Most people are remembered by what they left behind, by their accomplishments in life, and the interpersonal relationships they forged. Architects are usually remembered by the buildings that are recognized for their design, structure, and appearance. Not so for one architect whose fame accrued from what was imagined but not built. Edward Rumsey (1824-1909) was one such individual. While Rumsey did have a long and successful architectural career, with impressive buildings to his credit, the accolade for which he was most famous, the Gold Medal from the Royal Academy of Arts, was from architectural drawings for a cathedral that was never constructed.
Rumsey received his architectural training by studying under the great 19th-century English architect Gilbert Scott. In 1847 at the age of 23, Rumsey submitted drawings for a Gothic cathedral to the Royal Academy of Arts that were deemed so excellent that he was awarded the Academy’s Gold Medal. But even with this prestigious prize and acclaim that went with it, Rumsey found little professional success. He decided to move to Australia in hope that there would be more opportunity to earn commissions for his work.
In 1861, gold was discovered in Otago in the Southern Island of New Zealand, touching off a gold rush that drew miners from as far away as California. Rumsey was one of the many Australians who would pull up stakes and head for the gold fields of this island colony. Rumsey settled in the city of Dunedin. Soon thereafter, Rumsey submitted a design for the Government House which was to be constructed in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. Rumsey won an award for his design but, like his design for the Gothic cathedral in England, that never came to fruition. So, too, did his submission for the Government House fail, and someone else received the work.
Rumsey then submitted plans for the Supreme Court building and for the General Post Office. Neither won any awards, but Rumsey was given the commission to proceed with the construction. The Supreme Court building was renovated in 1988 and is still in use today. Another great building is St. Luke’s Anglican Church, which he co-designed with Adam Jackson in the gothic style. The Oamaru, New Zealand, religious landmark still holds services to this day.
The Gold Medal from the Royal Academy was the only such medal awarded in 1847. The medal, designed by W. Wyon and dated 1837, was struck at the Royal Mint and features a bust of Queen Victoria. The reverse features the three graces of architecture, painting, and sculpture. The medal is referenced today in British Historical Medals as BHM-1795 and in Eimer as E-13068. The medal weighs 120.13 grams, and its precious metal value represented a significant amount of money in 1847 as it is today. Given that, it is amazing the medal still exists today.
PCGS has certified this medal, and it will be preserved and protected in a PCGS holder. It serves as a reminder of what could have been.