The Museum of Freemasonry has, as part of its collection, a rather handsome chair normally referred to as the Mayor’s Chair. Its origins and history have been somewhat clouded for many years but it was known that both the chair and a handsome desk were both purchased from the City of Sydney Corporation for the sums of £27 and ₤13 respectively in March 1854. Much of the other history of these two pieces of early colonial furniture was not known.

The Museum of Freemasonry is most grateful to Mr John Wade, President of the Australiana Society  (www.australiana.org) for the information he has provided regarding some of the history of these pieces of furniture. This detail appeared in the August 2005 edition of Australiana magazine.

It would seem that the chair and desk were made by a Mr John Hill Jr. He was one of Sydney’s leading cabinet makers between 1840 and 1860. His workmanship was highly regarded for its quality and practicality. He was most famous for items which were produced for a special purpose and meant to impress.

Hill, who lived from 1807 to 1870, had a number of commissions for the New South Wales Legislative Council, Government House and the Corporation of the City of Sydney and his workshop was held in high regard.

John Hill Jr served his apprenticeship in Sydney and by 1842 he had set up as an upholsterer and undertaker at 86 Pitt Street, on the eastern side between Bridge and King Streets. The first popular elections, for the City Council were set down for 1 November 1842 and there was an air of popular excitement in the city over this time.

John Hill was eventually selected to provide the ceremonial mayoral chair and desk for the City Corporation of Sydney ion 1843. Whilst not mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time it did feature in the 17 July edition of The Australian, which advised that it was soon to be installed. 1

“CIVIC CHAIR – There has just been completed by Mr Hill, the cabinetmaker, of Pitt-street, a chair for the Right Worshipful the Mayor Of Sydney; also a desk to match. The chair is certainly of workmanship superior to anything before got up by colonial workmen, and the design and carved work do very great credit to the designer. In a short time, the chair will be placed in the room where the council meetings are held.”

The new aldermen met at the Royal Hotel in George Street on 18 January 1843 and proceeded to the Council Chambers  at the Pultenay Hotel  in York Street between Market and Druitt Streets. The chair was installed in these premises a few months later and the first elected mayor to use it was John Hosking.

The work of John Wade, President of the Australiana Society has provided some much sought information concerning this chair.

“The large cedar chair with cabriole legs, open arms and cartouche-shaped back is in the Louis Revival style (Loudon’s ‘florid Italian’), with typically curved lines and an excess of deep, carved floral and scroll ornament. The open timber arms slope forward awkwardly. The chair back is surmounted by a panel with a ribbon bearing the word (CITY) ‘CORPORATION” (SYDNEY), a tapering panel carved with crest and rampant lion flanked by scrolls and topped with a crown. With Neo-Classical designs reaching the end of their popularity, and a new Gothic Government House under construction in the Domain, perhaps a different style was felt appropriate for the newly elected Council.

The cedar desk with sloping top is of plainer design, but ornamented with florid carving applied to the sides, the corbels, and the elaborately carved rococo scroll supports. It is not clear if the desk was intended for use by the Mayor or for the Town Clerk, John Rae, as the chair and the desk do not match stylistically.

The Freemasons also met in rented rooms at the Royal Hotel, but in 1853 they decided to move to their own permanent accommodation, and bought either the Pultenay Hotel or the Freemason’s Hall. The City Corporation too rented premises here, but when the City Corporation moved in March or April 1854 into leased premises at the top of King Street, they sold the mayoral chair and desk to the Freemasons Hall Company where the chair was set aside for the Worshipful Master.”

John Hill, Esq. JP died at his home, Exeter Villa, Macleay Street, Potts Point on 7 April 1870.

The chair and desk have remained the property of the Freemasons since that time. This Chair is the large central of the three located near the elevators on the third floor. Prior to being refurbished and placed in its present position, it was used as the Worshipful Master's Chair in Lodge Room No. 2 in the now-demolished Masonic Hall in Castlereagh. This chair is now 162 years old.