Nightlight Tour: Vaucluse House
William Charles Wentworth looms as a giant over Vaucluse House, his exploits and legacy still relevant to this day. But what about the rest of the Wentworth family, at times socially ostracised due to their convict ancestry? In this tour we pay attention to the voices of the wider family – William’s wife Sarah, and their ten children. Using original sources we explore the family dynamics, hear from those who are rarely heard, and finally discover if Sarah really did forbid William to have goats at Vaucluse House.
Gardens & grounds
‘Travel where you will,’ he wrote in 1859, ‘the eye will not rest upon any spot more favoured by Nature than that exquisite valley which was called Vaucluse.’
The Wentworth family’s grand mid-19th-century harbourside estate is one of NSW’s most significant. Discover the splendid pleasure garden, Victorian kitchen garden and idyllic natural setting – an oasis of calm in one of Sydney’s most historic and scenic places.
Set between the house and the harbour, the pleasure garden is a beautifully restored informal mid-19th-century stroll garden. Walk the lawns, admire the 1860s fountain and linger in the shrubbery, with its display of horticultural riches from around the world.
The Wentworths’ sprawling estate once covered most of the present-day suburb of Vaucluse. Enjoy a picnic in the grassy paddock behind the house, follow the creek from its waterfall down to sandy Vaucluse Bay or walk up to the family’s Gothic Revival mausoleum on Chapel Road.
Farmyard animals & native wildlife
The farmyard is home to a well-loved menagerie: chickens, ducks, and Pan and Kasper, our beautiful goats. You can also spot colourful lorikeets, kookaburras and tawny frogmouths in the grounds – and in warmer months surprise water dragons basking on the gravel paths.
The entrance hall
Nothing demonstrates the unfinished nature of Vaucluse House more than this grand entrance space which lacks its most essential component: a doorway.
Sarah and William Wentworth began work on extending and improving the original house in the 1830s but never completed the task. It is often assumed that this was due to financial troubles associated with the depression of the 1840s but it’s also possible that, as social outcasts, the Wentworths did not receive enough guests to warrant the addition of a formal doorway.
Whatever the reason, the space is well worth a visit, with busts of both Sarah Wentworth and her daughter Thomasine hanging in the Gothic arch, as well as elaborate reproductions of Old Master paintings, collected as souvenirs during the Wentworth family’s grand European tour.
‘The Three Graces’
Above the cedar table in the hall hangs a portrait of the younger Wentworth daughters, Edith, Eliza and Laura.
Painted by Julius Hans Gruder in 1868, the portrait is titled Three daughters of William Charles Wentworth but was nicknamed ‘The Three Graces’ by the Wentworth family. You will perhaps see why when you view this striking painting, which brings to question the prejudices and judgments of colonial society.
Make sure you take a free guided tour and learn what became of the three Wentworth girls, as well their brothers and other sisters. Their stories are as complex and intriguing as the house itself, for while the Wentworth children were born into great privilege, this did not protect them from hardship and loss.