Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Vaucluse House, Sydney

On our final day of our Sydney trip, we went took two ferries and a bus to go to the house museum of grand colonial Vaucluse House.  I had been determined to go to a museum while in Sydney and this is one I remember going to many years ago.  Sylvia was not so keen to go there but, despite her displeasure at being told to be careful with her chewing gum, she enjoyed the audio tour.

The bus dropped us off opposite these gates and we walked up the drive and past the above splendid view of the house.  It was built between 1803 and 1839, with the majority of work done after it was purchased in 1827 by William Charles Wentworth.  I knew of Wentworth as a schoolgirl when we read about him being in the group of explorers who first crossed the Blue Mountains.  These days we see it differently as the first Europeans to go that way into Aboriginal Land.  Nevertheless Wentworth seemed interesting, being part of the emancipist party, co-founding a newspaper, chairing the committee to draft the New South Wales constitution.  However he and his wife came from convict families so the house in its dramatic Gothic Revival style with crenellated walls was quite aspirational.

I would have loved to sit and listen to move history on the audio guide but when taking a child around, life has to move a little faster.  After all the crowds of Sydney in summer, I was surprised that it was fairly quiet at Vaucluse House.  Perhaps it is a little far from the madding crowds in many ways.  It also was set up as it would have been when the Wentworths lived there, which meant not great lighting which in turn meant my photos were a little dark.

We started at the walkway between the entrance hall and the kitchen.  Having had a lot of hot days this summer, I can well understand why the hot kitchens used to be fairly separate from the rest of the house.  Of course it was not just heat that kept the kitchen apart but the reality that a kitchen was a likely place for fire to start.

The grand hallway was quite impressive but it was rather poignant that they never built the front door which was intended to have the guest walk in to see this view.  Wentworth's plans for the house were never completed due to the 1840s depression.  However it is a magnificent example of early colonial life for the wealthy.  It is rather old in Australia's European history.  It was built before European occupation of Melbourne and opened to the public in the 1920s.

The Dining room was splendidly set for fancy dining, albeit with not that much natural light.  As the William and Sarah Wentworth had 10 children, Sylvia thought this table was big enough for the family.  She lives in a time when kids share the table with adults and could not imagine the kids being upstairs having their nursery suppers while the parents had lavish dinner parties!

The Little TeaRoom was also quite dark.  Yet it looks like a calm place to relax.  It was notable for its wallpaper. 

The Drawing room was the most impressive room.  Apparently it was created as a place for the 7 daughters to meet potential suitors due to Sarah's social isolation (she came from a convict family and had her first two children out of wedlock).  It was here that I wished I had gone to Elizabeth farm house museum instead.  When I asked if we could touch the furniture I was told not any more but on Elizabeth farm you can touch almost all the furniture.

Fitzwilliam's room in the hall was rather interesting.  Having lots of children, the Wentworths were pushed for space, even in this grand home.  They walled off part of the first floor hallway to make a bedroom for their second son.

Also on the first floor was the Second room or private family sitting room.  This was where the family spent a lot of time writing letters, reading, playing games and playing the piano.  I can't help but see Judy and Meg from Seven Little Australians here.

Along the hallway was the Principal bedroom where William and Sarah slept.  It was a fancy bed but life was a bit more basic in the Nineteenth Century.  The steps up to the bed actually hide a commode.  But the Wentworths room is presented in one way that we recognise today with his and hers jug and basin by the window.

Upstairs on the second floor is the Miss Wentworth's room. I particularly appreciated the mosquito netting for the beds after Sylvia was bitten a lot by mosquitos while sitting on our hotel balcony early one morning. 

It is a fairly sparse bedroom for older girls.  There were some books on the mantlepiece.  I hope they were allowed a bit more signs of life back when it was inhabited by the older three Wentworth girls.

More lively was the Children's Room next door.  More mosquito nets on these three beds and a table of activity in the middle.  (So far I have counted 7 children's beds so I am not sure if the 10 children were all there together or not!  Perhaps I should have listened more to the audio tour!)

I was quite taken by this tin tub in front of the fire because it just looks like a health and safety nightmare today.  The bathtub was by the fire so the kids were warm when bathing.  And how did they get the hot water up there on the second floor.

I was also fascinated by this highchair in the nursery.  It makes the bathtub look safe and secure.  Can you imagine putting a young child in this chair teetering on a table!

And here are ye olde water closets.  For their time they were quite advanced with a flush system in the form of a handle towards the front that you could pull up to let the contents out.  Apparently the two toilets was not because people liked to sit beside each other but because chances are only one out of two would work.

Then following our audio tour we went along the outdoor passageway to the large service wing. 

Firstly we saw the Housekeeper's Room.  The housekeeper was an important position in the household.

The other important person was the butler.  Here is the Butler's pantry.  Candles had their wicks trimmed here.  Sylvia was drawn to the candle snuffer.  I think anyone with so many candles before electricity must have had a lot of power (no pun intended).

The butler overlooked the drive where visitors would arrive.  Does that mean he had to always be on lookout or only when he knew that people were coming?

The actual kitchen was huge with lots of ordered calm space.  I can imagine it would have looked quite different when filled with busy servants bustling about with many tasks to do.  This collection of jelly moulds was impressive.

This fireplace would have been great in winter but so hot in summer.  This was the source of hot water as well as a place to cook and keep the kettle boiled.

So many racks of pans.  So much cooking!  So much washing up!  I think these pans were in the Scullery (but maybe the kitchen).

This was definitely the Scullery.  It was here that washing up was done.  It was also our last stop on the tour of the house so we were getting tired and not paying such close attention.  We skipped the dairy as our time was tight and our attention was dwindling.

Vaucluse was a beautiful grand house and I loved walking through it without too many other people about (there was a group outside when we left).  I particularly loved the kitchens with rows of pots and pans.  We rushed for our bus back to Rose Bay wharf and just got our ferry.  I was quite impressed by the view from Rose Bay back towards the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

I would have loved to have stayed to walk about the Vaucluse House gardens and eat at the tearooms but our time was up. Maybe next time.  If you are interested to read more about the house, I found that there was quite a lot of information on Wikipedia.

Vaucluse House
Wentworth Road, Vaucluse, NSW 2030
Phone (House): 02 9388 7922
Open Wednesday to Sunday 10am–4pm (and daily during school holidays)

1 comment:

  1. I've been enjoying your tour around Sydney for nostalgia and reminding me of my time there many years ago, but I don't think I'd heard of Vaucluse House before. It looks a fun place to explore. The part about the two toilets had me cackling!


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)