building materials. Whatever the cause, the result was a crushing blow to his reputation. A local newspaper called him "... a half-educated architect whose buildings... have given anything but satisfaction, he being evidently deficient in all knowledge of the principles of construction, though a clever draughtsman and a man of some taste.".

Due to this blow to his reputation, he began running a stationery shop, working as a newspaper agent, and giving drawing lessons until 1857 to supplement his architectural work. It was during this period in the architectural wilderness that he developed a lifelong interest in photography and supplemented his meagre income by taking photographic portraits of his neighbours.

Mountfort was a Freemason and an early member of the Lodge of Unanimity, the main building of which he designed in 1863. The Lodge of Unanimity was the first Masonic Lodge in the South Island.

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