Take a family tour of Elizabeth Bay House to discover the secret histories and interesting factoids of the Macleay family, who lived in this gorgeous house over a century ago. Or discover what was once one of the world’s largest collections of beautiful butterflies, magical moths and interesting insects.
When: Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays during the school holidays (excluding Christmas Day) 10am, 12pm, 2pm Children’s Science and Specimens Tour 11am, 1pm, 3pm The Macleay Family Tour
Elizabeth Bay House has two large and entirely separate cellars. To the north is the wine and spirit cellar, which could be accessed internally via a set of stairs that would have allowed the house butler or footman to swiftly deliver drinks to the Macleay family and their guests. The cellar in the south wing contains the larder as well as space for dairy and coal storage.
The house’s original owner, Alexander Macleay, was once a London wine trader, so the family never lacked for variety or quantity when it came to drinks. In fact, eagle-eyed visitors can still spot original handpainted labels for sherry, sauterne, madeira, claret and brandy on the stone walls of the cellar.
Natural grotto and scenic lookout in the grounds of Elizabeth Bay estate, Sydney. Photo attributed to Robert Hunt, c1858. Sydney Living Museums
Elizabeth Bay House was originally surrounded by a 21 hectare garden that included a famous collection of both native and exotic plants. However, as subdivisions and leaseholds slowly divided the estate, these features began to disappear and today little remains of what was once a truly spectacular garden.
One surviving feature is the grotto, attributed to the architect John Verge. Designed to provide a shaded place to view the harbour, it’s a hidden gem that can be found about 100 metres south of Elizabeth Bay House along Onslow Avenue. Tucked within the stone walls that support the garden terrace above, it features stone seats with a roof carved from an overhanging rock.