John Sydney Swan

1874 - 1936

Swan was born in Wellington, the eldest of 13 children. His early architectural training was with the noted Wellington architect Frederick de Jersey Clere. Swan was articled to Clere and worked with his mentor on a number of designs, including the Wellington Rowing Club (then Naval Artillery Boat Shed) 1894, and several churches. From 1901-05 he was a partner with Clere. Among the buildings that survive from their partnership is Kelburn Chambers (or Stoneham’s Building), Lambton Quay (1905).

From 1905-1916 Swan practised on his own account. He is probably best known during this time for a series of major commissions for the Catholic Church, including Sacred Heart Convent, later Erskine College, Island Bay (1906); St Gerard’s Church (1908-10); Our Lady of Compassion Convent, Island Bay (1908-1921); Sacred Heart Convent, Wanganui (1911); and, with his brother, St Bede’s School, Christchurch (1919). Swan also designed a number of commercial buildings, including the now demolished National Bank head office (1907) and Clarendon Hotel, Wellington (1908), now The Glasshouse. One of Swan’s best known domestic designs is his own house, “The Moorings”, Thorndon (1905), which features imaginative use of nautical motifs. He was a keen sailor and a Commodore of the Port Nicholson Yacht Club.

Swan was first joined in practice by his brother Francis in 1915. Francis Swan (1885-1956) was the second youngest child in the Swan family. The practice was then renamed Swan and Swan. They were soon joined in practice by Charles Lawrence who had previously been in partnership with Francis Penty. Penty and Lawrence was the successor to the well-known practice of Penty and Blake, designers of Victoria University’s Hunter Building (1906).

Swan, Lawrence and Swan was responsible for, among others, the former Home of Compassion Crèche, Buckle St, (1916); the library wing of the Hunter Building (1918) and the Physics Wing (1920) at Victoria University. Swan also designed, with William Gray Young, the Wellington Technical School (1919) (now Wellington High School) and, in 1930, the celebrated Erskine College Chapel (1930). John Swan was a director of the Kelburn and Karori Tramway Co. which led to the firm’s commission to make major changes to the cable car Winding House in 1933.

Charles Lawrence died in 1933 and, a year later, John Swan left the practice he established to form Swan and Lavelle with Jim Lavelle, but he died in 1936. This firm later became Structon Group. Francis Swan continued Lawrence and Swan, as it became, and then later practised on his own.



Stones Directories 1915-1940; ATL 13/191/1
Kernohan D. and Kellaway T. 1994, Wellington’s Old Buildings, Victoria University Press pp 24-25
WCC Heritage Inventory 2001


Last updated: 25/08/2015 1:08:30 a.m.