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Dalgety Building

The 1902 Dalgety Building, aka Elder building, Wilhemsen building, Barwil House, and now MSC building, on the corner of Cliff and Phillimore Streets was designed by J.J. Talbot Hobbs, the land having been purchased from Perth Mayor George Shenton between 1886 and 1888. A photo of the first buildings on the site - the Shenton house complex, including stables - is to be seen here.


Photograph of a painting by Toby Leek, courtesy of the artist.

Its ownership was transferred in 1927 to the agribusiness Elder Smith & Co and became known as the Elder Building. During WWII it was requisitioned by the Australian Navy as its administration and intelligence headquarters. It housed the Norwegian shipping company, Wilhelmsen Line, for 23 years and more recently Challenger TAFE. Ale Nominees sold it to the current investment syndicate in 2002. It is now occupied by the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

The article below, written by Emma Wynne for ABC local radio 720, presents much of its history effectively.

Fremantle's Wilhelmsen House a monument to shipping past, present and future

Emma Wynne, ABC, 3 Feb 2016

Wilhelmsen House has looked out over Fremantle Harbour since 1902, when Dalgety & Co built the imposing offices to support its shipping and pastoral trading business in Western Australia.


The Wilhelmsen building with illustrations showing the planned additions at the rear. (Supplied: Murray Slavin)

Currently undergoing a major restoration and addition, the building will once again be home to a shipping company when it reopens.
The story of the building starts with the founder of Dalgety & Co, Frederick Dalgety, who arrived in Sydney from Canada aged just 16 in 1834.
'He immediately got a post as an apprentice clerk in a local merchandising firm there,' Richard Offen from Heritage Perth told 720 ABC Perth.


The Wilhelmsen/Dalgety building seen from across Phillimore Street, date unknown. Fremantle Library Local History Collection.

'He was very successful there and in 1842 he moved to Melbourne and became manager of a new wool trading firm.
'He was obviously a very shrewd businessman, even in those early days, and he soon became a partner in that firm and eventually bought it out.
'It became known as Dalgety and Company in 1846.'
Dalgety & Co focused on the burgeoning pastoral industry in Victoria, providing finance and selling merchandise to farmers, then buying their produce and shipping wool from them.
'They were an incredibly successful firm,' Mr Offen said.
'By 1884 Dalgety has 10 partners and had branches in London, Melbourne, Launceston, Christchurch, Sydney and eventually Perth.'


The Wilhelmsen building when it was named for Dalgety & Co. State Library of Victoria.

Dalgety himself moved to London permanently in 1854 and died 40 years later, but the company he founded continued to grow.
It was vital to the growth of the pastoral industry in Pilbara, where the Dalgety & Co name is still well known.
In 1897 the Fremantle Harbour was opened up to shipping.
'In 1900, knowing that the port was opening up and would offer great prospects for the company, Dalgety & Co bought the land on Cliff Street in order to build offices close to the harbour,' Mr Offen said.
The building was designed by famed architect Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs, who designed many prominent buildings in Perth and was a decorated general in World War I.
'This building cost £30,000 to build and at the time was the largest contract for a private building in the state,' Mr Offen said.
Dalgety's offices remained for 25 years. Then in 1927 the building was sold to agricultural supply company Elder Smith & Co and henceforth became know as the Elders building.
'Interestingly during World War II it was occupied by the Australian Navy as an intelligence and administration headquarters,' Mr Offen said.
'In 1971 there was an application to subdivide and it was used for a variety of commercial purposes.'
The building was used by the Wallenius Wilhelmsen shipping line for 25 years and is currently referred to as Wilhelmsen House.
It was also used by Fremantle TAFE for some time before being sold to the Mediterranean Shipping Company—the second largest container line in the world.
Mediterranean Shipping Company has since commissioned a major restoration and adaption of the building, according to architect Murray Slavin.
'Like Dalgety, they wanted to be at the gateway to the port and at the same time wanted to be in this particular building,' Mr Slavin said.
'In addition to the huge task of adaptation and restoration, they are building an annex in order to accommodate their full complement of staff.'While it is recognised as the Wilhelmsen building on the Heritage Register, we have been lobbying to have this changed back to the Dalgety building in recognition of the great vision of the great man.'
When it reopens, the building will have more than 100 people working there.
The company hopes their presence will help enliven the historic west end of the city. [end]

Another early shot (source and date unknown) of the Dalgety building and Cliff Street.

After renovation, late 2016: the sign above the corner door is now Mediterranean Shipping Co.

The final state of the building with the belvedere restored to the top of the dome.

Unfortunately, the MSC have put a roof over their fourth-level deck, forming a Lunchbox for their lucky employees, but spoiling the streetscape for everyone else.

Murray Slavin's MSC building

References and Links

Heritage Office entry

See the photos of the History Society tour of the complex 16 September 2017.

StreetsofFreo's page for 'Wilhelmsen House', with a list of occupants of Town Lot 3, starting with W. Lamb, followed by Daniel Scott, Homfrey, and then the Adelaide Steamship co., from 1897; Dalgety appears in the list in 1901.

Garry Gillard | New: 15 June, 2016 | Now: 10 April, 2022