Charles Laing

Place of Birth
Manchester Melbourne

  • Birth: 1809, Manchester, England
  • Baptism: 30 July 1809, St Thomas, Ardwick, Manchester, Lancashire, England
  • Married: About 1929 Isabel Glasgow of Bute (about 1829)
  • Bankruptcy: March 1840
  • Emigration: 1841
  • Death: 29 September 1857 Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

 The son of James and Margaret Laing Charles Laing was born in Manchester in 1809, and was christened on 30 July 1809 at the Church of St Thomas, Ardwick. About 1829 he married Isabel Glasgow (born 24 November 24, 1806, at Port Bannatyne Isle of Bute), the daughter of John Glasgow and his wife Isabella (nee Hunter). Their union produced at least two children, a son, James, who survived his father and a daughter Isabella Ann, who died on 16 February 1841, aged 4 years, a possible victim of their poverty at the time.

 Charles Laing appears to have commenced his career as architect and land surveyor about 1830, having no entry in the 1829 directory. By 1831 he was in partnership with John Johnson as architects and land surveyors, with an office at 7 York Street, Manchester, this partnership being dissolved in May 1832. In February 1834 he moved to new offices in George Street, a notice appearing in the Manchester Guardian as follows: “Charles Laing, Architect, Surveyor, and Agent, in acknowledging the kind support he has received from his Friends and the Public generally, respectfully solicits a continuance of the same, which will ever be his study to deserve, at his new offices No 34 George Street, Manchester.”

 By the late 1830s his business was struggling such that in March 1840 he was scheduled to appear at the Court House at Lancaster as an insolvent debtor. In an attempt to obtain suitable employment, he applied for the office of Surveyor and Clerk to the Hulme Police Commissioners. [Manchester Guardian 28 July 1841 page 2]. In this he was unsuccessful, leaving him few prospects in Manchester.  Emigration seemed his only option and on 18 August 1841 the family sailed from Liverpool aboard the 860-ton “Wallace” for Australia, arriving at Port Phillip on 27 November 1841 after a voyage of 100 days.

In Melbourne he re-established his practice as an architect and surveyor, after a brief period as a butcher. From 1845 to about 1850 he was also city surveyor of Melbourne. At least three maps of Melbourne drawn by Laing during that period are preserved. The Australian Dictionary of Biography notes:

 His work as an architect ranged over ecclesiastical, institutional, domestic and business architecture and was fairly typical of the modest and unsophisticated style of the time. It included the still surviving stuccoed nave and tower of St Peter's, Eastern Hill (1846); a small church in Swanston Street, on the corner of Little Lonsdale Street, designed at half the usual fee for the penurious Free Presbyterian congregation (1847, demolished in 1863 to make way for the present church designed by Charles Webb); the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum in Victoria Street, North Melbourne (1850, now demolished); the English, Scottish and Australian Bank building on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Lane (1856, demolished in the 1880s, also attributed to Leonard Terry); a 31-room office block designed in 1856 for the solicitor Thomas Clark on the west side of Bank Place; the Royal Terrace for Hugh Glass in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (1856, still standing with later accretions); and various other shops and houses in Melbourne and suburbs and in and round Geelong.

The best-preserved example of Laing's work is the house called Coryule, near Drysdale, in the Bellarine Peninsula. This was designed in 1849 for Miss Anne Drysdale and Miss Elizabeth Newcomb, after the fashion of the picturesque phase of the Gothic revival. Part of Laing's plans and specifications for this house are preserved in the State Library of Victoria. The plans and specifications of three small cottages at Brighton, designed for Thomas Clark, solicitor, also survive in private possession.

Charles Laing died at Brighton on 29 September 1857, at the age of 48, leaving his professional equipment to his son James, and the rest of his estate, which did not exceed £1000, to his wife Isabella, née Glasgow. [Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2,]

1831-1832:  Johnson and Laing architects 7 York Street Manchester. (M G 11 June 1831 page 1)
1834: Charles Laing, 34 George Street, Manchester. Manchester Guardian 1 February 1834 page 1)
1837-1940: Charles Laing, architect, 14 Charlotte Street, Manchester
1840: 29 Ferneley Street, Hulme,
1841-1857: Melbourne Australia
Reference: Manchester Guardian 11 June 1831 page 1
Reference: London Gazette 22 May 1832 page 1156 – dissolution of partnership
Reference: Manchester Guardian 1 February 1834 page 1 – removal to George Street
Reference: London Gazette 1840 page 356 – bankruptcy
Reference: J. L. O'Brien: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967