Written by the father and son team, William and John Halfpenny, Rural Architecture in the Chinese taste is a beautifully illustrated 18th century instruction or pattern book, designed to assist those erecting Chinese structures in regional areas.

Of William Halfpenny’s personal life very little is known.  His earliest paid work was for a 1723 design for Holy Trinity Church in Leeds, which was never executed.  His first published book, Practical Architecture (c1724) included a dedication to the son of Yorkshireman Sir Thomas Frankland of Thirsk, suggesting Halfpenny, himself, may have come from the Yorkshire area.  He was also known to write under a pseudonym, his 1728 The builder’s pocket-companion published under the name Michael Hoare.  He reportedly spent much of his early career in Richmond, Surrey, working as a carpenter, where numerous local craftsmen subscribed to his second book, The art of sound building (1725).

Halfpenny never really found the same support for his actual architectural designs as he did for his books.  Certainly, a number of impressive buildings in Bristol and around south Gloucestershire have been attributed to him based on similarities with his pattern book designs, such as Stout’s Hill, Uley and the orangery at Frampton Court Estate.  However, it was his prolific writing, particularly in the latter part of his life that attracted people to Halfpenny’s designs.  He frequently collaborated with his son, John Halfpenny, and during the last six years of William’s life they produced a new book, or a new edition of a previous one, every year.  Some of his most recognised works include The art of sound building (1725, 2nd ed.) and A new and complete system of architecture delineated (1749).

The majority of Halfpenny’s works dealt with domestic architecture and consisted of designs for farmhouses, country houses, parsonages and garden ornaments, particularly in the Chinese, Gothic and rustic styles, all of which enjoyed great popularity in the mid-1700s.  Many of his latter publications were affordable pattern books which included dimensions and estimates intended to assist with construction of everything from bridges to garden seats.  At times, they showcased Chinoiserie designs which bordered on the comical, and yet, the books were innovative and enormously successful.  It seemed everyone wanted to know just how to erect rural buildings in the latest fashion and at minimal cost.

New designs for Chinese temples (1750-2), Rural architecture in the Gothick taste (1752) and Chinese and Gothic architecture properly ornamented (1752), together with Twelve beautiful designs for farm-houses (1750) and The country gentleman’s pocket companion (1753) created quite a name for Halfpenny.  Published a couple of years before the works of Thomas Chippendale and William Chambers, they were historically significant too, for they cast doubt upon the commonly-held belief that these designers were the first to introduce Chinese taste into the U.K.

Rural architecture in the Chinese taste is a typical example of a Halfpenny pattern book.   In its preface William describes it purpose: “The art of designing architecture is not confined to any particular Taste or Country, more than justly observing a graceful Symmetry, and an exact Proportion thorough the whole.  And the Chinese Manner of Building being introduced here with Success, the few following Essays are an Attempt to rescue those agreeable Decorations from the many bad consequences usually attending such slight structures, when unskilfully erected: Which must often unavoidably happen at a Distance from this Metropolis, without such Helps as, I flatter myself, the Workmen will here find laid down…”

Halfpenny then divides the book into four parts.  The first, “Of rural buildings in the Chinese taste for temples, triumphal arches, garden seats, palings &c.”, includes fourteen copper plate illustrations of complex parallelogram hatch palings; alcove seats and summer and banqueting houses, amongst others.  The second part continues in this theme, with a further fourteen illustrations, many of these on large folding plates, of temples, triumphant arches, termini (pillar-like forms with a human bust and head) and bridges.  The third part, “New designs for Chinese doors, windows, piers, pilasters, garden seats, green-houses, summer-houses, &c.”, contains sixteen copper plate illustrations of ornate double doors as well as plans and elevations for some of the most ornate green houses in the Chinese taste.  Part four consists of the final sixteen plates which depict gates, palisades, staircases, chimney-pieces, chairs and ceilings, amongst others.  Importantly, all of the plates include “full instructions to the workmen” and equally beneficial – “a near estimate of their charge” and “hints where, with most advantage, to be erected.”

All of this from a man who, supposedly, had never visited China!


Adapted from Eileen Harris’ entry ‘Halfpenny, William [pseud. Michael Hoare]’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004, accessed online 28 June 2018



Rural architecture in the Chinese taste : being designs entirely new for the decoration of gardens, parks, forrests [sic], insides of houses &c. on sixty copper plates with full instructions for workmen: also a near estimate of the charge, and hints where proper to be erected / the whole invented and drawn by Will’m & Jn’n Halfpenny, Architects. William Halfpenny, John Halfpenny, London: Printed for Rob’t Sayer, 1755


Lee Hayes
July 2018

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corelli-2The work of one of Britain’s most popular authors of the Victorian era, The Devil’s motor is a fantasy, dramatically illustrated by Arthur Severn, son of the famous English portrait painter Joseph Severn.

For someone so famous and highly paid, surprisingly little is known about the childhood of Mary Mackay, who wrote under the pseudonym of Marie Corelli. It’s thought that she was born in or near London in 1855, the illegitimate daughter of Dr Charles Mackay, Scottish poet, journalist and songwriter, and his servant Elizabeth Mills.[1] At the age of eleven, she was sent to a convent in Paris to be educated, and returned to the U.K. four years later.

In 1886 Mackay produced her first book, A romance of two worlds. It was an immediate success. An interesting mix of science fiction, supernatural romance and fantasy, the book centred around a young heroine who, suffering debilitating illness, was given a slumber-inducing potion. She experienced divine visions, travelling through solar systems and meeting a guardian angel who shared with her the truth of religion and the secret of human destiny. [2] Mackay had never anticipated the success the book was to have; it’s now considered one of the most influential occult novels of its time. Not long after its publication, and that of her second and third books, Vendetta! (1886) and Thelma (1887), she was to become the best-selling author in England. In the late Victorian-early Edwardian era, her works actually surpassed the combined sales of Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle.[3]

trees-destroyer-2Not all of Mackay’s novels enjoyed this level of success though. Her fourth, Ardath: The story of a dead self (1889) did not sell well, much to Mary’s disappointment. Essentially the tale of a poet, dreaming of his past life, and coming to the realisation that his current existence was the direct result of prior mistakes, Ardath was somewhat esoteric. Most readers failed to understand it; Mackay herself described it as “welcomed by a distinctly cultured minority of persons famous is art, science and literature…”.[4] Though the book was praised by British magazines, such as The Athenaeum, the majority of the literary press shunned it. Indeed, Mackay’s relationship with the press was prickly at best.

demon-2Mary was frequently left hurt and confused by the literary establishment’s attitude towards her; she interpreted it as one of personal dislike, and it’s possible that she was right, for she had such an ability to alienate people. At times her sense of outrage was justified. Grant Allen of The Spectator referred to her as “a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, and was accepted as a genius by a public whose commonplace sentimentalities and prejudices she gave a glamourous setting”.[5] Mackay was never afraid to respond though, and she verbally attacked newspapers, journalists, photographers and critics in almost all of her novels. The sorrows of Satan, arguably her best work, certainly the highest selling (approximately 50,000 copies in its first seven weeks), was in many ways “written as a sustained attack on the alleged corruption of modern literature, contemporary critics and journalistic practice”. [6] Her anger at the press was so intense that she broke with tradition, refusing to send review copies of Sorrows… to the press and instructing the publisher to insert a notice at the head of the first page advising them that they would have to obtain the book in the usual way, along with the rest of the public.[7]

grasses-waving-2Her personal life, too, was constantly under scrutiny. Mackay lived with her female companion, Bertha Vyver, from her early 20s. The two spent more than 40 years together, with Bertha receiving all of the author’s possessions when she died, and staying on at Mackay’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon until her own death. Despite numerous references in her works (though none of them gender specific), to the secretive nature of sexual desire, Mackay never identified herself as a lesbian. Although some argued that her homosexuality was obvious,[8] others have concluded that it was much more likely the pair were simply lifelong companions.[9] The only man that she did appear to have a romantic affection for was Arthur Severn, artist and friend of John Ruskin.

In the posthumously published Open confession: To a man from a woman (1925), Mackay’s feelings for Severn are outlined in the form of a private journal. Despite his being a married man, it’s clear here that she experienced an obsessive love for him. It was a love unrequited though, and at times Severn was actually quite cruel to her, belittling her success as an author.[10] It did not stop her from collaborating on a book with him though, and in c1911 The Devil’s motor, an allegory with its concurrently beautiful and macabre illustrations, was published.

satan-car-2Mackay had long admired Severn’s artistic ability, and a dark fantasy such as The Devil’s motor needed just the type of fearless illustrations he could provide. In fact, the text and the colour-plates complement each other so perfectly, it’s almost impossible to imagine a better fit. The opening paragraph begins:
“In the dead of midnight, at that supreme moment when the Hours that are past slip away from the grasp of the Hours yet to be, there came rushing between Earth and Heaven the sound of giant wheels, – the glare of great lights, – the stench and the muffled roar of a huge Car, tearing at full speed along the pale line dividing the Darkness from the Dawn.”

Here, the motor car was depicted as a vehicle of evil. It was symbolic of the destructive forces of greed and modern industry, and Severn’s bold and bloody-coloured illustrations of Satan driving around in the car almost forced the reader to sit up and take notice; to heed Mackay’s message – that we must not let the speed of progress make us “forget to halt to gather the flowers of thought… the fruits of feeling.” We must “listen to the singing of the birds of hope” and hear the “murmur of the cool grasses waving in the fields of peace…”

cover-2Not content to leave the delivery of her message to text and illustrations alone, Mackay also arranged for the book to receive a very special binding. At first glance, it appeared to be a Christmas gift book; its cover was bright red and its black border embellishments certainly looked like holly. A clue to its real meaning, however, lay in the book’s second paragraph:
“And he who stood within the Car, steering it straight onward, was clothed in black and crowned with fire; large bat-like wings flared out on either side of him in woven webs of smoke and flame…”
That holly-style decoration on the cover was actually very cleverly designed bat-winged car wheels.

Even more unusual was the smell of the book. Intended to smell like motor oil, the pages were darkened around their edges, almost taking on the appearance of fire damage. Unfortunately the substance used to create the smell wreaked, in time, an entirely different kind of havoc. Highly acidic, it began to break down the book’s pages, one by one, with many now completely cracked and disintegrated. For preservation purposes, the library’s copy of The Devil’s motor was digitised in 2017, with the online version available for viewing here.

The Devil’s motor is a remarkable book in so many ways. Its text, illustrations and binding design, when considered together, highlight exactly why Mackay’s hold over the reading public was, and still is, absolutely undeniable.


[1] Malerbo, Rocky, ‘An introduction to the works of Marie Corelli’, The Victorian web: Literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria, 25, August 2003, accessed online 17 May 2018,

[2] ‘A romance of two worlds’, Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia, 25 January 2018, accessed online 17 May 2018,

[3] MacLeod, Kirsten, ‘Marie Corelli’, Oxford Bibliographies, 25 May 2017, accessed online 17 May 2018,

[4] Hallim, Robyn, ‘Marie Corelli: Science, society and the best seller, PhD thesis, Dept. of English, University of Sydney, May 2002, accessed online 18 May 2018,

[5] Salmonson, Jessica Amanda, ‘Marie Corelli and her occult tales’, The Victorian web: Literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria, 1998, accessed online 18 May 2018,

[6] Hallim, Robyn, ‘Marie Corelli: Science, society and the best seller, PhD thesis, Dept. of English, University of Sydney, May 2002, accessed online 18 May 2018,

[7] Hallim, Robyn, ‘Marie Corelli: Science, society and the best seller, PhD thesis, Dept. of English, University of Sydney, May 2002, accessed online 18 May 2018,

[8] [8] Salmonson, Jessica Amanda, ‘Marie Corelli and her occult tales’, The Victorian web: Literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria, 1998, accessed online 18 May 2018,

[9] Ransom, Teresa, The mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian bestsellers, Stroud: Sutton, 1999, pp. 40-41, 206-207

[10] ‘Marie Corelli’, Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia, 14 May 2018, accessed online 18 May 2018,

Lee Hayes
June 2018

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Visitors to the Library in 2017 may recall the exhibition, Cover to Cover: Exposing the Bookbinder’s Ancient Craft.

Capitalising on the success of the physical display, Lee has now converted her exhibition into Rare Books & Special Collections’ first, major online exhibition.

To learn more about this fascinating craft, including the connection between a book’s binding and provenance, and the importance of proper long term care and handling, visit:



Cover to Cover: Exposing the Bookbinder’s Ancient Craft
7 July – 29 September 2017

Curator: Lee Hayes

Bookbinding is a humble pursuit. Rarely does it receive the attention and glamour afforded to other ancient crafts. Unlike the silversmith or the glassblower, whose talents are immediately obvious, the binder’s craft of construction is largely concealed. Durability and function are foremost in the bookbinder’s mind; theirs is a role of guardianship – they serve to protect the book’s contents, guaranteeing its access for generations of readers.

But what if a book’s binding was a story in itself? Could we appreciate and value the intricacy and complexity of its sewing system, its control centre in many ways, if we knew why it was sewn in a particular style? Hidden from view, we hardly spare a thought for its purpose, and yet, the bookbinder does. In fact, there are always reasons why these skilled craftsmen and women choose to bind a book in a certain way.

A binding tells us as much, if not more, about a book’s provenance than an owner’s signature or bookplate. It assists librarians and historians to date and place a work. It provides insight into an owner’s economic and social standing. It imparts information about the spread of ideas, customs, technologies and artistic tastes of the time. It reflects the perceived significance of the book’s content and, importantly, it tells us exactly how a book was intended to be used and how it was actually used.

From forwarding to finishing, and all of the steps in between, this exhibition celebrates the bookbinder, and the unique combination of utility, dexterity and artistry required to excel at this ancient craft. On display will be a variety of exposed bindings; old, rare and fine bindings; bookbinding supplies, and tools and equipment from Rare Books & Special Collections and the curator’s personal collection.




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This month Rare Books & Special Collections pays tribute to those engaged in military service, past and present, by taking a closer look at Lieutenant Will Dyson’s book, Australia at war. The ninth of eleven children, Dyson was born in 1880 at Alfredton, a suburb of Ballarat, Victoria. Though largely self-taught as an artist, he […]

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The tragedy of William Kinmont In 1891 the 24-year old William Kinmont left his native Scotland to try his luck in the dominions. A recent M.A. graduate from the University of Edinburgh, William had distinguished himself as Senior President of the Students’ Representative Council and editor of the student magazine. Armed with excellent references, he […]

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Though rarely afforded the attention of his contemporary John Gould, Richard Bowdler Sharpe was an accomplished ornithologist in his own right, and his contribution to the field was nothing short of astounding.  He was born in London in 1847 and cared for by his aunt who kept a preparatory school at Brighton.  Sharpe passed three […]

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The Views of the city of Adelaide is a massive album, measuring almost 130 cm wide when open, containing 29 photographs.  Published in 1874, its sepia prints depict some of the city’s grandest buildings and beautifully capture people going about their daily affairs.  With photography by George Freeman and Edward Wivell, the album is an […]

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If you are looking for something to help you celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, why not come on by the library and visit our latest exhibition, Petticoats & Saddlebags: timelines of early women explorers, 1700-1900. This exhibition showcases the achievements of several women explorers who, in spite of the perceived limitations of […]

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With the Adelaide 500 starting today we thought it was an excellent opportunity to share an article from this 1942 issue of the ‘Electrical and Engineering Review,’ featuring a new electric car! (Pictured here in a “model for Milady”) You can find the article on our Digital Archive The “revolutionary” electric car was designed by […]

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It seems fitting that the first University in Australia to admit women to academic courses should choose to use in its teaching an Atlas of Anatomy by an early advocate of women’s rights. Our incomplete copy came over to the Library as a sad pile of individual plates, uncovered during the shift of the Medical School […]

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