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Vaucluse House

Posted on June 8, 2011 - Filed Under Historic Sites

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Vaucluse House is Sydney’s only remaining 19th century harbour-side estate. Set in ten of its original 206 hectares, this gothic-style sandstone mansion still retains its charm with its authentic interiors and magnificent gardens. The house, stables and laundry are still intact and provide a unique insight into the lifestyles of Sydney’s upper class in 1800s.

Vaucluse HouseFree Entry With See Sydney Card
The house is three storeys and features 16 rooms. It is furnished with period items and many of the original fittings are still present. The extensive gardens and grounds overlooking Sydney Harbour have also been restored to their 19th century character. Features include lavish entertaining rooms, a colonial kitchen with a wood-fired stove, cellars and a sandstone walled courtyard.

Early History:

The land on which Vaucluse House is now located was originally granted to Thomas Laycock and Robert Cardell in the 1790s.

In 1803, Governor King granted permission to Sir Henry Brown Hayes to purchase the site. Hayes had been transported to Sydney for kidnapping the daughter of a wealthy Irish banker. He was considered to be troublesome and Governor King was glad to see him move to the outskirts of Sydney.

Hayes built a small cottage and several outbuildings on his new land. He cleared 20 hectares for agricultural purposes and planted thousands of fruit trees. He named his new home Vaucluse after Fontaine de Vaucluse in the south of France.

Hayes was pardoned by Governor Macquarie in 1812 and subsequently returned to Ireland. It is unclear who owned the property up until 1822 when it was acquired by Captain John Piper. Captain John Piper was a military man, extensive landowner and a close friend to Governor Macquarie. He later sold the property to cover his debt to the government and other creditors.

Vaucluse House Interior

The Wentworth Family Moves In:

Vaucluse House is most famous for being the home of William Charles Wentworth, his wife Sarah and his family of ten children. They purchased the site at auction in 1827 for £1,500. The house as it is seen today was built by the Wentworth family and incorporates the original cottage built by Hayes. They made many improvements including the turreted sandstone stable and large kitchen wing.

William Charles Wentworth was a highly respected and influential figure in the early colony. He was a barrister, journalist, politician and explorer. He fought fiercely for a representative government and the right of trial by jury in the colony. His achievements include the formation of the nation’s first university (the University of Sydney), his instrumental role in the drafting of the colony’s first constitution and his exploration of the Blue Mountains. He was also the co-publisher of The Australian, the colony’s first independent newspaper.

The family lived at the estate from 1827-1853 when they left for England. The move enabled Wentworth to act as an Australian representative in the colony’s efforts for a full representatives government but also allowed the family to raise their daughters in a more receptive and appropriate social setting.

The family returned to Australia and Vaucluse in 1861. Renovations began immediately as the house was suffering from neglect. One of the most significant changes was the replacement of the flat-roofed veranda with the current Gothic-style veranda. However, there stay did not last long. The family left for England again in 1862.

Wentworth died in Dorset in 1872. His body was returned to Sydney for the first State funeral. He was buried at Vaucluse. The Wentworth family continued to live in England and retained their interest in Vaucluse House until the early 1900s when the contents of the house were auctioned.

Preservation of Vaucluse House:

In 1910, the Department of Lands established a public recreation ground at Vaucluse. This was the first step in the property’s development as a heritage site. However, the house was in disrepair and many of the outbuildings were destroyed to provide for public needs. Finally a museum for Australian historic objects was established in 1915.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Department took over management of the site in 1967. As a result, over 200 indigenous trees were planted and a refurbishment of the house’s interiors was announced.

The Historic Houses Trust was established in 1980 and in 1981 it took control of Vaucluse House. The Historic Houses Trust has restored both the house and the gardens to reflect the time the Wentworths occupied the estate, offering a unique look into the lifestyle and aspirations of this important colonial family.
Free Entry With See Sydney Card

Important Information:


General admission is $8.00 Au for adults, $4.00 Au for children or $17 for a family. Admission is free with a See Sydney Card.

Guided tours are available.


Vaucluse is an affluent, mainly residential suburb located 15km east of the city on the South Head peninsula. It is one of Sydney’s most expensive areas. Vaucluse House is located on Wentworth Road, Vaucluse.

If driving from the city, take New South Head Road, then Vaucluse Road. Bus 325 from the east end of Circular Quay stop near the front of the property.

The Sydney Bondi Hop-On Hop-Off Bus also stops nearby.

Parking is available on site.

Sydney Bondi Hop-On Hop-Off Bus

Nearby Attractions:

Nearby attractions include Vaucluse Beach, Strickland House, Elizabeth Bay House, Nielsen Park and Watsons Bay.

Opening Hours:

Vaucluse House is open 9:30am-4:00pm Friday to Sunday (daily in January, NSW school holidays and public holidays). The grounds are open until 5:00pm. Vaucluse House is closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Food Services:

The Vaucluse House Tea Rooms are located in the gardens and are open for brunch, lunch and Devonshire tea.


The gift shop is filled with unique treasures including toys of yesteryear, garden publications, Victoriana and other unique gifts.


The ground floor is wheelchair accessible. A photographic tour of inaccessible rooms is available. Those with walking difficulties can be driven to the entrance of the house via the carriage loop. Entrance is via Olola Avenue. Audio, large print and Braille guides are also available.

Contact Details:

You can contact Vaucluse House directly on (02) 9388 7922.

Have You Visited Vaucluse House?

Please share your experiences of or questions about Vaucluse House in the comments box below.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 at 11:02 am and is filed under Historic Sites. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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