I’ve spoken about my love for Sydney’s heritage before. From the architecture in the Rocks to the haunting photographic archive at the Justice and Police Museum, there are so many ways the past comes alive. Top of my list, though, are historic houses. I had such happy memories from exploring Susanna Place, Governors House and Elizabeth Farm that when I read about the lovely Vaucluse House, I knew I had to venture out into the suburbs to check it out!
We arrived just before 2pm on a sunny Friday afternoon. Us being us, we made sure to take the guided tour, starting outside with what I can only assume was the back entrance. (As we learnt, one of several quirks about Vaucluse House is its complete lack of a front door!)
A brief history of Vaucluse House
The tour began with some colourful backstory. The original stone cottage was built in 1805 by a convicted kidnapper.
Sir Henry Browne Hayes — knight as well as kidnapper — sounds pretty vile. But it’s to him the house and the surrounding area owes its name. He chose Vaucluse, probably after the Italian poet Petrarch’s estate near Avignon, France.
The property then passed through several hands, but its most significant owner was William Charles Wentworth, who purchased it in 1827. Wentworth improved upon and drastically extended the original estate over several decades. His efforts culminated in the Gothic-style mansion seen today, complete with crenellated parapets and impressive verandah.
Due to various factors, the house was never truly finished. Hence, the lack of formal entrance and a surprisingly small number of bedrooms. There were only three to accommodate ten children!
Exploring the house
The courtyard from which we entered the main house was definitely a highlight for me. The pots of overflowing greenery are so vibrant next to the warm colours of the brickwork.
Inside, we were introduced to additional Wentworth family members through their portraits and possessions. Quite a lot of the furniture and art is original to the family. As is to be expected, the interior is often opulently decorated: lots of patterns, dark wood and gilt for the areas on display.
I doubt the clean, symmetrical styling of copper jelly moulds and preserves is authentic to the chaos of a working kitchen, but it’s very pretty!
One curious feature of Vaucluse House is the so-called “room in the hall” (above right).
The bedroom, used by Wentworth’s son Fitzwilliam, is located at the end of an upstairs corridor with no wall to partition it. There’s only a movable wardrobe with a door in the middle to create some semblance of privacy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Quite an inventive solution to the problem of the inadequate ratio of bedrooms to children!
Our tour guide Mollie was incredibly knowledgeable and shared so many interesting behind-the-scenes details. For example, the door in the drawing room that revealed the house’s original brickwork, or the three mattresses stacked into the beds (above).
I wish I could remember what was in each mattress. I want to say straw, horse hair and then feathers on the top layer, with the air making it look so inflated? If anyone knows for sure, please get in touch — I’d love to hear!
The verandah and gardens
The gardens looked so beautiful illuminated by golden hour light, especially the bright pops of colour in the flower bed around the fountain.
I could’ve spent much longer exploring them, and visiting the tea rooms. Unfortunately, however, we were at the mercy of public transport. So instead we hotfooted it back to the bus stop out front.
Feeling rushed is never ideal, but I’d often rather see somewhere in a hurry than miss it altogether. I’m so pleased we were able to squeeze Vaucluse House into our brief weekend in Sydney.
There are a few different options for getting to Vaucluse House from central Sydney, whether by road, cycling or public transport. We opted to use our Opal cards and take the ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, above, and then the 325 bus the rest of the way.
I definitely recommend the ferry. The journey’s just over 20 minutes and you get such incredible views of the harbour in both directions.
Over to you
Have you visited Sydney? What would you prioritise on a weekend in the city?
Read more: Things to do in Sydney
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