Monday, April 28, 2014

Vaucluse House Sydney

Vaucluse House Sydney 

During the school holidays, we love participating in the Sydney Living Museums school holiday program for children, conducted in the historic homes of Sydney and surrounds. This time at Vaucluse House, in honour of the Wentworth's butler who stole the family silver, with intentions of sailing to China, as his get away plan.  As the butler sailed into Port Stevens, he thought he had made it to China, only to be caught and convicted.

A fascinating story which began at one of the most important historic homes in the country.

Vaucluse House displays shades of the trend  in construction at the time, of the grand homes of Britain and repeated in Australia.  The trend emerged, as a result of young gentlemen embarking on the Grand Tour of Europe.  These travels fostered a return to antiquity in architectural styles.  The construction used motives such as those in Greek, Roman and medieval architecture.  Hence the castle battlements on the facade of the home.

Vaucluse House showcases beautiful wide verandas, lined with flag stones
and immaculate gardens, including this stunning water feature.

The children participated in a treasure hunt, across the extensive grounds (for this built up area anyway).

Finding treasure at the waterfall

The water culvert, capturing water from the waterfall and channelling it to the house and the animal pens.

The Kitchen Gardens

The now much diminished view through the trees to the Sydney Harbour foreshore.  Once this was a clear view down to the harbour and Vaucluse House was the first one a sailor would see, as they sailed into Sydney Harbour.

This shot also depicts the entrance under the arch, to the recently restored garden maze.

When Governor Darling, a very unpopular head of state, left the colony for England for the last time, William Wentworth, owner of Vaucluse House threw a BBQ on the foreshore of the Harbour, for the entire colony of 4000 people, including the local indigenous people, providing all the food and alcohol.

As Darling sailed by, there were shouts of "Go home and don't come back".  There was general rejoicing by the colonists, at his departure.

Wenthworth, who was one of the leaders of the expedition to cross the Blue Mountains in 1813, also owned the Australian Newspaper and had used it to accuse Governor Darling of torturing prisoners. Darling had also banned the establishment of theatre and drama performances in the colony, which Wentworth riled against.

Wentworth's parents never married and his mother had been a convict.  For these reasons, he was shunned by Sydney society of the day.  A large player of which, was grazier John MacArthur.  You can see one of his homes here.

John Macarthur and Wentworth became personal enemies, when MacArther broke off the relationship between his daughter Elizabeth and Wentworth's son, as he would not allow his daughter to marry someone with a convict parent (Wentworth's wife, Sarah).

As a result of his family's social exclusion,  Wentworth became the head of the emancipist movement, which sought equal rights in the colony, for ex convicts and their descendants. 

Wentworth was also instrumental in the beginnings of representative government in New South Wales, the end to transportation of convicts and trial by jury.

Interestingly, as the government of the colony of NSW was established and the transportation of convicts ceased in the 1830s, Wentworth became rather more conservative and sided with the landowners (squatters) when the democrats made moves to break up the big land holdings in favour of smaller plots of land, for a greater number of settlers.

The Stables

William Wentworth rode his father's horse as a young man, at the first horse races in Australia at a race track in Hyde Park Sydney.  These grandiose stables, suggest a keen interest in horses was held by the Wentworth family.

The Kitchen (the dresser is original)

Inside and outside views of where the front door should have been constructed, at the end of the hall.  Financial constraints meant it was never established and access to the house was gained via the French doors to the front of the house, or through the back courtyard.

It seems the rich have their money problems as well.

The courtyard joining the working parts of the house to the formal rooms.  Decorated with shades of the 'Grand Tour' in the tiles.

The beautiful staircase

The dining room has some original furniture and copies of the Grand Masters, the originals of which, were purchased on numerous trips back to Europe by the Wentworths.  Vaucluse House was purchased by the state, from the family over 100 years ago and so happily, much of the original furniture remains.

And below right, the internal water closet, which was a big deal.  There are actually two toilets side by side, which is a bit weird. Not sure if two people were meant to use it together.  Apparently, the flushing mechanism takes about 20 minutes to process and the lid was left up, to display the decorative porcelain of the bowl.  The WC was installed after a trip back to England, by the Wentworths.

The formal rooms are absolutely superb and definitely worth the visit to Vaucluse House, just to view them.

And of course the hoop pines (right).  An established part of all the gardens of historic colonial homes in Sydney, as they grew much taller  than the native vegetation and were used as navigational markers to find the homesteads in colonial times.

So here's what you'll need to know:

Location: Vaucluse House, Wentworth Road Vaucluse, NSW 2030 Ph (02)9388 7922 or Tearooms (02)9388 8188

Distance from Sydney CBD: 10km east of Sydney city.

The vibe: A stunning historic home on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, set over 10 hectares with beautifully maintained gardens and park lands.  Head up to the waterfall at the end of the southern paddock to see remnants of sub topical rainforest.

Restaurants: Tearooms built in the 1920s, offering a good range of luncheon and breakfast (on weekends) style cuisine and also serving high teas.  Open Wednesday to Friday 10am -4.30pm and Saturday and Sunday 8am -4.30pm.

Opening times for the house: Friday to Sunday 11am-4pm.  Gardens are open 24 hours daily.  Admission to the gardens is free.

Cost of entry to the house: $8 per adult,  $4 for children or concession.  Family of 2 adults and 2 kids, $17. Members free.

Guided Tours: Depart from the shop at the back of the house at 11am,12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm. Or you can explore the house unguided.  Photographs without flash are allowed. Larger group bookings of over 10 and school bookings can be arranged by appointment.

Venue Hire: Is available.

Toilets: Yes in the tearooms and near the back of the stables, where a baby change table is located.

Parking:  Good amount of free off street parking open from 7am to 5pm.

Public Transport: 325 bus from Circular Quay stops outside the Vaucluse House gates.  You can also pick up the 325 from Edgecliff station.

Shade: Yes there are plenty of mature trees in the extensive grounds

Views: Of the garden and cameos of the harbour foreshore from the second floor of the house and front of the garden

Other attractions: A small gift shop offering all the usual attractions and the Tearooms.

In general:  Vaucluse House is one of the most elegant colonial homes in Sydney.  It is quite intact in terms of original furniture, owing to the fact it passed directly from the close heirs of William Wenworth to the state in 1911, by way of purchase.  Strolling around the house and it's gardens, is a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Sydney Museum program for kids:  This program is advertised as suitable for kids 5-12 years.  Although both kids enjoyed the treasure hunt, my 11 year old was disappointed there was not more history of the actual story of the butler and his escapades.  We really enjoyed the other programs at Elizabeth Farm and Rouse Hill Farm, but felt this one only catered for kids at the younger end of the age range advertised and was not suitable for kids over about 8 or 9.  With more development of the history of the house and the butler's story, this program could be much improved.

I have recently gathered more travel stories and day trip ideas in one spot,  read them here.

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  1. What a gorgeous piece of Sydney history. Do you think is is haunted? I so want to go on a haunted Sydney tour... random I know!

    1. Hi Sonia
      Not sure if it's haunted, but I know Government House at Parramatta does ghost tours by night.

  2. Now this is somewhere we have never been in Sydney and it's so interesting to read all about it and see your gorgeous photos. Really enjoyable and a great intro to the place and it's history - will inspire many visits I am sure.

  3. Gorgeous Caro. What a tour! It's a stunning home and I'm so pleased it wasn't marked for demolition like a lot of other grand colonial homes. It seems a lot of the free-settlers had so many issues and problems with the Govenors of the Colony. But I guess when it comes to politics, nothing's really changed xx

  4. I absolutely love Vaucluse House and park. An aunt lives across the road from it and we regularly go for picnics in the lovely grounds.

    Gorgeous pics - you've show-cased it perfectly. :)

  5. Oh wow what an absolutely stunning house.


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