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Staircase Model - Working Men's College, circa 1910 Object Reg. No: ST 009591

Model of a section of spiral staircase, constructed from Australian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon). Made by a student at the Working Men's College, Melbourne, between October 1887, when a class in 'hand railing and staircase building' was first introduced at the Working Men's College and 22 February 1917, when the model was donated to the Museum.

The architectural design of the staircase suggests that it was most likely built around 1910.

There is some uncertainty as to who made the model. Likely candidates are:
- Henry August Klemke, instructor and examiner at the college from 1922-1945 and a well known artisan in the Williamstown area.
- Otto Yuncken, who was a student at the college and trained and worked at Clements Langford before co-founding the building firm Hansen Yuncken with Lauritz Hansen in 1918.

Founded with funds provided by the prominent Scottish immigrant and philanthropist Francis Ormond and the Victorian Trades Hall, the Working Men's College opened on 4 June 1887 and within months had over 600 students enrolled in part-time vocation and trades related courses ranging from mechanics, physics, bookkeeping, elocution and arithmetic, to cookery, carpentry and dressmaking. Despite its name, both male and female students were welcomed from the outset under the motto 'perita manus, mens exculta' - 'a skilled hand, a cultivated mind'.

At the College Council meeting held on 24 October 1887 a decision was made to introduce a class in 'hand railing and staircase building' with Mr. Storer as instructor, the fee being fixed at £1 per term for one lesson of two hours per week. A second lesson per week was added in May 1888. (The Argus, 25 Oct 1887, p.6 & 22 May 1888, p.5)

By March 1889, courses in 'Hand-railing and Staircase Work' were being advertised, with theory and practise classes at 9 pm Tuesdays and 7:30 pm Wednesdays, for a fee of 10 shillings per term. (The Argus, 4 Mar 1889, p.12)

The first prizes for student pieces in staircase work were awarded to F.J. Bearley and James Bruce in February 1889. (The Argus 26 Feb 1889, p5)

The inaugural exhibition of student's work held in August 1892, included 'Models of work in carpentry, constructed mostly to half scale, show[ing] the thorough knowledge which the students have acquired in the most difficult branches of that trade.' Most of the students undertaking the three-year course it was observed were 'connected with the building trade and find it to their advantage to attend the college workshop to receive advanced instruction' although 'there are also amateurs who derive much pleasure from following up the details of the builder's art'. The third year of the course was devoted to 'circular complex work' involved in making 'doors, staircases etc.' with examples of work exhibited including 'a complete staircase ? of cedar and pine, with convenient turnings and a spiral staircase'. (The Argus, 2 Aug 1892, p.6)
Wooden model of a section of spiral staircase.
Acquisition Information:
Donation from Melbourne Working Mens' College, 1917
Discipline: Technology
Dimensions: 162 cm (Height), 90.7 cm (Width), 157.5 cm (Length)

More information

Tagged with: legume or pea family leguminosae or fabaceae, legumes pulses, staircases, timber products
Themes this item is part of: Otto Yuncken, Builder 1865-1945, Melbourne Working Men's College (RMIT), Public Life & Institutions Collection, Sustainable Futures Collection, Working Life & Trades Collection
Primary Classification: TRADES
Secondary Classification: Carpentry & Woodworking
Tertiary Classification: product samples
Inscriptions: "SECTION OF SPIRAL STAIRCASE / Presented by the Melbourne Working Mens College / STUDENTS WORK"
Maker (Probable): Mr Otto Yuncken - Hansen Yunken, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, circa 1910

Whilst compiling research for a history of the company Hansen Yuncken, Peter Hansen contacted the Museum to obtain an image of the staircase because he believed it was 'made by' his father's business partner Otto Yuncken as a student at The Working Men's College. Peter remembers coming to the old Museum on Swanston Steet as a boy and the family would always stop to look at 'Otto's staircase'. Otto Yuncken was born at Lyndoch, South Australia, in 1865 and died in Melbourne in 1945.
Maker (Possible): Mr August Klemke, Williamstown, Victoria, Australia, circa 1910

August Klemke taught at the Working Men's College from approximately 1922 to 1942, having previously been a student at the College. He retired in 1945 from the position of chief examiner for Victoria in woodwork, carpentry and staircase building. Klemke was well known in the Williamstown district as an artisan builder. He retired from building in 1960. August Klemke was born on 16 March 1888 and died on 13 July 1966. If he was responsible for building the staircase model it was most likely made while he was a student, prior to commencing teaching.
Place & Date Made: Melbourne Working Mens' College, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1887-1917

It is possible that the staircase was the work of several students, including both August Klembe and Otto Yuncken. Based on the architectural style of the staircase, it appears most likely that it was built between 1900 and 1917, when it was presented to the Industrial & Technological Museum.
References: The Argus, 25 Oct 1887, p.6; 22 May 1888, p.5; 26 Feb 1889, p.5; 4 Mar 1889, p.12 & 2 Aug 1892, p.6.

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