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UPTON, Robert Sellars

Born: 1809
Died: 1883 05 05


Was born in Chichester in England and received his training as a surveyor in London. He established a practice in Britain but emigrated, apparently because he ran into financial difficulties, to Natal in 1850 as surveyor to the Murdoch emigration scheme. Upton does not appear to have worked in his professional capacity until he moved to Durban from the Lower Umgeni in 1853. In 1853 he surveyed the area he named Stamford Hill after the place where he had lived in London. According to a note in his biographical file in the RIBA he was known as 'the Chelsea Surveyor'.

His first commissions in Natal included churches and soon afterwards in 1861, the first hospital in Durban. In 1855 he was appointed Borough Surveyor of Durban but resigned from this post in 1860 from which time onwards he worked as an architect, establishing 'the most prolific architectural practice in Natal ... there were few architect-designed buildings in Durban which were not the work of his office' (DSAB II:760) and one of his sons, Francis Upton, became an architect and government surveyor. A daughter, Elizabeth, married the Natal architect Rowland RIDGWAY. In 1861 he came first in the competition for Maritzburg Collegiate Institute with a design which was described as 'Elizabethan' and on which Dudgeon may have had to base his design for the building he eventually carried out (Clark House, Maritzburg College) which is mildly tudor.

Upton's best-known house is Trevean in Durban. He was well-known for his Theatre Royal building in Durban (1882) which building led a later commentator describe Upton admiringly as 'young Durban's Christopher Wren and Sir Herbert Baker rolled into one' (Malherbe 1965:140-1) and Kearney pointed out (DSAB II:760) that Upton liked to design in a classical style.

(DSAB II; Hillebrand 1975; Kearney 1973; Malherbe 1965; Martin 1980; Picton-Seymour 1977; RIBA Biog File; UNSAL)

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Congregational Church and house: 1854. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
House Capt Hitchins: Trevean: 1882. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Mechanic's Institute, library and reading room: 1879. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Natal Government Hospital: 1861. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Portsdown House for Gillespie: c1866. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Public Library: 1879. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
St Paul's Church - First: 1853-1854. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect
Theatre Royal: 1882. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal - Architect

Books citing UPTON

HSRC. 1972. Dictionary of South African Biography Volume II. Pretoria: Tafelberg for The Human Sciences Research Council. pp 759-760