Vaucluse House is one of The Historic Houses Trust‘s ‘living museums’; you can be toured through it, and have afternoon tea in the teahouse afterwards, if that kind of thing takes your fancy (it does take mine). So that’s exactly what I did. I won’t regale you with the house’s extensive history as the HHT’s website does a pretty nifty job of that, and, besides, I wouldn’t want to ruin the whole point of the tour in case you’re keen to go. But I will show you some photos and mention some details I found interesting. So here we go.
The house was bought and remodelled by William Charles Wentworth in the early nineteenth century, “a gifted but restless lawyer and politician”, according to the HHT. He had a fair number of achievements under his belt. His family was pretty rebellious for the time; his wife had two children before they were married and he was born to an unwed mother. Oh, the scandal. As a result, the family was left a little isolated from colonial society. But they had a pretty opulent drawing room, which might have made things easier to cope with.
The house isn’t especially expansive, but its facade is something else – the Gothic look to it is the home’s most confronting feature, and is my favourite part. The inner courtyard is also pretty special; it feels like a walled city when you’re standing inside it, and it serves as the connecting point between the main house and the servants’ areas, including the kitchen.
The dining room, typically a male-dominated space, according to our tourguide, had a portrait of Wentworth’s favourite daughter hanging in it – a fairly controversial move for the time, apparently. The tiles used in the room were handcrafted in Italy. The drawing room boasts wall-to-wall carpet when rugs were typically used, and blue pigment at a time when blue was not synthetically produced, making it a rarity. An interesting point noted by the tourguide was the need for symmetry in keeping with the time’s conventions; one door in the drawing room leads nowhere, its only purpose being to mirror the door on the other side of the room. I’m a little strange myself, so can see how that would be appealing (especially with my OCD), but tend to prefer the design school that favours thoughtful functionality.
The house was bought by the NSW government in the early twentieth century and has been on show since then. The layouts have been recreated by curators – some of the pieces are original, others have been sourced. It’s reminiscent of Como House, a Melbourne mansion I blogged about early last year, except Vaucluse House is smaller in scale. They both have their intrigue – Como House’s riches-to-rags background, Vaucluse House’s eccentric owner – and the hallmarks of colonial wealth (including servant bells, one of my favourite oddities).