Taking Pride in Our Monuments Karachi’s Frere Hall

By Hiba Moeen

Take a moment to ponder over the vintage architectural wonder still mercifully left to exist in Karachi and then observe a moment of silence to brood over its destruction which has been done to the point of non-existence! Karachi is the cherished child, Karachi is the stepchild … it ekes out its excruciating journey amidst the confusion of development and retrogression but it’s a survivor! Doesn’t it remind you of Gloria Gaynor’s song, I will survive?

Among the old architecture still present in Karachi is the Frere Hall which some of us might not know about. It indeed is a relic of the British Colonial era and a safe haven to some wildlife thanks to the old trees that too are very rare in this part of the country. You see book lovers flocking in on Sundays to get their hands on intellectual treasure, people coming for long walks, parakeets flying around, photography enthusiasts capturing the place, and chipmunks scurrying around. These cute rodents are rare as well, considering there aren’t many trees left and they’re quite a sight to observe especially when you offer them peanuts.

Frere Hall which still stands today was built in honour of Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere (born March 29, 1815, Brecknockshire, Wales—died May 29, 1884, Wimbledon, Surrey, Eng.) who was considered to be very active in the regional economic development of Sindh. He was the Chief Commissioner of Sindh from 1850 to 1859 and was later stationed in Bombay where he served as a governor.

Frere Hall’s construction commenced in 1863 and took two years to get finalised; 1865 thus marked the completion of what we see as the remnants of the Frere Hall. During its early years it was used as a Town Hall where several busts including that of King Edward VII’s were displayed; it also housed oil paintings by Sir Charles Pritchard who was the former Commissioner of Sindh. The hall is surrounded by two lawns; namely, the Queen’s Lawn and the King’s Lawn which had been renamed as Bagh-e-Jinnah after the Independence of Pakistan. Its library is known as the Liaquat National Library. It is known to have more than 70,000 books and is one of the biggest libraries in Karachi. Inside the hall is the Sadequain Art Gallery which is a piece of wonder itself.

The highly accomplished architect who designed the Frere Hall was Lieutenant Colonel Clair Wilson whose work stood out from among a dozen others architects’.

The ribbed vaults, multiple pointed arches, and the flawlessly calculated buttresses that support the entire structure somehow make you feel as if you have time travelled. The cost of this architectural splendour at that time was Rs. 180,000; out of this, Rs. 170,000 was paid by the municipality while Rs. 10,000 was paid by the government.

Visiting a place after getting acquainted with its history adds soul to its existence in front of your very eyes. Paying a visit now would be a good idea.

“The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” – Theodore Roosevelt