Local History: The Mangotsfield forger who ended up on a banknote

March 25 2020

Greenaway on Australia 10 dollar note, 1968

Greenaway on Australia 10 dollar note, 1968

WHEN Mangotsfield-born architect Francis Howard Greenway was sentenced to death for forgery in 1812 it looked like the end of a once-promising life. But instead Greenway would find fame on the other side of the world, as Australia's first government architect. His work on buildings such as St Matthew's Church in Windsor, New South Wales, St James' Church and Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, even saw him appear on the back of the Australian $10 note from 1966-93 – probably the only forger ever to be given such an honour.
Born in Mangotsfield in 1777, into a family who had been stonemasons, builders and architects for generations, Greenway became an architect "of some eminence" in a private practice in Bristol and Bath. His only surviving UK building is the Clifton Club in The Mall, Clifton, originally the Clifton Hotel and Assembly Rooms.
In 1809 Greenway became bankrupt and in 1812 he pleaded guilty "under the advice of his friends" to forging a financial document. He was sentenced to death; this sentence was later commuted to 14 years' transportation. Why he pleaded guilty is unknown; he may have been told it was the only way to save his life. Whilst awaiting deportation, Greenway spent time in Newgate Prison, Bristol, where he painted scenes inside the jail.
Greenway arrived in Sydney on the transport ship General Hewitt in February 1814, followed in July by his wife Mary, whom he had married about 1804, and three children. Allowed much freedom after his arrival, he began private practice immediately. He was self-confident, temperamental and quick to take offence, but his artistic abilities were great and he had a full command of the techniques of his profession.
In 1815 Governor Lachlan Macquarie called on Greenway to report on the Rum Hospital being built for the government. His criticism was devastating. The builders had to make costly alterations to the building and Greenway made the first of a long list of enemies.
In March 1816 he was appointed civil architect and assistant engineer at a salary of 3 shillings a day, with quarters for himself and family, a horse and forage. His first work for the government was to design a lighthouse, known as the Macquarie Tower, at Port Jackson. Macquarie was so pleased, he presented Greenway with conditional emancipation.
When Greenway was called upon to design a new government house Macquarie left it entirely in his hands. He promptly designed a castle and began a stable block so grand that it was often mistaken for Government House itself. But Macquarie was already in trouble with the Colonial Office over his building programme, and when the new extravagance became known in London, the secretary of state forbade the castle. In the meantime Greenway designed many other buildings, several of which remain and, despite their mutilated condition, are considered valuable gems of Early Australian Colonial architecture. One, the court-house at Windsor, New South Wales, has been beautifully restored and is the closest to a complete Greenway design that has survived.
He earned an absolute pardon from Macquarie in 1819 but by that year his arrogance made him misjudge his authority. Having already made many enemies, he now fell out with Macquarie. A long series of quarrels, also involving Commissioner John Thomas Bigge, saw Greenway side with first one politician then another, until he made his position impossible by suddenly presenting a bill for £11,000 for fees for buildings he had designed while an employee of the government.
Macquarie's successor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, sought to curb Greenway and, although he continued to design buildings, public servants and builders paid less and less attention to him, altering his designs without telling him.
He was dismissed from government service in 1822 but refused to give up the house which went with the job and produced a document – now thought to be a forgery – which purported to give him title to the house. The government did not recover the property until after his death.
Macquarie had granted Greenway 800 acres of land on the right bank of the Hunter River, which he farmed, but it was marshy and poor. Greenway maintained that he had been promised town land for building. He also never relinquished his claim for £11,000 in fees. But as he had made so many enemies, these claims received little attention.
Greenway continued his private practice but with only one considerable commission and his professional life ended around 1828.
His wife, Mary, ran a small school for young ladies. She bore him five sons and two daughters: one son, Charles, became an archdeacon and canon at Grafton Cathedral.
In 1837 Greenway died in the Hunter River Valley and was buried in a small cemetery in a lonely paddock outside East Maitland. There is no tombstone or marker over his grave.