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George Cookney was born on 3 May 1799 in the parish of St Andrew's, Holborn, Middlesex. His father, Charles Cookney, was the lifelong counsel and agent of D'Arcy Wentworth, who sailed to New South Wales as an assistant surgeon with the Second Fleet in 1790. George was probably educated at Bletchley with D'Arcy Wentworth's son William Charles Wentworth, his future sponsor. 
It is unclear whether George Cookney trained under an established architect. Before leaving England, he was better known as a surveyor in Bedford Row, Middlesex. He arrived in Hobart on the brig Francis on 19 August 1823 and within a month was in New South Wales, confidently advertising his services as an architect. However, because of inadequate commissions, he left New South Wales in March 1824 for Mauritius, where his older brother John served as a government interpreter. He remained there for some eight months and returned to New South Wales after WC Wentworth advised him of the dismissal of Standish Lawrence Harris and that the position of Colonial Architect would remain vacant for three or four months if he wanted it.
Cookney arrived back in Sydney on 5 March 1825 and was appointed Government Architect on 22 April 1825. He is best known for the design and costing of the Lapérouse Monument and Père Receveur's grave in the suburb of La Perouse on Botany Bay. Cookney also reported on the condition of Old Sydney Gaol and the Macquarie Lighthouse. He was dismissed 12 months after his appointment, by Governor Darling, because of his 'general habits'. It would seem that he was an alcoholic.
In 1829 Cookney designed the outbuildings and stables for WC Wentworth at Vaucluse, but eventually fell out with his former patron. In May 1838 he was convicted of being an accessory after the theft of a mirror valued at £20 and sentenced to seven years' transportation. As convict no 14630, he arrived in Hobart on the Marian Watson on 27 July 1838. He did not adjust easily to convict life and was repeatedly punished. On 2 October 1845 Cookney received a ticket of leave (Free cert no 627 1846) and soon after became partner of the Hobart architect James Alexander Thomson (himself a former convict). At the time of Cookney's release, Thomson was completing his most important commission: the Hobart Synagogue (1843–5) built in a striking Regency Egyptian style. In the years that followed, Cookney and Thomson would design numerous utilitarian domestic buildings and some offices, shops and harbour structures in Hobart and its environs. After Thomson's death, Cookney continued to practice as an architect. He married in 1855, had three children and died in Hobart on 21 February 1876.
Edward Duyker, 'George Cookney (1799–1876): Colonial Architect', Doryanthes, vol 4, no 1, February 2011, pp 14–19
Marc Serge Rivière, The Governor's Noble Guest: Hyacinthe de Bougainville's Account of Port Jackson, 1825, The Miegunyah Press/Melbourne University Press, 1999, Appendix 4 'The La Pérouse Monument at Botany Bay', pp 244–250