The most distinctive feature of Sydney’s vast harbour is its diversity – a seemingly endless succession of bays and promontories, best viewed from the fleet of ferries that departs in all directions from Circular Quay.
In nineteenth century, before the city extended outwards, the outlying areas of the bay were remote retreats where leading figures of the time built exclusive residences, some of which survive – and some of which remain exclusive.
On Darling Point, in 1834, the Scots-born Campbell Drummond Riddell (1796-1858), Colonial Treasurer of New South Wales, built Lindesay House, one of the first examples in the colony of what Australians now call “domestic Gothic” style, naming it after the Acting Governor, Lieutenant Patrick Lindesay.
After the Riddells left Australia in 1838, a subsequent owner divided the estate into eighteen plots for development, and another Scot, Sir Thomas Mitchell (1792-1855), Surveyor General of New South Wales, bought the house and five of the plots in 1841. On one of these plots he built another Gothic house, Carthona, which became his residence, and he sold Lindesay on to Sir Charles Nicholson (1808-1903), the first Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Council and one of the founders of the University of Sydney.
The house passed through a succession of subsequent ownerships until in 1963 the last private owner, Walter Pye, donated it to the National Trust of Australia.
The Trust opens it to the public one afternoon a month. At other times it is a “much sought-after venue by brides”, though rationed to only twelve major functions a year.
The very perfunctory Lonely Planet review states, “It’s rarely open but aside from Nicole Kidman inviting you in for tea, this is probably your best chance to look inside an actual Darling Point mansion.”
I was, therefore, very lucky to have a Sydney DFAS contact, Margaret, who was prepared to give me a personal tour of the house, so I could see how, despite the encroachments of later development, you can still stand on the lawn and gaze across one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.
Details of visiting arrangements for Lindesay House are at http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/nsw/Lindesay.