Vaucluse House guidebook
One of the difficulties of any heritage property is determining how to exhibit it to visitors with authenticity. In the case of Vaucluse House and Estate, its greatest significance comes from its ownership by the Australian patriot William Charles Wentworth, his wife Sarah and their immediate family of ten children. The Wentworths' lengthy occupation of Vaucluse House has meant that the property has been interpreted as their residence by the Historic Houses Trust; that is, a well-to-do Australian family of the mid-nineteenth century. Some of the furnishings and pictures once owned by the Wentworths are now in the house's collection and add authority (and authenticity) to the presentation of its interiors.
The Present Estate in the Early Years of the Colony
The earliest acquisition of land in the present estate was a Crown grant on 25 February 1793 of 80 acres to Thomas Laycock, Deputy Commissary-General and a Quartermaster in the New South Wales Corps. This military unit was formed to provide security for the colony. Laycock's grant seemed to entice others to the area and smaller parcels were given to other members of the Corps in 1795 and 1798.
By 1800, the European residents in this remote outpost had numbered only 5500, and in 1802, a mere 51 free settlers were found willing to take the long trip to Botany Bay. Approximately 32 per cent of the colonists were under sentence in 1800; the rest of the population were felons who had completed their sentence, military staff (active and retired), a few free settlers and colonial administrators. About one-half of these residents were being fed from government stores.
A military garrison held the colony's 'felonry' in check and crimes were judged by a military court that applied strict punishments: isolation, short rations, hard labour, floggings and ultimately, hangings. Food was in short supply, as the bounteous land described by Captain James Cook in 1770 had not responded to English farming methods. In the first few years of settlement, for example, the loss of a single supply ship had threatened the convict colony with starvation.
The Port Jackson settlement was centred around the so called Tank Stream the immediate lands to the east and west were scarcely explored or exploited. Land access to the South Head area was initially by the Military Road, a track formed for defence and for access to the signal station ('The Telegraphic Light') on the southern promontory.
The area now known as the Vaucluse Estate was covered by timber and scrub and the shallow bay was a Port Jackson landmark, its entrance marked by an unusual sandstone formation called 'Bottle and Glass Rocks'.
Sir Henry Browne Hayes
Although the Wentworths' association with Vaucluse Bay is the most familiar today, the earliest European occupation begins with its development as an estate by colourful Irish convict Sir Henry Browne Hayes who purchased Laycock's ninety acres and an adjacent grant at auction in 1803.
As a knight and transported felon (arrived 6 July 1802 - departed 7 December 1812), Sir Henry (1762-1832) was a novelty in the New South Wales colony. A native of Cork, Ireland, he had been made Sheriff of the city in 1790 and knighted in the same year. Ironically, he was the Crown Agent for the transportation of 150 Irish convicts in 1791, only to involuntarily follow them nine years later.
Hayes, a widower and father of four, ran foul of the law when he was arrested for kidnapping Mary Pike, the daughter of a Cork banker. The object of this abduction was a forced marriage between Hayes and Pike.
On the evening of 21 July 1792 he ambushed Mary Pike's chaise and took her to his house where a marriage ceremony was performed very much against her will. This spurious 'marriage' had no validity and the reluctant bride's relatives quickly rescued her from Sir Henry's household.
It took some years to secure Hayes's conviction but on 10 August 1801, he was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to transportation and he arrived in New South Wales on 6 July 1802. On arrival, he immediately found himself charged with improper behaviour to the ship's surgeon and drew a six-month jail sentence. After his release, Hayes was restricted to Parramatta but soon took up residence in Chapel Row, Sydney. He purchased the property which he called 'Vaucluse' on 22 August 1803. The first published notice of the name Vaucluse is in an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette, 29 January 1804.
Hayes was described by contemporaries as 'straight-made, rather fresh-coloured, a little pock-marked, and brown hair, with remarkable whiskers'. With his wealth, title and his incongruous criminal record, he clearly presented a problem to the colonial authorities. The conflict between his convict status and his social class set a poor example to the other convicts as well as the garrison officers, many of whom were on smaller annuities than Hayes. The Governor, Philip Gidley King, was also an implacable enemy.
During his ten years in the colony, Hayes was arrested
and convicted five times, earning sentences to Parramatta, Van Diemen's
Land, Norfolk Island and twice to the Coal River (Newcastle). Most of
his sentences resulted from disrespectful behaviour toward the colony's
military leaders. A page from the letterbook (1809-10) of
Judge-Advocate Ellis Bent gives some insight into Hayes's personality:
The first Person I tried was Sir H Brown Hayes, (before a Bench) for speaking insolently of Colonel Foveaux, and endeavouring to raise a riot. I reprimanded & discharged him. Since which he has sent me two Water Melons every week, of uncommon size and goodness. He is a gentlemanly man, in his manners, tho' odd in his dress and appearance. He has made a vow never to Cut the Hair on his Upper lip, which, is very long and gives him a very formidable and grotesque appearance.
Considering Henry Browne Hayes's unlimited capacity to offend, the colonial governors would have been delighted with his decision to withdraw to this relatively isolated bay. The principal means of access was by water and visitors frequently describe arriving by boat. Hayes indicates in a summary of his Vaucluse expenses that 'making a road in 1812 from the highway to the house half a mile,' cost him £20.
Although Thomas Laycock, the first foreshore property- holder in the area in 1793, had carved a modest farm from the coastal bushland, Henry Browne Hayes's Vaucluse was described in 1812 as having being of little use in 1803:
..... a mere waste of land, and until Sir Henry Browne Hayes built a dwelling house on it and cultivated a garden, it was of very little value".
In 1812, however, Hayes's summary of estate expenses prior to his return to Ireland indicates that he had fashioned an estate that included:
two houses 'one 27 ft x 21 and another 24 ft x 10.' sheep shed with a paling fence stockyard a kitchen and outhouse (24 ft square) 50 acres of cleared timberyard 2 acres of garden established fruit trees and asparagus beds
This setting is described in idyllic terms in 1805 by John Grant, one of Sir Henry's colleagues:
As I write we set sail, smoothly running out of Sydney Harbour, I see the beautiful stone house being built by Sir Henry Hayes on his lands on the edge of the water overlooking the harbour and his cattle peacefully grazing there.
The first visual images of Vaucluse Bay appear in the early 1810s and 1820s; some years after Sir Henry's departure, several rather modest structures are evident. The harbourside land has been cleared and a grazing paddock is shown to the west of the main house. This area is still known as the west paddock. The name 'Vaucluse', first seen in print in 1804, soon came into popular use and appears on maps and drawings after the departure of Hayes in 1812. The address was occasionally given as 'Vaucluse, Watson's Bay', as this was the nearest settlement.
Naming the EstateThe origin of the name 'Vaucluse' has been the source of endless 20th century speculation since the property was resumed by the government in 1910-11. But one of Hayes's friends, John Grant, wrote to his mother on 28 April 1805, 'Sir Henry calls his farm Vaucluse (after Petrarch)'.
Petrarch (1304-1374), an important figure in the development of Italian literature (as distinct from Latin poetry and prose), established an estate in the late 1330s, Fountaine-de-Vaucluse, a region east of Avignon in the south of France. Several of Petrarch's poems may explain Sir Henry's identification with the poet's rural retreat. The poem 'De Vita Solitaria' (1346) is an exploration of the virtues of an isolated life leaving the individual to experience the pleasures of nature, prayer and study. Another cycle of poems, the 'Trionfi' (c.1350), examines the triumph of the human soul over earthly desires. Perhaps the six poems of the 'Trionfi' inspired Hayes, in particular, Petrarch's 'Triumph of Time over Fame' or the 'Triumph of Eternity over Time'? Time, of course, is the central issue of a convict serving a sentence and this may have attracted Hayes, this nineteenth-century exile, to this now obscure fourteenth-century poet.
Hayes's Later CareerUnfortunately the solace of Vaucluse proved illusory and even in the latter years of his sentence in New South Wales, Sir Henry contrived to be troublesome. In exasperation, a friend wrote to him while Hayes was imprisoned in Newcastle:
...give up all hopes if you gall them any more, there is no hope in it, what did you write me in your first letter (?) (a dying horse kicks hard) you will move them to desperation.
Although a convict, Hayes was quick to involve himself in the famous overthrow of Governor William Bligh in 1808. Sir Henry opposed the rebels and suffered accordingly when Bligh was toppled. However, he eventually earned a pardon in November 1812 and quickly left the colony on 4 December aboard the Isabella.
Hayes always attracted trouble and his return voyage to Ireland was no exception. After the Isabella sailed through the dangerous waters of Cape Horn and turned north, the vessel ran aground off the Falklands in February 1813. There were no fatalities and the ship's company was taken off by a passing vessel out of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Hayes finally returned to Ireland and took up residence in Cork, where for once he seems to have lived quietly until his death in 1832.
William Charles WentworthWilliam Charles Wentworth's (1790?-1872) stature in Australia's 19th-century political history parallels that of great patriots like England's Edmund Burke, Lord Palmerston or America's James Madison. During his career he was fondly known in some quarters as 'The Great Son of the Soil', 'The Hero of Australia' and 'The Means of the Australian People'. When he practised law, he was seen as 'a Champion of the Oppressed'.
In his political career he often spoke for individual rights and political freedom. An anonymous writer in 1847 (an 'emigrant mechanic') notes:
... when Dr Wardell and W.C. Wentworth, Esq., commenced their practice in Sydney and dragged two or three serious (convict abuse) cases to light, it was found necessary by the whole commission of the peace to turn over a new leaf.
Wentworth's achievements include exploration lifelong agitation for representative government, the formation of the nation's first university (the University of Sydney) and numerous other political achievements. He was also the co-publisher of the colony's first independent newspaper (the Australian), and in 1819, the author of the first book describing the colony of New South Wales by a native-born Australian. While Wentworth's popularity with the Australian people waxed and waned during his long political career, his death in 1872 produced an unprecedented expression of public grief in New South Wales and a state funeral. Notables of the age including Sir Henry Parkes and Sir James Martin claimed Wentworth as a mentor or as inspiration.
W.C. Wentworth and his FamilyNone of Wentworth's achievements would have been possible without his extraordinary supporting family network. This began with his father, D'Arcy Wentworth (1762?- 1827), who had trained as a medical practitioner in Ireland. Following four arraignments for highway robbery with the charges dismissed, D'Arcy volunteered for service at Botany Bay as an assistant surgeon, arriving in the colony in 1790. By late 1805, he was Principal Surgeon, Superintendent of Police and Treasurer of the Police Fund. During his voyage to New South Wales in 1790, D'Arcy formed a liaison with the transported convict Catherine Crowley, which lasted until her death in 1800. There were three sons from their relationship: William Charles, D'Arcy (d.1865) and John (d.1820). It is thought that William Charles was born on Norfolk Island, where his father's first posting was as assistant in the hospital there. The family moved to Sydney in 1796. Although D'Arcy Wentworth played a modest political role in the colony, he was known and admired for his liberal views which he transmitted to his eldest son, William Charles. By his death in 1827, government service and shrewd investments had made D'Arcy one of the richest men in the colony.
The purchase of Vaucluse from Captain John Piper in 1827 by William Charles Wentworth was possibly eased by William's father's financial resources. An additional grant of 370 acres brought the harbourside estate to a total of 515 acres (206 hectares). Prior to taking up residence at Vaucluse, William Charles had rented an estate (which he later bought) at Petersham, from 1825- 1827 where he lived with Sarah Cox (1805-1880), his native-born Australian mistress. They eventually married in 1829.
A recent biography of Sarah Wentworth (Sarah Wentworth. Mistress of Vaucluse by Carol Liston) reveals her to be a remarkably practical head of the family who devoted much energy to mundane but essential matters such as stock raising and the productivity of their estates. In addition to bearing ten children with Wentworth, Sarah oversaw the operation of their Vaucluse Estate and other properties; and her influence ruled over the family for their forty-eight years together. Sarah's thorough, sensible management no doubt allowed her husband to pursue his political career without the energy-sapping distractions of domestic life.
Sarah's talents were formed in part by her upbringing in a rustic colony that was only seventeen years old when she was born. Her father, Frances Cox, was a blacksmith who operated a forge near Sydney's Circular Quay (adjacent to today's Macquarie Place) with her mother, Frances Morton. Both parents were former convicts who had been transported for theft. Her family never prospered and her father operated his forge until he was over seventy years old.
The liaison with William Charles Wentworth allowed Sarah to escape a cruel economic fate as Sarah had been apprenticed to a milliner when she was in her teens. By the time Wentworth and Sarah had taken up residence at Vaucluse House, they had two children born out of wedlock, eight more were to be born at Vaucluse and their last surviving child appeared in 1848. Family letters reveal the family to be close-knit, solicitous and clearly devoted to their father.
In addition to the family home, Wentworth's estate can be seen as a backdrop to his political and social career. Wentworth had been sent to England for eight years of education at law. On his return to Sydney in 1824 he was already a notable author of Statistical, Historical and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales & Its Dependent Settlements, an 1819 book that had seen three editions and he was qualified to practice at law. As a young barrister recently admitted to practice in the New South Wales Supreme Court, he took professional rooms in Macquarie Place in 1824 coincidentally near the home of Sarah Cox, his future mistress. By the late 1820s Wentworth was in the public eye as a flamboyant barrister and as the co-editor and publisher of the Australian, a combatative paper he had established with Dr Robert Wardell in 1824.
Wentworth wrote and spoke fiercely on representative government and the right of trial by jury in the colony - two causes that earned him applause from the disenfranchised. As the King's representative, Governor Ralph Darling had to face Wentworth's incessant demands for representative government, restrictions on taxation and for judicial reforms. Darling's recall to England was a cause for rejoicing in the Wentworth camp and Vaucluse provided the site for at least one public gathering of Wentworth's agitated followers when he hosted a celebration of the departure of Governor Darling - one of the era's most loathed public figures.
Wentworth's Vaucluse fete on 19 October 1831 was people described by the Australian as a riotous affair of 2,000-4,000 people:
The scene of the fete was on the lawn in front of Mr. Wentworth's villa, which was thrown open for the reception of all respectable visitants, while a marquee filled with piles of loaves and casks of Cooper's gin and Wright's strong beer, was pitched a short way off.
On an immense spit a bullock was roasted entire. Twelve sheep were also roasted in succession; and 4,000 loaves completed the enormous banquet. By 7p.m. two immense bonfires were lighted on the highest hill... Rustic sports, speeches, etc., etc., whiled away the night; and morning dawned before the hospitable mansion was quitted by all its guests.
By the 1830s, the Wentworth family had made many visible improvements at Vaucluse: a turreted sandstone stable, a large kitchen wing, and a picturesque convict barracks on the eastern heights above the house. Vaucluse was a setting that no doubt enhanced Wentworth's status as a public figure. In the mid-1830s he helped form the Australian Patriotic Association that agitated for representative government. Wentworth served as vice- president and drafted two bills for colonial representative government for the British Parliament's consideration.
In 1842, one of Wentworth's constitutional drafts ultimately served as the basis for a colonial government granted by London. In the following year, he was elected to the Legislative Council where he became a powerful political figure. But as his career advanced, he lost some of his popularity with the public. His politics grew conservative and his detractors considered that Wentworth's allegiances were increasingly aligned to pastoral interests and the well-to-do.
When the Colonial Office in London finally agreed in 1852 to grant New South Wales full representatives government, Wentworth acted as the chair for the Select Committee that drafted the constitutional document. He later accompanied it in 1854 to England with other Australian selected representatives to facilitate its passage through the British Parliament.
During this period, the family also decided to move to England and this led to an on-site auction at Vaucluse in March 1853 of what a Sydney Morning Herald advertisement described as 'The Whole of that Gentleman's superior household furniture and other effects'. Except for a few items placed in storage the family sold the contents of Vaucluse. Sarah left in this same year with the family and William Charles followed about a year later.
It is a radical act to sell up the accumulation of over twenty-five years of domestic life and it indicates the Wentworth family's colossal failure to gain acceptance in Sydney society. While Vaucluse had provided a setting for Wentworth's political career, the house and its furnishings were clearly intended to provide the correct social surroundings for his immediate family of seven daughters and three sons.
The 19th century rituals of friendship and courtship were carefully proscribed and to produce a "New and Elegant Chateau" worthy of the suitors and friends the Wentworths hoped to attract, took several years to build. Sir Henry Browne Hayes's much-cited but modest structures disappeared within the building fabric of Wentworth's Gothic mansion in which a large drawing room suitable for crowded entertainments was constructed.
The public areas of a 19th century house were carefully designed for 'effect' and the drawing, dining and sitting rooms, long hall and sweeping stairway were as fashionable as the Wentworths' taste allowed. The house could be seen as Wentworth's attempt to rival the Sydney establishment. His magnificent 1829 stables, for example, ostentatiously surpassed most of the colony's domestic architecture.
The society the family needed to attract for their seven eligible daughters, however, was not won by the opulent interiors and pleasure grounds of the Wentworths' 'marine villa'. Although Wentworth's political status in New South Wales demanded some respect, Sarah Wentworth's convict parents and the birth of her first two children outside marriage seriously damaged her opportunities for social acceptance. Although the family worshipped at the fashionable St James's Anglican church in King Street and they possessed enormous wealth by the standards of the colony, the family associated, not with the Macleays and the Macarthurs of the colony, but with Sarah's friend Jane Siddins, the wife of the Macquarie Lighthouse keeper near South Head. This social failure was noted by that adventuresome traveller, Lady Franklin, the wife of the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, Sir John Franklin, when she recorded in her Sydney travel diary that while Mrs Wentworth was an attractive woman, she was 'not visited'.
Social ExileThe social banishment of the Wentworths was underlined by an incident concerning the planning of the Queen's Birthday Ball in 1847. The Birthday Ball scheduled for June 1847 by the recently appointed Governor, Sir Charles Fitzroy and his wife Lady Mary drew the attention of the Sydney press when it was discovered that Sarah Wentworth and other "damaged' women of the colony appeared on the Governor's guest list. The Chief Justice and other legal associates of the era formally protested to Governor Fitzroy about the proposed attendance of these still unnamed women at the ball. Although she was not publicly identified, Sarah Wentworth was one of these three women. Once the formal protest became known, these three women quickly sent apologies.
A brutal social snub like this could not be ignored and Sarah's recent biographer Carol Liston describes the event as provoking a personal decision that her younger daughters must be brought up in England. The family moved quickly and by February 1853, Sarah and seven children sailed for London. They were not to return for eight years during which time three of their children were lost to disease.
In 1861, following eight years of living in England and continental Europe and a restless series of tours and innumerable residences, the family returned to Australia with 'advanced' European tastes and renewed energy. Renovations at Vaucluse were necessary after several years of relative neglect and the present verandah with its Gothic Revival columns and spandrels was one of their first innovations; this replaced an earlier flat roofed verandah.
When the Wentworths returned home, their use of the estate grounds extended to a nearby harbour beach where Sarah had a section fenced with tea tree for protection from sharks. The gardens were also in transition as the family introduced new plantings in the gardens and orchard. Innovations in fencing also helped shape and formalise the approaches to the property. When enclosed by a new iron estate fencing, the Wentworths' garden provided the family with a private pleasure ground for promenading with family and friends. Nearby Parsley Hill and its sandstone escarpment also provided the family with a scenic destination.
Social AcceptanceWhile this picturesque isolation had been of little consequence early in Wentworth's career as he had rooms in the city, now it proved a handicap when they returned in 1861. For the first time in Sarah's life, she enjoyed social acceptance in the colony. They even received invitations to Government House through connections made during their family's international travels. There were no protests. In 1862, William and Sarah even decided to host a ball themselves and rented Roslyn Hall, a suburban villa on the heights above Woolloomooloo. With the Governor and his entourage scheduled to attend the Wentworth Ball in September, Vaucluse was too small and too far for convenience. Not only were the Governor and Lady Young in attendance at the Wentworth Ball but members of the Legislative Council, government ministers and other pillars of Sydney society also paid their respects. Sarah Wentworth's biographer calls the event her 'ultimate social triumph'.
In typical Wentworth fashion, the day following this singular success, the family began to pack for their return to England where they resumed their nomadic habits: Paris; London; Brighton; Reading; Dorset and Ireland. Joining the family this time was Bobby, an Australian Aboriginal servant from Vaucluse. But after three years, Bobby found the English winters too cold and returned to Australia in 1865. While the Wentworths ostensibly returned to England to pursue legal matters and family affairs, William Charles and Sarah seemed to prefer Europe's pleasures to those of Australia.
Wentworth's DeathIn Europe, the family patriarch's health began to deteriorate in the 1860s and by 1870 his maladies left him an invalid and ultimately deaf. His death at the family's rented estate, Merly in Dorset, followed in 1872.
News of Wentworth's death was received in Australia with shock and great drama. Sir James Martin, a long-standing follower of Wentworth said in a lengthy speech in the Legislative Assembly in August 1872: 'Mr. Wentworth was for very many years the most conspicuous public man not only in this colony but in this part of the world'. Martin went on to propose that the Assembly grant the honours of a public funeral for William Charles Wentworth'. This motion was seconded by Sir Henry Parkes and this parliamentary resolution was transmitted to Sarah in England who made arrangements for the return of Wentworth's remains to the colony.
The public funeral of William Charles Wentworth was held on 6 May 1873 and the initial service was held at St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney. A lengthy procession followed the hearse to Vaucluse. Amongst the companies of mounted police, guilds, societies and members of government marched a contingent of 'Native Australians' 300-400 Australian-born citizens who were joined at the last moment by a small group of Australian Aborigines. The Sydney Morning Herald remarked that '[the] white natives…claims to figure in the procession as 'the natives' were thus publicly disputed'.
A burial site at Vaucluse had been chosen many years earlier and family letters allude to their early desire for a family vault. With Sarah supervising from Britain, she arranged that the tomb was to be built atop a large sandstone boulder that was a Parsley Hill landmark. A crypt was hewn from the stone and a Gothic style mausoleum was commissioned by her to enclose the crypt. Sarah, now sixty-seven years old, also travelled to Brussels to obtain a marble sarcophagus. Ultimately, the mausoleum was enclosed by a sandstone wall with an iron palisade. Sir James Martin gave the graveside eulogy noting that '... [T]his monument will be a lasting and conspicuous memorial, visible to all who enter and all who leave our port.'
Following the funeral and during the slow completion of the mausoleum, Sarah and a daughter Eliza (Didy) took up residence at Vaucluse, returning to England once again in 1875. Their travels this time were to visit family: three daughters who had taken up residence in the United Kingdom. Sarah returned briefly to Australia in 1877-78, she spent the rest of her life in England. Although she wanted to die and be buried in her native land, declining health finally slowed her travels and she died in July 1880 while planning a final trip to Vaucluse. She was buried in Sussex, England.
After the Wentworths
When William Charles Wentworth died in 1872, Sarah Wentworth inherited the contents of Vaucluse House and a life interest in the house and estate. After her death in 1880, this life interest in Vaucluse Estate passed to Eliza Sophia (1838-1898) as William Charles Wentworth's only surviving unmarried daughter. Eliza spent much of her time in England, and on her death, she left the contents to her youngest surviving brother, D'Arcy Bland Wentworth. The house and grounds reverted to the Trustees of the estate of William Charles Wentworth.
From the late 1870s, the house was occupied by family and friends until 1903 when the family appointed Henry Palmer as the estate's caretaker. One can assume that like most unoccupied homes, the deterioration of the house accelerated during this period. But in 1910, the preservation of Vaucluse House was assured by a government resumption of the present estate of approximately twenty-five acres (10 hectares). When the notice appeared in the New South Wales Government Gazette on 6 July 1910, (p.3726) the Department of Lands was charged to establish a 'public recreation ground' at Vaucluse. This was the beginning of the property's development as a heritage property.
The house and estate were first managed by a Board of Trustees acting in an honorary capacity, and they inherited a house and grounds that had seen very little maintenance in at least a decade. There was much work to be done. Their first meeting was held in the Public Works Department in 1911 to form by-laws for the administration of the grounds. They faced difficulties such as regulations for livestock agistment on the estate, purchase of park benches, and for them, the controversial issues of bathing costumes at Vaucluse Bay. Mr Palmer, who had been the Wentworth's caretaker, was reappointed by the Trust. He was later sworn in as 'Special Constable' to enforce the 'no camping', 'no swimming costumes' rules decided by the Trustees.
With foresight, the Trustees struggled mightily for permanent pedestrian access to New South Head Road and Vaucluse village to ensure a right-of-way to the Watson's Bay trams in these early years. This area later became "Petrarch Stairs" at the southern boundary of the property. Serious consideration was also given to ferry access to Vaucluse Bay by suggestions to reserve access to the western shores of the bay.
Providing for the public's needs took precedence over preservation and the ruins of the Wentworths' convict barracks on the eastern slopes overlooking the property were pulled down in 1912, workers' cottages in the south paddock were later destroyed and fences and stock sheds were demolished. In the Trustees' minutes of 20 February 1913, they noted that '... back premises to be repaired as far as possible, any material required to be obtained by the demolition of old buildings in the Park'. Many of the surviving farm buildings disappeared during this time.
In this same period, the square pillars and iron gates of the original Vaucluse Estate entrance were removed from Vaucluse Road, near Nielsen Park, and re-sited near the original driveway at the intersection of Wentworth Road and Olola Avenue. The old garden paths were soon asphalted, then concreted and this gateway became one of the property's principal entrances for many years.
The house, although virtually empty, could be seen on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. But there was always pressure for the Trustees to find a purpose or role for the historic site. Finally in 1915 they voted to create a 'Museum of Australian Historic Objects'. Prior to this decision, there had been suggestions of a Vaucluse Zoo, community tennis courts, a bowling green, deer park, Greek amphitheatre, convalescent hospital, war museum, Ellis Rowan Museum and even a kindergarten.
The Park ServiceIn 1967 the New South Wales government transferred the responsibility for the house and grounds from the Department of Lands to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Department under a National Parks Act.
The Parks Service, while retaining the Trustees' Committee, brought new resources and expertise to the property. Over 200 indigenous trees were planted in the first twelve months of the NPWS administration and in 1978, a long overdue refurbishment of the house interiors was announced. Only a few months later, a newly-designed historical exhibition was opened in the stables.
The Historic Houses TrustIn 1980, the New South Wales Premier Neville Wran created a new government body called the Historic Houses Trust to assume responsibility for Elizabeth Bay House. This organisation of museum professionals soon convened a new Board of Trustees and in 1981, the operation of Vaucluse House and grounds was transferred to the Historic Houses Trust.
Since then the house and grounds have undergone a number of changes, all designed to enhance the authenticity of the presentation of this historic property. Through its research, the Historic Houses Trust has sought to recover Vaucluse House's mid-l9th century landscape setting and some of the atmosphere of its earlier interiors. After eighty years of public ownership, and after its many changes, the house is now returning to its earliest origins. It has remained one of Sydney's most popular historic houses (there are over thirty), and Vaucluse House is keeping pace with the much greater expectations of its modern visitors.
The Estate's gardens have undergone several cycles of change since the Wentworths took up residence here. But in spite of these alterations, the survival of the immediate 19th century garden and grounds is unusual amongst the early harbourside residences.
Port Jackson's southern shore was once dotted with what were described in the 19th century as 'marine villas'; each surrounded by elaborate harbourside gardens, often of great beauty. On entering the harbour, W.C. Wentworth's Vaucluse was the first villa to greet the early 19th century traveller, followed by Captain Piper's Henrietta Villa (1820) appearing at Point Piper, then Lindesay (c.1836) on Darling Point, Grantham on Pott's Point, then Elizabeth Bay House near Garden Island and finally, Government House at the entrance to Sydney Cove.
While some of these houses have survived, their grounds have vanished under the urban pressures of population and transport. Vaucluse's remarkable fortune is the result of a resumption of the immediate estate as well as nearby Nielsen Park, by the New South Wales Government. This far-sighted action assured the survival of the house and garden.
While the immediate grounds of Vaucluse Bay, the beach and house grounds within the enclosure of present day Olola Avenue total some twenty-five acres, the Wentworth Estate once comprised 515 acres (206 hectares), reaching from the heights above Rose Bay to Parsley Bay to the east. It was rugged and picturesque terrain with sandstone ledges, seasonal watercourses and small isolated beaches like Milk Beach, Shark Beach and Vaucluse Bay. In well-watered areas, the vegetation was lush and where ravines provided shelter from the prevailing northeasterlies, tall trees thrived.
Sir Henry Browne Hayes, the first occupant at Vaucluse Bay cleared land immediately surrounding the bay for grazing and agriculture and the earliest images of the area show cattle along the foreshore. This harbourside grazing was a tradition that W.C. Wentworth continued, but his family began to enclose and create more formal garden areas closer to the house. Maps and early views of the area show a steadily increasing number of formal fences surrounding the house.
In order to appreciate Vaucluse House and its grounds today, it is helpful to imagine the estate within an untamed 'bushland' setting of several hundred acres. The bush provides a setting for the 'park', that is, the further reaches of the grassland and grazing paddocks within sight of the house. Within this park, the Wentworth family created several fine views. One carefully designed vista looked northeast to the picturesque sandstone outcrops of nearby Parsley Hill. Another outlook, framed by a long avenue of trees, looked north by north east.
The Wentworths' carriageway separated the parklands from the "pleasure grounds" and in the later 19th century these boundaries were marked by formal iron fencing or hurdles. The inner pleasure garden with its original layout of rolling lawn, shrubbery and meandering paths has survived remarkably intact.
The Historic Houses Trust's philosophy on the gardens and grounds has been to recover as much of the flavour of Wentworth's 19th-century gardens as possible within the restrictions of the 20th-century suburban setting. This means study of the plantings, fashions, philosophy and physical layout of the era through a rigorous research programme by archaeologists, archivists, gardeners and historians. The results of these specialists' work was interpreted by the Historic Houses Trust before a plan of action was developed. A bush-revival scheme was also established to encourage the surviving specimens of native plants surrounding the house to recover.
The Vaucluse gardens and grounds are very much a living organism, changing constantly in response to climate, visitor patterns and new interpretations. Today, after eighty-two years of public access, Vaucluse House visitors can approach the house via sections of the Wentworth family's original carriageway, arriving in a carriage loop that looks much the same as the Wentworths would have found it. These achievements would not be possible without the participation of a wide range of consulting specialists who have formulated the Historic Houses Trust's landscape proposals.
The interiors of Vaucluse House have been arranged to reflect the prevailing customs of the mid 19th century. Fortunately two auction sales and inventories by the Wentworth family in the 19th century have provided great insight into their tastes and aspirations. An 1853 inventory, for example, illustrates the desires of wealthy mid 19th-century Australians who, with the exception of William Charles, had virtually no experience of Europe. Their principal drawing room furniture was of rosewood, a fashionable, heavily figured timber well-suited to the crimson upholstery and pleated cushions they favoured. Paintings, ornaments and decoration appear to be few. Despite the drawing room's apparent opulence when compared to today's standards, it is relatively conventional for its period showing no special originality.
But nearly fifty years later, the collected effects the surviving Wentworths chose to auction in 1900 suggests a more cosmopolitan family with French clocks, Italian tables, bronze sculpture in the classical manner, (Dying Gladiator, Centaurs, Kneeling Venus), Bohemian crystal and a wide variety of Worcester china.
When the Historic Houses Trust began to develop its plan for the Vaucluse House interiors in 1981, the period of residence by the W.C. Wentworth family, (1827-1853) was considered the property's most significant era. On the strength of this decision, plus the happy discovery of an 1853 auction sale catalogue of the family effects prior to their departure for England, the mid-l9th century was chosen for the restoration and conservation of the interior decoration of the house.
This 1853 'Catalogue of the Sale of Household Furniture and Effects of W.C. Wentworth' advertised on 19 March, 1853, listed the traditional furnishings of a well-to-do colonial family, for example, 'an elegant suite of elaborately carved solid rosewood drawing room furniture' was on offer, along with a rosewood Collard & Collard grand piano, centre ottomans, a whatnot, cane-seated chairs and much more. The cushions were covered in crimson silk damask. The fortunate precision of the extensive inventory has provided a 'shopping list' for the Historic Houses Trust curators over the years. Although the house had retained a surprising amount of authentic W.C. Wentworth furniture and furnishings, there were still major omissions in the interiors.
The Historic Houses Trust knew, for example, that the Wentworths had a fondness for the Gothic Revival style. Vaucluse House, with its exterior of turrets and battlements and the Gothic-inspired pointed arches in the principal hall provided the evidence for that. The Gothic Revival sideboard and matching cupboards (c.1845), from the Wentworth's original collection, now in the Dining Room also supported this.
These insights into the family's taste allowed the acquisition of selected accessories and furnishings that dated from the interpretation period selected by the Historic Houses Trust: 1827-1863. As a result, some of the acquired accessories such as lamps, a fireplace fender and a papier-mâché letter stand are in the 19th century Gothic manner. Other acquisitions are in the a la mode Louis Revival style of the period.
In addition to the family's fashionable Gothic Revival furnishings, their extensive European travels in the 1850s and 1860s provided another theme for the Vaucluse House interiors. During their visits to the European spas and capitals, they acquired a range of Grand Tour souvenirs and furnishings, most notably in Italy and Germany. For example, Sarah Wentworth's will, written in Sydney in 1877 makes reference to two mosaic tables, one Florentine and the other Roman. These pietre dura table tops, have fortunately returned to the Vaucluse House collection.
Their Italian travels also introduced the Wentworths to the popular paintings of the late Italian Renaissance and their picture collection in the drawing room and the entrance hall reflects the 19th-century practice of acquiring painted reproductions of Old Masters from souvenir painters of the studios of Rome, Florence and Milan. In a letter to his sister, the Wentworths' youngest son, Willie, confesses to a fondness for the work of Guido Reni:
I bought at Rome a cameo set ... with a representation of Guido's celebrated picture of the 'The Morning' on it - a female driving a chariot and four horses and another female in advance scattering flowers.
The second family auction inventory in 1900, following the death of Eliza Wentworth, lists major oil paintings after Raphael, Correggio, Guido Reni, Andrea del Sarto, Michelangelo and the Spanish painter Murillo. These are typical of the Italian artists favoured by the conventional taste of the era.
W.C Wentworth may have favoured Latin and Greek themes in paintings and ornaments, perhaps as a result of his extensive education in this area. Certainly his poetry and oratory bristled with classical allusions. He may be responsible for the acquisition of such pictures as 'Aurora' (after Guido Reni) in the Drawing Room, the bronze 'Dying Gladiator' in the Entrance Hall, or the 'Three Fates' (after Michelangelo).
Vaucluse House is fortunate to have retained enough original Wentworth furnishings and fittings to provide a good assay of this family's personal tastes and preferences. By combining this information, factual as well as intuitive, with the auction inventories of 1853 and 1900, the Historic Houses Trust is attempting to create interiors that give the visitor not just an impression of 19th century life, but an insight into the particular taste of an important colonial family.