Frederick William Dancker 

(16/11/1852 - 26/8/1936)

Frederick William Dancker (occasionally spelled Fredrick Wilhelm, also known as ‘Fritz’) was born in Macclesfield, South Australia in 1852. The third of six children, Frederick was the child of Heinrich (Henry) Friedrich Wilhelm Dancker and Jane Pratt Dancker; German and British immigrants respectively who met in Macclesfield, marrying shortly after immigration in 1849.[1] The Danckers and their six children, who resided at and managed a local general store on Venables Street, were described as “a hard-working family but not active in community affairs.”[2]

 

Of the six children, Fredrick showed the most promise, seemingly inheriting his artistic sensibilities from his mother.[3] His parents arranged for him to receive tuition at a private school in Aldinga, where he showed interest in becoming a naval architect. After his schooling, Fredrick was given the position of cadet on the ship Goolwa, sailing for England to receive training in naval architecture.[4] Unfortunately this endeavour proved fruitless upon Dancker’s return to Australia and unable to find shipbuilding opportunities,[5] he undertook architectural training in Melbourne. Upon completion of this training, Dancker returned to South Australia in 1877 and was articled for three years to prominent Adelaide practitioners Daniel Garlick and Thomas English, according to a written testimony given in 1920.

In 1880, Dancker started his own practice at No.4 Birk’s Chambers, Gawler Place. In 1883, Dancker married Clara Anne Phillipps, sister of Sir Herbert Phillipps, a prominent Adelaide businessman and philanthropist,[6] for whom Dancker had designed a large residence in Kent Town in 1881-2.[7] This connection with Phillipps likely resulted in Dancker's removal of offices to Cavendish Chambers, Grenfell Street in 1885,[8] along with a significant number of commissions from enterprises and organisations associated with Phillipps through Dancker's career, including G. Wills & Co., the Port Adelaide Seaman's Mission, the Queen's Maternity Home and the Savings Bank of South Australia among others. [9].

 

Frederick and Clara moved into a large, attractive ten-roomed Italianate villa designed by Dancker at the west corner of Kensington Road and Close Street, Rose Park in 1883, now demolished.[8] The Danckers appear to have enjoyed a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle, indicated by the style, prominent location and generous proportions of this residence and through regular advertisements for an experienced general servant placed by Dancker's wife from this period onwards.[9] Their first son Reginald Fritz Dancker was born in 1884, sadly passing away at the age of 14 in 1898,[10] with Gladys Clara Dancker born in 1887[11] and Eric Phillipps Dancker born in 1889 [12]. Residing in Rose Park and the subsequent development of Toorak Gardens for the remainder of their lives, the Dancker family became prominent local citizens within the suburb. As adults, Gladys and Eric Dancker, both unmarried, would reside with their parents at the Kensington Road property and the family's subsequent property at the south-east corner of Giles Street and Hewitt Avenue, Toorak Gardens (now 112 Hewitt Avenue) built in 1911, now demolished. Dancker's practice would contribute greatly to the development of both Rose Park and Toorak Gardens, including the Queen's Maternity Home, the c.1899 St. Theodore's Anglican Church and approximately thirty-three houses[13] built in these suburbs during the active years of the practice (1880-1944).

Frederick Dancker was an inaugural member of the South Australian Institute of Architects (F.S.A.I.A) in 1886 though evidently rescinding membership at a later date, rejoining the reformatted ‘R.A.I.A’ in the early 1920s. A number of prominent Adelaide architects of the subsequent generation, including Henry Evan Sibley and Frederick William Hocart were articled to Dancker’s practice. Dancker’s son Eric joined the practice as an articled pupil in 1906 and was admitted into partnership in 1913, though the practice operated as F. W. Dancker & Son from 1911 onwards.[14] While Dancker's early practice had been equally known for its mixture of commercial, civic, ecclesiastical work in addition to increasingly high-end residential work, the reputation of the firm of F. W. Dancker & Son's appears to have been primarily in the production of modern, artistic, well-built and fashionable homes, generally within Adelaide’s inner suburbs for the city's elite citizens.

 

From approximately the end of the First World War, Eric Phillipps Dancker appears to have been increasingly-responsible for the artistic direction of the practice, working primarily in the historical English and Spanish-Mission styles for which he was noted. In 1931 Frederick was seriously injured after being knocked down by a bicycle in the city, remaining bed-ridden for several months. Dancker would never fully recover from the incident, resulting in his retirement in that year at the age of seventy nine. Frederick W. Dancker died at home in 1936 at eighty four years old; local newspapers described him as ‘South Australia’s oldest architect.’ [15]

 

A 1912 description of F. W. Dancker, given by one of his contemporaries depicts Dancker as “an old established, steady going gentleman who has a good practice in better class residences.”[16] Related by marriage to some of South Australia’s most successful businessmen through his own marriage and the marriages of immediate family members, Dancker’s excellent social connections were a likely contributing factor to the success of his practice and to the ‘high-end’ nature of his commissions, particularly regarding residential works. Prominent Adelaide families and individuals who commissioned works from F. W. Dancker include Sir Edwin Smith, Sir William Herbert Phillipps, Daniel Cudmore and the Sprod, Fisher, Hawker, Lindsay and Gartrell families among many others. 

 

While well-connected socially, F. W. Dancker's skill and artistry as an architect can be easily seen in the breadth and quality of the works produced by his practice during his lifetime. From his early career, Dancker familiarized himself with the latest international architectural fashions and technological advancements, including an early advocacy for the use of reinforced concrete in construction.[18] Where possible he preferred to use locally-made building materials[19] and maintained long-term working relationships with a number of Adelaide’s best builders, including Walter Charles Torode. Dancker frequently donated his fees for charitable works, including those for the South Australian Creche and later for the Queen’s Home; this donation in particular resulting in the title of ‘honourary architect-for-life.’[20] The warm, knowledgeable, ‘level-headed’ and reassuring tone of Dancker’s writing in his 1904 publication Modern Dwellings: 100 Selected Designs displays an articulate and practical mindset, often inclined to humour and wit. From the Dancker family’s extensive involvement in the arts, Dancker evidently valued intelligence and cultivation in others; qualities that Dancker evidently sought for in his articled pupils.[21]

 

Though the work of the firm has been largely forgotten since the demise of Eric Phillipps Dancker's career in 1944, the architecture of Frederick William Dancker is still recognised today for his fine designs for numerous town halls, regional institutes and churches but primarily for his numerous 'artistic' residences, particularly those achieved in the Federation or 'Queen Anne' style, of which Dancker was a leading South Australian practitioner. His 1904 publication Modern Dwellings:100 Selected Designs, based on a well-known precedent of the same name by American architect George Barber, catalogues Dancker's best residential works before 1904, largely designed in the 'Queen Anne' style, while providing a statement of his design philosophy at that time and a discussion of important features within a 'modern' early 20th century home. For these reasons, this important and probably unique document is of great value to South Australia's architectural history and to an understanding of the practices and production of South Australian residential architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

 

[1] Biographical detail abridged from article at https://www.macclesfieldhistory.com.au/dancker.html, accessed 4/1/19. A 1909 article lists Macclesfield as F. W. Dancker’s birthplace (A Clever Old Lady, Observer, Sat 6 Nov 1909, p50).

[2] Biographical detail abridged from article at https://www.macclesfieldhistory.com.au/dancker.html, accessed 4/1/19.

[3] Jane Pratt Dancker’s obituary describes “her remarkable skill in needlework, which was the envy of every woman who saw her triumphs in that direction” with great skill in ‘fish-scale work’ and flower arrangement. (Personal, Evening Journal, Thu 30 Jun 1910, p1).

[4] Biographical detail abridged from article at https://www.macclesfieldhistory.com.au/dancker.html, accessed 4/1/19.

[5] Death of Mr. F. W. Dancker, State’s Oldest Architect, The Advertiser, Sat 29 Aug 1936, p22. Previous biographies have implied Dancker found difficulty finding opportunities in naval architecture in Great Britain.

[6] Biographical detail abridged from article at https://www.macclesfieldhistory.com.au/dancker.html, accessed 4/1/19.

[7} This residence being 2 Wakefield Street, Kent Town, for which Dancker placed an advertisered tender for a "House of thirteen rooms, Kent Town.' (Tender, South Australian Register, Sat 17 Sep 1881, p.2).

[8] Phillipps was Manager of the Union Fire and Marine Co. of N.Z. with offices at Cavendish Chambers, Grenfell Street (Advertisement, The South Australian Register, Wed 13 Dec 1882, p. 7).

[9] An 1884 advertisement for an ‘experienced general servant,’ placed by Mrs. F. W. Dancker lists the Dancker residence as Kensington Road, Rose Park (Advertisement, The Express and Telegraph, Sat 11 Oct 1884, p1).

[10] William Herbert Phillipps was Manager of G. Wills & Co (The Express and Telegraph, Wed 30 May 1900, p. 4), President of the Seaman's Mission Home (Evening Journal, Thu 21 Sep 1911, p. 2), President of the Queen's Maternity Home (Evening Journal, Mon 18 Jan 1904, p. 1) and Chairman of the Savings Bank of South Australia (The Register, Sat 4 Dec 1926, p. 12).

[11] Deaths, South Australian Register, Thu 29 Sep 1898, p4.

[12] Births, Evening Journal, Thu 3 Nov 1887, p2.

[13] Births, Adelaide Observer, Sat 4 Jan 1890, p24.

[14] All building tenders from January 1911 onwards list the company title of F. W. Dancker & Son (Advertisement, The Express and Telegraph, Wed 11 Jan 1911, p2).

[15] Schenk, John, ‘Dancker, Eric Phillips’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2013, Architects of South Australia. http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=123, accessed 4/1/19.

[16] Death of Mr. F. W. Dancker, State’s Oldest Architect, The Advertiser, Sat 29 Aug 1936, p22.

[17] Collins, Julie, 'Dancker, Frederick William', Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia. http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=12, accessed 13/1/19.

[18] In an 1880 article, F. W. Dancker suggests a new system of under-floor ventilation to the Central Board of Health (Boards of Health, Central Board, Evening Journal, Fri 16 Apr 1880, p2). A later article describes a ‘cellar-lift model,’ on display at the Gawler Place offices of F. W. Dancker, simplifying the process of transferring goods from ground level to cellar storage, with the “approval of several gentlemen who have seen it.” (General News, The Express and Telegraph, Thu 13 May 1880, p2). Julie Collins’ biography lists Dancker as ‘the first South Australian to call for the use of reinforced concrete in walls,’ in an 1889 article, Dancker suggests a coating of cement as the ideal solution to fix a leaking water tank (3000 Gallons Leaked Away, Barrier Miner, Thu 30 May 1889, p2.

[19] Messrs. G. & W. Shearing’s Brick and Pottery Works, The Express and Telegraph, Tue 7 Dec 1886, p4.

[20] Personal, The Advertiser, Sat 21 May 1904, p6.

[21] A 1902 advertisement placed by ‘F. W. Dancker, Architect, Cavendish Chambers, Grenfell Street’ lists the required services of a “Well educated lad, with constructive and artistic inclination, as Articled Pupil.” (Advertisement, The Register, Fri 4 Apr 1902, p2)

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