Tracing family connections

Using treasured objects from our collections, we chart the unique relationship between Rouse Hill House (c1813) and Meroogal (1885).

On first glance at the photo above you’ll see an 1890s-style table setting re-created in the dining room at Rouse Hill House; however, take a closer look and you’ll find clues to the Rouse family’s fascinating friendships with the residents of Meroogal in Nowra.

Family threads

We can trace back the connections between Rouse Hill House and Meroogal through Miriam Hamilton (nee Terry), a sixth generation Rouse descendant, and former co-owner and resident of Rouse Hill House. Her father, Roderick Terry (1899–1980), was one of the five sons of Nina and George Terry, who lived at the property from 1924.

In 1892 Miriam’s maternal grandmother, Miriam Macgillivray (1853–1924) married the Reverend James Thomas Thorburn (1860–1935), becoming the sister-in-law of Belle, Georgie, Kate and Tot Thorburn. Six years earlier the Thorburn sisters had moved with their mother, Jessie, into the newly built Meroogal, where they spent the rest of their lives together.

 

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Sepia toned photograph of family group outside house.
Robert Taylor Thorburn and his sisters Belle & Tot in front of Meroogal, Nowra, around 1887 / Phillips & West, Landscape Photographers [c1887]. Sydney Living Museums, June Wallace papers, Rec. no 42986

Open homes

As lifelong friends of Bessie Rouse (nee Buchanan, 1843–1924, third mistress of Rouse Hill House), Miriam Thorburn and her sisters frequently visited Rouse Hill House. Miriam’s daughter, Bonnie (1893–1976), spent much of her childhood there and married Roderick Terry in 1922.

Miriam Hamilton herself spent a year living at Meroogal in 1933 so as to get to know her grandfather the Reverend Thorburn, who had retired there in 1932 and lived with his sisters until his death in 1935.

Ties that bind

The collections at both houses speak of a shared history, as is often the case when relationships are closely forged. Take the two pink glass lamps on the Rouse dining table in the photograph, for example. These delicate, treasured, late-19th-century kerosene lamps, which have long resided in the dining room, were a gift from Miriam Thorburn and her sister Annie Jane Perry (nee Macgillivray, 1855–1922) to Bessie Rouse.

Look a little further in the background of the photograph, behind the dining table, and you’ll also notice a lacquered folding firescreen painted asymmetrically with a white hollyhock design. This firescreen appears in a photograph of the drawing room dating back to 1894. A very similar item, with the same ogee arch-shaped top and four-panelled arrangement, can be found in the drawing room at Meroogal – this one is painted with chrysanthemums (as shown in the photograph at right). These two late-19th-century lacquered (japanned) firescreens in the style of the aesthetic movement are evidence of similar tastes and fashions making their mark on the interiors of both of the houses and their collections.

Shared tastes

We have found numerous connections like these in letters, photographs, invitations and inscriptions in books. Rouse Hill House & Farm and Meroogal share a similar collection philosophy: both houses are furnished with all original items – objects owned and cherished by the people who lived in them. And now that they are connected in a Sydney Living Museums portfolio (along with Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta), we have the opportunity to explore these intriguing links more thoroughly and draw out the personal stories that tie these places together.


 

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TOTTIE THORBURN'S DIARY

Albumen print of young woman.
Kennina [Tottie] Fanny McKenzie Thorburn, 1886 / Grouzelle & Cie. Sydney Living Museums, June Wallace papers, Rec. no 43029

This diary was hand-written between 1888–1893 and 1895–1896 by the youngest member of the family for whom Meroogal was built, Kennina Fanny Thorburn (1865–1956), known to her family as Tottie.

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

Hand coloured Ambrotype portrait of Jessie Catherine Thorburn and her daughter Mary Susan, circa 1862
Hand coloured Ambrotype portrait of Jessie Catherine Thorburn and her daughter Mary Susan, circa 1862 Meroogal Collection, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Photograph (c) Rob Little / RLDI

A star-gazing schoolmaster, a mourning widow, an immigrant farmer, a practical chemist, a defiant bushranger, an unidentified child and a trio of genteel young girls: they all feature in the earliest portrait photographs from the Sydney Living Museum’s collections.

About the Author

Woman with shirtsleeves rolled up leaning on wall of old shed.
Anna Corkhill
Former assistant curator
Elizabeth Farm, Rouse Hill House & Farm and Meroogal
Anna Corkhill has been fascinated by houses for as long as she can remember.At last count she has lived in...

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