Greenway was deported to the colony after the family's building firm declared themselves bankrupt and he was found guilty of forging a document. He became Australia's first colonial architect. He worked for Governor Macquarie, building many iconic public buildings including Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney.
painter and architect, was born on 20 November 1777 in Mangotsfield, Gloucestershire, son of Francis Greenway (or Greenaway), a stonemason and builder, and Ann, née Webb. The family firm of architects, builders and monumental masons, including John, Thomas and Oliver Greenway (or Greenaway), was based in Bristol, Somerset, where Francis would have served his apprenticeship. He worked primarily in Bristol, Bath and in Gloucestershire, then appears to have been employed by John Nash, subsequently the Prince Regent’s favourite architect. In 1800 one F.H. 'Grinway’, architect 'At Mr. Nash’s’, had his drawings, The Saxon Gateway, College Green, Bristol and West Door, Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford , hung at the Royal Academy.
Greenway then appears to have worked for the British government. In 1802 from New Palace Yard (the public works’ depot) he exhibited designs at the Royal Academy for a 'Chapel, Library, etc., at Bristol’. The following year, from the same address, F.H. Grinway showed designs for 'Thornbury Castle restored, with a canal brought from the river Severn up to Thornbury’. This Tudor building in Gloucestershire was to influence Greenway’s design for a new Government House at Sydney (never built) and its stables (1818: altered).
Greenway’s only known English building is the stone-faced Clifton Hotel and Assembly Rooms at Bristol (1806-07: completed 1811 by Joseph Kay). Eighteenth-century Georgian in style, it already displays the fondness for subtle modulations of wall planes characteristic of Greenway’s colonial classical work. The central block has a large pediment created from exaggerating the projection of cornice and gable ends, another feature he commonly employed in New South Wales.
Francis was back in Bristol with the family firm when it was declared bankrupt. An unorthodox attempt to salvage it from ruin seems to have been the major reason for his arrest in January 1812, when he was accused of forging a document. He was found guilty in March but the obligatory death sentence was subsequently commuted to fourteen years’ transportation. He arrived at Sydney in February 1814 on board the General Hewitt , soon afterwards being joined by his wife Mary and their three sons. Lachlan Macquarie was in need of a trained architect to carry out his and his wife’s ambitious building programme for the colony and, as the governor wrote three years later in a letter to Lord Bathurst, Greenway came 'strongly recommended to me by the late Governor Phillip’.
Macquarie first employed Greenway in 1815 to provide a structural report on the new 'Rum Hospital’ buildings. Since these had not been built to his design or supervision, Greenway predictably damned them utterly. Macquarie then appointed him acting civil architect and assistant engineer on 30 March 1816; he was granted a conditional pardon for his South Head lighthouse building (erected 1816-17 under the supervision of the colonial engineer). Greenway designed numerous public buildings: institutions, residences, churches and monuments as well as minor embellishments to the landscape (mostly for Elizabeth Macquarie ), including a 'Construction in the [Botanic] Garden of 100 yds [91.4 m] of ornamental arcade for vines with circular bowers and dome at each end’. His private commissions included tomb chests for George Howe and the Johnston family.
Greenway’s architectural career in New South Wales is well documented. Hyde Park Barracks (1817-19), St Luke’s, Liverpool (1817-24), St James’s, Sydney (1819-22), St Matthew’s, Windsor (1819-22) and other extant buildings are now popularly appreciated as the foundations of Australian architecture. His picturesque Gothic buildings, on the other hand, are mostly long demolished and his 'Turnpike Gate at Sydney with Gothic Lodge and Offices’ (1819-20), his designs for Sydney’s Anglican and Catholic cathedrals (the former never built, the latter much modified before its erection), even his (extant) Government House stables, have played little part in the creation of the Greenway architectural persona.
Least familiar is his work as a painter and ornamental designer. Described in Governor Macquarie’s despatches as both 'architect and painter’, Greenway provided the decorations for the ball given by Mrs Macquarie on 26 January 1818 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of white settlement. The Sydney Gazette claimed to be 'particularly gratified with a likeness of Governor Phillip (executed by Mr Greenway, who felt much pleasure in this opportunity of celebrating the memory of the Vice-Admiral, who had been his steady friend and patron) suspended at one extremity of the room in a wreath, supported by two banners’.
No extant art works can be conclusively claimed for Greenway but there are some strong attributions. One is a pastel portrait once owned by his granddaughter (ML), which is generally accepted as a self-portrait. More interesting are two canvases (ML) first brought to public attention in 1966 but known to the Greenway family for over 100 years. Both depict scenes inside the Newgate Prison at Bristol – not architectural views but pictorial records of prison life. In one both ragged and well-dressed prisoners are languishing in corners, smoking, drinking, gambling and bartering with the guards. All are in chains, including a stout red-headed man in a blue jacket on the right who looks rather like Greenway himself. The second painting, titled The Mock Trial according to a manuscript label originally attached to the back of the canvas, depicts a traditional game played in an open, unclassified prison, a parody of the judicial system with the madman cast as judge. These unsigned paintings are respectively dated July and August 1812 on the backs; Greenway might still have been in Newgate Prison then and the provenance is impressive. Unfortunately, both were heavily restored in the 1960s and the handwritten commentaries on the backs destroyed.
Greenway’s arrogance, disputative nature and professional ambitions (not to mention a megalomaniacal claim of £11 000 made retrospectively on the colonial government for unpaid fees) ensured that he fell out of favour with subsequent governors, although Eliza Darling (q.v.), Governor Darling’s wife, was reported to be about to employ him to erect a new Government House to her design. This, unfortunately, came to nothing. Greenway erected a few private villas but by 1828 he, his wife and their six surviving children (his eldest son George having died) were living on 800 poor marshy acres granted him at Tarro on the Hunter River in the Newcastle district. Mary died there in 1832. In 1835 Francis Howard Greenway published highly-coloured yet extremely informative reminiscences in the Australian Almanac but these apparently held little public interest. Two years later, when Australia’s first colonial architect died, he was almost totally sunk in obscurity.