Vaucluse House

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Vaucluse House
Vaucluse House 01.jpg
Vaucluse House, Sydney
Etymology Fontaine de Vaucluse
General information
Type House, re-purposed as a museum
Architectural style Gothic Revival
Location 69A Wentworth Road, Vaucluse in Sydney, New South Wales
Country Australia
Coordinates 33°51′20″S 151°16′25″E / 33.855512°S 151.2736407°E / -33.855512; 151.2736407
Grounds 11 hectares (28 acres)
Official name Vaucluse House
Type Built and landscape
Criteria a., c., d., e., f.
Designated 2 April 1999
Reference no. 00955

Vaucluse House is an historic estate in the Gothic Revival style located in the harbourside suburb of Vaucluse in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The suburb takes its name from this house. Vaucluse House is a 19th-century estate with house, kitchen wing, stables and outbuildings, surrounded by 11 hectares (28 acres) of formal gardens and grounds. The house is managed by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales as a museum that is open to the public.[1] It is one of the few 19th-century houses near Sydney Harbour retaining a significant part of its original setting.[2]

The property was listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999 with the following statement of significance:[2]

Today Vaucluse House is one of the few 19th century houses on Sydney Harbour retaining a significant part of its original estate setting. One distinguishing surviving characteristic of the 19th century estate is its careful division into specific areas, both functional and ornamental, such as pleasure garden, kitchen garden, rear service yard, paddocks, carriageway, creek, estate backdrop, beach paddock.

Vaucluse House is significant because of its association with the Wentworth family and their aspirations. It has a large collection of surviving original documentary evidence relating to the house, its contents and occupants. There are a number of extant buildings and gardens and the house retains relative intactness of form, interior space and detailing predating 1900.

A large early Victorian garden and shrubbery, laid out to compliment a gothic revival house belonging to the family of the important colonial pioneer and politician W.C. Wentworth. There appears little early documentation of the garden but it can be presumed to have been designed to complement the mid-19th Century additions to the house and to have been established by the 1860's.
— Statement of significance, New South Wales State Heritage Register.


The original Vaucluse House was built by Sir Henry Brown Hayes, who had been transported to New South Wales in 1802 for kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy Irish banker.[3] Governor King considered Hayes "a restless, troublesome character" and was keen to move him 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) away from Sydney. So in 1803 Hayes was granted permission to purchase the land and house, which was originally granted to Thomas Laycock in 1793 and Robert Cardell in 1795. An avid admirer of the 14th-century poet Petrarch, Hayes named the house after Petrarch's Fontaine de Vaucluse, the famous spring near the town l'Isle sur la Sorgue in what is today the Department of Vaucluse in the South of France. He built a small but charming cottage and several outbuildings. 20 hectares (50 acres) were cleared for agriculture and several thousand fruit trees were planted, none of which survive. Newspaper accounts describe it as a small but very charming farm. There is some warrant for the story that Hayes surrounded his property with turf from Ireland to keep out the snakes. In 1812 Hayes was pardoned by Governor Macquarie and sailed to Ireland where he lived another 20 years. Ownership of the property became uncertain until it was acquired in 1822 by Captain John Piper.

Vaucluse House exterior

The property was purchased at auction in 1827 by William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872), explorer, journalist, barrister, politician and successful entrepreneur, for £1,500. By grant and additional purchases he increased his holdings to 208 hectares (515 acres). Wentworth and his wife Sarah (née Cox), moved to the estate with their growing family in 1828 and carried out major building and ground work throughout the next 25 years of occupancy. The former Colonial Architect George Cookney (1799–1876) played his part in this transformation, designing the stables, coach-house and other outbuildings in 1829. Letters show that Wentworth's wife Sarah, the daughter of ex-convicts, was an astute manager of the Vaucluse estates. Accompanied by his family, William Charles Wentworth left for England bearing the draft of a Constitution for Responsible Government, which he had co-written, in 1853. They then toured the continent, acquiring artworks and furniture, much of which is seen in the house museum today. The family returned briefly in 1861-62, with a social success they had not previously enjoyed. After William's death in England his body was returned to the estate for burial in a nearby mausoleum (located in Chapel Rd, Vaucluse), having received the first State Funeral in New South Wales. His wife and eldest daughter then retained a life interest in the property. In 1900 the contents of the house were auctioned, then in 1911 the estate itself was sold. Some 11 hectares (28 acres), including the house, formal garden and paddocks immediately surrounding the house, were acquired by the New South Wales Government in honour of Wentworth for use as a public park. In 1920 the house and grounds were opened to the public, administered by Trustees. Over the years many features of the historic property were subsumed as it developed the character of a 20th-century municipal park. It was suggested that it be renamed 'Constitution House', 'Wentworth House' and even 'Wisteria House' in recognition of its past and of the vine that smothered its elevation in the 1920s and 30s, proving a tourist drawcard each September. In 1981 the property was transferred to the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales and significant restoration and conservation work started to recreate the original setting of Vaucluse House and its interiors.


Ground floor[edit]

Drawing Room
  1. KITCHEN The kitchen is at the centre of the large two-storey service wing, constructed in 1829. As in most colonial houses, the service wing was a separate building to distance the risk of fire from the main house. Here the cook and her staff prepared all meals for family, guests and servants. The dresser, food safe and cast iron cooking range are original.
  2. SCULLERY The scullery is where washing up was done. Dirty water was emptied into the slop drain.
  3. DAIRY AND LARDER The dairy (for milk, butter and cheese preparation) and larder (for food storage) reflect the operation of Vaucluse as a self-sufficient colonial estate.
  4. CELLARS The two-roomed cellars were used for the cool storage of food and wine. The inner room retains its arched brick bins for bottled wine while hooks for hanging salted and cured meats survive on the original lath and plaster ceilings.
  5. HOUSEKEEPER’S ROOM The housekeeper’s room was the centre of domestic operations. The housekeeper was responsible for linen and the supervision of female domestic servants.
  6. BUTLER’S PANTRY The pantry was an office strategically located for the head of the household staff to oversee activities in the house and arrivals at the property. Here lamps were cleaned, refuelled and wicks trimmed; and china, glass and silverware cleaned polished and stored.
  7. FAMILY HISTORY ROOM In 1900 this room was used as a library. Today it houses an exhibition of the Wentworth family’s history.
  8. BREAKFAST ROOM The breakfast room is in part of the house built from 1837 to 1840. Most large colonial houses had a second dining room for informal family use. The decorative paint scheme by the firm Lyon, Cottier & Co dates from the 1880s while the carved oak furniture was purchased by Fitzwilliam Wentworth in England in c1872.
  9. DINING ROOM The dining room is hung with family portraits in keeping with early 19th-century practice. The oak furniture belonged to the Wentworth family. The fine Gothic Revival sideboard and cupboards date from c1845 while the dining table and chairs (with their embossed Spanish leather upholstery) may have been part of a consignment of furniture sent from Europe in 1859. The floor of mid-19th-century Italian glazed tiles is unusual and possibly a concession to the Australian climate. The chimney piece is of marble from Marulan in southern New South Wales.
  10. LITTLE TEA ROOM The little tea room’s joinery suggests that it was one of Wentworth’s first additions to the house after 1828. It has been furnished to reflect its use as a small informal sitting room. Cool in summer, with French doors opening onto the eastern verandah, in winter the room’s small size ensured it was easily heated.
  11. DRAWING ROOM The drawing room was formed partly within the walls of Sir Henry Browne Hayes original stone cottage and completed in 1847. The floral wallpaper border, plaster cornice, Italian marble fire surround and cast iron grate are all original. The drawing room was intended as a setting for potential suitors to meet the Wentworth daughters, owing to Sarah Wentworth’s social isolation. By 1853 when the original contents were sold before the Wentworth family’s departure for Europe, the room contained furniture in Brazilian rosewood with crimson damask upholstery. Today the room contains a collection of copies of old master paintings acquired by the Wentworth family in Italy, including copies of Flora after Titian, a Penitent Magdalene after Guido Reni and a Madonna and Child after Murillo.

First floor[edit]

  1. SECOND ROOM The second room, as it was called in 1853, was a private family sitting room. The fireplace and grate are original. Furniture has been acquired based on an 1853 inventory of the house.
  2. PRINCIPAL BEDROOM In 1853 the principal bedroom contained a winged wardrobe, chest of drawers and marble washstand. The four-post bed has been hung with a reproduction of a glazed chintz c1860 known to have been used in another Gothic Revival house, Greenoaks at Darling Point. The bed has the typical arrangement of three mattresses filled with straw, horsehair and feathers (bottom to top).
  3. FITZWILLIAM’S ROOM IN THE HALL Vaucluse House was left incomplete in the mid-1840s and the large open upper hall was partitioned by cupboards to create a bedroom for Wentworth’s second son, Fitzwilliam.

Second floor[edit]

  1. CHILDREN’S ROOM The nursery was probably used for the four youngest Wentworth children aged between five and twelve years in 1853. The room is furnished as a typical children’s room of the mid-19th century with children’s furniture and toys. The metal beds are hung with gauze mosquito nets.
  2. MISS WENTWORTH’S ROOM Miss Wentworth’s room was named for the eldest unmarried Wentworth daughter. In 1853 it was shared by Sarah Eleanor and Eliza Sophia Wentworth.

See also[edit]



 This article incorporates text by New South Wales State Heritage Register available under the CC BY 3.0 AU licence.

Further reading[edit]

  • Duyker, Edward (February 2011). "George Cookney (1799–1876): Colonial Architect". Doryanthes. 4 (1): 14–19. 
  • Liston, Carol (1988). Sarah Wentworth Mistress of Vaucluse. Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. ISBN 0-949753-34-3. 
  • Pollen, Frances, ed. (1990). The Book of Sydney Suburbs. Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers. ISBN 0-207-14495-8. 
  • The Heritage of Australia. Macmillan Company. 1981. ISBN 0-333-33750-6. 

External links[edit]