Manning Portable Colonial Cottage for Emigrants (1833-1840)
H. Manning's portable cottage for his son who was emigrating to Australia from London became the prototype for what would become the first documented prefabricated house. The cottage became a commercial success, and Manning developed several models of varying size and cost, testifying to the fact that the houses were provisioned for clients across a range of incomes and to the notion that the prefabricated house could be a measure of status in the colonial setting.
An advertisement for "Portable Colonial Cottages" by H. Manning, appearing in the November 27, 1837, edition of the South Australia Record, provides the first record of the genesis of the Manning Portable Cottage Company; dozens of portable cottages were sent to Australia in the following years.
The cottage consisted of grooved wooden posts embedded and bolted into a continuous floor plate carried on bearers. The posts carried a wall plate with supported simple triangulated trusses. Various wood panels of standard size clad the frame.
While many houses in Australia and other British colonies prior to 1833 had been built with materials shipped from Britain, the Manning Cottage appears to be the first house designed specifically for ease of travel and construction. Included in the shipment was a "small compass" for orientation purposes.
Manning stated, "As none of the pieces are heavier than a man or boy could easily carry for several miles, it might be taken even to a distance without the aid of any beast of burthen." The lack of transportation infrastructure in Australia at this time makes this point particularly salient. The fabrication was to occur entirely in the carpenter's shop, requiring no site work apart from the construction of a simple foundation. No joints, cutting, or even nailing were necessary. According to Manning, "whoever can use a common bed-wrench can put this cottage up."
(Source: Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling by Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen)