Stories and People

Alfred Kursteiner

Family History

Alfred Frederick Kursteiner's Life

Written by Michael Moore

Alfred Frederick Kursteiner was born at Basel, Switzerland in 1828, the son of Johannes (John) Kursteiner, schoolmaster and clergyman, and Appolonia (Pauline), nee Berri. (1)

On 7 March 1851, he arrived at Fremantle on the ship Mary Ann, and the Perth Gazette of a week later included a notice:

A. KURSTEINER, Architect, having just arrived from London, purposes establishing himself at Fremantle, and hopes the residents of that town and other parts of the Colony will honor him with their patronage and support. Having a large and valuable collection of Designs and Plans for houses and cottages of various kinds, he invites an inspection of them, or will wait upon parties desirous of having his services. The most ample information will be given on application to him (p.p.) at Mr Marmion's, Fremantle.

No evidence has been found for any of his work in that colony, nor for his travel to Victoria. By February 1853, he is advertising for builders for three stores in Melbourne.

His 1859 marriage certificate (2) records that he was then resident at 9 Royal Terrace, Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. That residence still exists as 66 Nicholson Street, and was then occupied by Nicholas Chevalier, a fellow Swiss and a significant artist, also born in 1828, who had trained as an architect and artist at Lausanne, Munich, London and Rome. (3,4)

In February 1859 Kursteiner applied for naturalization, indicating that he had come to Victoria in 1852, that he wished to purchase land, and that he was about to join the Victorian Volunteer Artillery Regiment.(5)

On 10 September 1859 Kursteiner, aged 31, married 23 year old Catherine Mahoney at the Unitarian Christian Church which was then next to the Lutheran Church in East Melbourne. As a five year old, Catherine had come to Melbourne from Cork, Ireland in 1840 on the emigrant barque Georgiana with her parents Thomas and Julia Mahoney. At the time of the Kursteiner marriage, the Mahoney family lived at 10 Palmer Street, Fitzroy, very near Royal Terrace, and Alfred, the surveyor and architect, was engaged on several projects with his father-in-law who was a land developer and building contractor. Alfred and Catherine lived successively at 125 Hoddle Street, 29 Palmer Street, 156 Ferrars Street, Emerald Hill and back to 10 Palmer Street from 1870 until her death there on 20 April 1876. They had no children, and she was buried in a Mahoney family plot (G283) in the Roman Catholic section at the Melbourne General Cemetery.

On 24 May 1860 Kursteiner was one of the 500 who attended the Governor's levee at the Exhibition Building in honour of Her Majesty's birthday.(6) Also in 1859 (7) and 1860 (8) , he is listed as the President of the German Lieder Tafel Harmonia.

In 1867 Alfred Kursteiner has two references during the description of the functions associated with the Duke of Edinburgh's visit to Melbourne:
- as one of 2000 people in the general presentation of citizens to the Duke and Duchess (9) ;
- as architect responsible for the decorative facade at the unfinished Public Library.

After Catherine's death in 1876, Alfred later married Margaret McCrae in 1885 at St Andrew's Manse, Carlton. Margaret died the next year at their home in East Melbourne, and is buried alone (in plot N230) at the Presbyterian section of the Melbourne General Cemetery.

Alfred Kursteiner practiced as an architect in Melbourne through to the last known reference to him in September 1893. By then the 1880s 'Marvellous Melbourne' building boom had faltered, and banks and building societies were closing. The Kalgoorlie goldfields discoveries of 1892-93 drew large numbers of Victorians, with 20,000 going in 1895-96 (10) and 40,000 over 1891-1901. (11)  Of these at least 90 were architects (12). Kursteiner had returned to Perth by September 1895 where he advertised(13):

Kursteiner & Dunn, Architects and Surveyors. Rachabite Coffee Palace, Wellington-street, Perth. Fritz Kürsteiner, Deutscher Architect, lange zeit in Melbourne; Office: Stundon, Morgens von 10-12 Uhr, Nachmittags von 4-8 Uhr.

On 2 May 1897, Frederick Alexander Kürsteiner (sic), architect, died as a result of heart disease, aged 69, at the Mount Eliza Poor House, Perth. His death certificate records details of his parents, his birthplace, and his duration in the Australian Colonies as "unknown". (14)

On 3 May 1897, he was buried as a pauper in a public grave at the Presbyterian Section of the East Perth Cemetery.(15)


(1) Victorian Marriage Certificates 1859/3382 and 1885/783.
(2) Victorian Marriage Certificate 1859/3382 of 10 September 1859
(3) Day, Nicholas Chevalier, artist : his life and work
(4) Roberts, Nicholas Chevalier, pages 12, 13
(5) National Archives of Australia, Series No A712, Control Symbol 1859/K1403
(6) Argus, 25 May 1860
(7) Tanner Directory of Melbourne, page 30
(8) Sands, Kenny and Co, Melbourne Directory for 1860, page 360.
(9) The Argus, 27 November 1867.
(10) Kelly, A Tale of two Cities, page 54
(11) Kelly, A Tale of Two Cities, page 52
(12) Kelly, A Tale of Two Cities, page 75
(13) The West Australian, Friday, September 6, 1895, Public Notices
(14) Western Australian Death Certificate 1897/1902
(15) Form for Instructions for Funerals, Donald J. Chipper, Undertaker, Perth

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    East Perth WA 6004

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