Drawing Room Fireplace Surround, Hand-carved, 1890 ca.

60 Objects Labassa

Labassa is a showcase of the prosperity of its past owners, Gold Rush entrepreneurs, who spent their wealth on superior craftsmanship.  In 1887, Canadian born Alexander Robertson, of Cobb and Co fame, purchased the original mansion.  He appointed the German born architect J.B.A. Koch to extend and refurbish his home and called it ‘Ontario’.  When John Boyd Watson bought the house in 1904 he renamed it ‘Labassa’ and commissioned changes to the wallpapers and colour schemes but retained much of the 1889 – 90 scheme.  It is this combined scheme that we see today.

The building’s significance is situated in the extant examples of the craft and design of local carvers, wood workers, painters and decorators and, of course, the talent of the architect Koch.  This evidence of the labour and skill of anonymous émigré artisans, who planned the florid carvings or sourced patterns to stencil the ceilings, makes Labassa important.

‘If the Royal Exhibition Building was Melbourne’s public expression of confidence … then Ontario, now known as Labassa, was a private one.’

The Story of Labassa, Hammond, 2004

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