Monday, 12 October 2015



I attended the Vaucluse House Open Day this weekend, a historic house I have long wished to visit. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Sydney. Amongst its many curious features is a door that leads to nowhere and the lack of a front door.

It began its life as the house of one Sir Henry Brown Hayes who was one of very few aristocrats transported due to his kidnapping of a local heiress and he determination to marry her, by force if necessary. He was reported to be of grotesque appearance and surrounded the cottage with Irish peat, believing inexplicably no Australian snake would cross it.

The colourful lawyer and politician William Charles Wentworth, for which the electorate Malcolm Turnbull holds is named, bought the property in 1827. Though a man of prominence in colonial society, he bore the stain of being born to unmarried ex-convict parents. Scandalously, his wife Sarah, herself the child of two convicts, gave birth to two of his children before they married. 

Wentworth embarked upon a significant program of improvement. He expanded the house significantly and added luxurious decoration such as gothic style castellated turrets, imported gold ornaments, Carrara marble trimmings, hand-fashioned English wallpaper and rare blue-toned carpet when the colour was expensive and difficult to manufacture at the time. 

The door that leads to nowhere was added to give symmetry to the hall in which it is found, mirroring the functional door at the other end. The lack of a front door remains an object of mystery. It is unclear why one was not installed, nor where visitors were expected to enter. Historian James Broadbent once said, Vaucluse House was a “fragmentary, muddled house with a character particularly evocative of its mercurial owner.”

PS. An article of mine featured in the Sydney Morning Herald and also on their website. It covers a topic quite different to those I post about here - unpaid labour – but may be of interest to some :)

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