Exploring Sydney: Vaucluse House

Vaucluse House, Sydney, Australia

Vaucluse House, Sydney, Australia

William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872) could perhaps be forgiven for having a chip on his shoulder as he made his way in New South Wales society in the early nineteenth century.

His father, D’Arcy Wentworth, was a distant relative of the Wentworths of Wentworth Woodhouse. Irish-born, he trained as a surgeon in London but practised as a highwayman, and so was transported to New South Wales in 1789-90.

On the voyage to Australia D’Arcy Wentworth formed a liaison with Catherine Crowley, who had stolen clothing.  She presented him with a baby son, William, which he accepted even though the birth took place less than nine months after they met.  D’Arcy and Catherine never married.

Nowadays, convict ancestry is a mark of distinction in Australia, but even though D’Arcy Wentworth developed a landed estate in Parramatta, his son was disparaged for his antecedents and his illegitimacy.

William Wentworth studied law in England, then returned to New South Wales where he became a powerful political figure, bitterly opposed to and by the Sydney respectability.

His Sydney residence was Vaucluse House, a neo-Gothic hotchpotch that he purchased in 1827, two years before he got round to marrying his mistress, Sarah, the native-born daughter of convicts.  They had ten children, eight of them in wedlock.

He developed the house piecemeal, using its space and grandeur as a backcloth for popular political celebrations.

After leading the successful campaign for self-determination for New South Wales Wentworth, “the hero of Australia”, retired to England in 1856, where he became a Conservative MP.  On his return to Sydney in 1861 he and his wife found a greater measure of acceptance, and at his death he was accorded a state funeral.  His Australian descendants have continued to take a prominent part in Australian society and politics.

The original estate extended to 515 acres.  Because of the Wentworth connection it was acquired as a public park as early as 1910, and unlike the other prominent harbour-side villas of its period, such as Lindesay House and Elizabeth Bay House, Vaucluse House retains its garden setting and twenty-five acres of planting and natural bush.

For many years the house served as a museum, but since 1981 the New South Wales Historic Houses Trust has followed a plan to return it to its condition during the occupancy of William Charles Wentworth up to 1853.

There is a guide-book to the house, with detailed background on the Wentworth family, at http://www.hht.net.au/discover/highlights/guidebooks/vaucluse_house_guidebook.


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