Purnell in China Film
Between 1900 and 1910 Purnell lived and worked in China. In 1904 he and Charles Souders Paget (1874–1933), an American civil engineer from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, established the architectural and engineering firm Purnell & Paget in Guangzhou (Canton).
NARRATOR: Arthur Purnell was born in January 1875 into the family of a builder in Geelong. He designed many famous buildings in his life, such as Sun Yat-Sen Memorial in Guangzhou and Olympic Stadium in Melbourne. But not many people remember him by these. Dr. Derham Groves, a historian and senior lecturer at Melbourne University, discovered Purnell in one of his research projects and tracked down the life of this legendary character.
-Arthur Purnell studied architecture at the Gordon Institute of Technology in Geelong. His father was a builder. And so when he graduated from the Gordon Institute, he worked for his father. In 1899, his father's firm sent Arthur Purnell on a tour around the world, like a study tour around the world. And he visited many countries, including the United States.
NARRATOR: Arthur went to Africa, Europe, and New Zealand on a study tour. When he was 25 years old, he went back to China. Why did Arthur return to China? There are three different theories. All three factors may have influenced him to go to China.
-Arthur Purnell's favorite architect was Frank Lloyd Wright. And there is-- one story goes that when Purnell was in Chicago, he visited Frank Lloyd Wright and it was Frank Lloyd Wright who advised Purnell to visit Japan or China. And subsequently, he went to China. There's another story that the head of the Gordon Institute of Technology, an architect named George King, encouraged Arthur Purnell to go to China.
My own theory is that Purnell was influenced by George Morrison. George Morrison was an Australian, lived in Geelong, and became the "London Times" correspondent in China. Morrison was an adventurer and walked across China in the late 1800s. Purnell went to Geelong College. George Morrison also went to the Geelong College.
NARRATOR: In 1900, he worked in the Public Works Department in Hong Kong and later worked for an English architect, William Danby, in Hong Kong. In 1903, he was sent by Danby to work in Shamian, Guangzhou. This was where all the foreigners lived and worked.
In 1904, Purnell left William Danby and set up his own firm with an American engineer named Charles Pageant. They both had professional training in their own area. Soon, they won their first contract. On July 29, 1904, the "Geelong Advertiser" proudly proclaimed that a company owned by Purnell from Geelong won the bid for the design and construction of the custom house in Guangzhou, valued at 450,000 pound sterling. After that, Purnell's business began to take off."
-And so Purnell and Pageant designed this marvelous customs house. It's a French-style building, still there, recently renovated, and is now used, I think, again by the Customs Department over there. And it's a beautiful building. It's probably one of the best buildings in Guangzhou, actually, I think.
NARRATOR: Between 1903 and 1910, Purnell designed many buildings in Guangzhou. However, most of them have disappeared. Only 15 have been identified.
Eight of them are on Shamian Island-- Number Two Shamian Street, previously custom dormitory; Number 30 Shamian Street, an Italian-style two-story house; Number Five or Seven, Third Street, Shamian, a Neoclassical-styled three-story house-- today, post office and cultural center occupy level one. Level two and three are residence-- Number 50 South Shamian Street, a four-story building with garden and kitchen on the upper terrace; Number 62 Shamian Street, a three-story Neoclassical building-- this was Purnell's residence. Today, it is used as an apartment-- Fifth Shamian Street, a two-story building with red and white pillars-- the veranda on level two has been bricked up and the original pillars have been smoothed beyond recognition.
The two blocks of three-story Italian-style buildings beside Pearl River in Guangzhou are most well-known. They were part of the Guangdong Cement Factory, designed for the Qing dynasty government in 1907. Guangdong Cement Factory then was the second-largest cement factory in China, next to Kaiping Cement Factory in Tianjin. 10 years later in July 1917, the cement factory became the president's palace. When Sun Yat-Sen arrived in Guangzhou, it became the Navy headquarters and headquarters of the military government of the Republic of China.
-So essentially, it's the first president's palace in China. And the reason for this is obvious when you see a photograph of the building at the time. It was right next to the Pearl River. And in those days, really the only people that were supporting Sun Yat-Sen in terms of an official capacity were the Navy. So clearly, if something went wrong, this particular building was close enough to the river so that Sun Yat-Sen could escape easily. The building still exists. It's now a museum to Sun Yat-Sen and is a major, major building.