Oct 142014

Francis Van Hemelryck (Architect/builder) – Creightons Building, Mann Street, Gosford

Notes from a grand-daughter

Francis, ‘Frank’, arrived in Australia from Antwerp in October 1892 on the Prince Baudouin, an adventurous 17yr old. Short of stature, but quick and strong, he had a gregarious nature. He was skilled with numbers having learnt navigation and the shipping business from early childhood with his father & uncles- (all river pilots on the Scheldt), had a rare talent for drawing, and was fluent in 5 languages. At first he worked at Sydney wharves where his language skills and maritime knowledge ensured him employment and progressively the chance to develop his drawing and drafting knowledge in different jobs around the docklands.

By 1900 he was an independent contractor & had married a lass descended from convicts of the 3rd fleet and was settled in the Haberfield area of Sydney. They had two sons; both would later follow him into the building trade, as would one of his grandsons. However, in the first decade of the 20th century, Francis & his wife were running a general store & convectionary shop attached to an early cinema in the Ashfield area. Throughout this period Francis continued his first love; to draw & to study his growing library of architectural works.

And then the First World War intervened. Although Francis was too old for enlistment in 1914-5 and his boys too young, by 1916 casualties were such that the need for re-inforcements meant the requirements for enlistment were considerably altered.  Francis, aged 41 and just 5ft2inches tall was taken into the AIF & left for France in February 1917.

Soon Frank gained a reputation amongst his fellow troops as a brilliant cartoonist & sketch artist. His easy humour and manner with all ranks saw him promoted from Private to Corporal while still on the ship ‘Wiltshire’ as it carried them to the war in Europe. Then, as part of the 2nd Division, his Battalion was amongst those sent as re-inforcements to the Western front in Belgium. Here they were to be involved in the Third Battle of Ypes at Passchendaele in the bitter winter of 1917. For Francis this war was as much personal as it was fighting for his country, ‘Australia’. Though both his parents were now dead, he still had family in Belgium, and the ground he was fighting on was literally the ground of his childhood.

Unprepared for his own reactions as they moved to the front line at Passchendale, he recoiled emotionally from the madness around him, concerned about his brothers and other family still living in Belgium; where they were & what was happening, or had, happened to them. Communication during the whole war had been inadequate & for some weeks in the early part of October he was unable to function as a soldier. Eventually, suffering trench foot and a back injury he was moved into a labour Company supporting the front line and his Battalion. Further injury saw him repatriated to England and by February 1919 he was back in Australia. Those of his close family who survived the war emigrated to the United States.

Wartime had changed domestic life at home and Francis didn’t settle back into family life very easily. In 1920 he moved from the residence of his wife and sons but lived nearby for several years before moving to the Brisbane Waters area. He worked to build up his drafting and architectural knowledge, often doing projects for Gosford Council.

After the death of Joseph Herbert Compton in 1927 (a pioneer in the Gosford area) Francis became good friends with his widow who ran the local Compton Bus Service (Gosford to Ourimbah) with her eldest son, Robert, until his death in 1933. Francis became a minor partner in the business & often was a driver for her while he continued drawing, drafting and building in the near localities. From about this time Francis lived with the Compton family and became a pseudo stepfather to the children. They were together for the rest of Francis’ life. He suffered a disabling stroke in 1841 and died in 1842.  He is buried at Point Clare Cemetery.

Some of Francis’ natural grandchildren are still living in 2014 and remember visiting him at his office upstairs in the old Arts building in Mann Street in the years 1936-8. His name also appears on numerous applications before Council in those years as ‘builder’ so it is likely his business was there from sometime in the early to mid 1930s to about 1940. The Creighton building may well have been his last major project.

As Francis remained largely estranged from his natural family in the latter part of his life, his closeness to the ‘Comptons’ of Narara  would have meant they were more familiar with his projects and had access to photos or drawings he produced. No doubt some are still in the archives of  Gosford Council’s building Dept. though it is hard to conceive any could be a better example of his work than Creightons.

The Creighton building is a wonderful contribution to its community providing a solid, tangible piece of its history. FrancisVan Hemelryck may not have been an Australian, architectural giant, but he was a typical working man of his time. Creightons is evidence of his eye for beauty and homage to the era (and area) in which he was living and working. It is noteworthy too, the number of streets & council areas around Gosford named for the ‘Comptons’. As Francis’ had such a strong connection to the family and the area (he is mentioned as Lucy Compton’s ‘husband, Frank’, in the Narara School Centenary History ‘transport’ section), there may be points from his life or work, especially on Creightons, that are worthy of mention in your heritage register.

Source: R.L.G (nee Van Hemelryck) – October, 2014


Minutes of the meeting of the health and building committee of the municipality of Gosford, held in the council chambers, Gosford on Wednesday, the twelfth day of January, 1938, at 2 p.m.

Minutes of the meeting of the health and building committee of the municipality of Gosford, held in the council chambers, Gosford on Wednesday, the twelfth day of January, 1938, at 2 p.m.

Minutes of Gosford Council for January 1938

Francis Van Hemelryck was very active for his services in the community with several mentions in the minutes of the meeting

Source: Trove / The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Thursday 18 June 1942, page 10 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/17815307

Source: Trove / The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Thursday 18 June 1942, page 10

Family Notices

VAN HEMELRYCK – The Funeral of the late FRANCIS VAN HEMELRYCK Of Narara will leave R H Creighton’s Funeral Parlour Gosford THIS DAY after service commencing at 1.30 p m, for the Point Clare Cemetery. R H CREIGHTON funeral Director , Phone Gosford 45 [2]


[2] Source: Trove / The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Thursday 18 June 1942, page 10