Things to do at Vaucluse House

School holidays


 

Girl and boy looking through the windows at Vaucluse House
Girl and boy looking through the windows at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Family tours of Vaucluse House

Fun focus tours are held every day in the school holidays and are included in entry price. Join a Meet the Servants children’s tour to hear about some of the many servants who worked at Vaucluse House and estate, and learn some of their daily duties.  Find out what they ate, where they slept and worked, and then try some of their work in the house! Or take the Wentworth Family Tour for a full Vaucluse House tour including the cellars, animals and kitchen garden.

Each tour last approximately 40 minutes.

When

Daily in the school holidays

10am, 12pm, 2pm: Servants Tour

11am, 1pm, 3pm: Wentworth Family Tour

Where

Vaucluse House

Included with museum entry

Adult: $12; Concession: $8; Family: $30; Members: Free of charge; Children under 5 years: Free of charge


 

Gardens & grounds

Was there ever a more picturesque setting for a landscape garden than this once-secluded bay on the edge of Sydney Harbour? Novelist John Lang thought not.

‘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.

 

In the 19th century, ‘picturesque’ meant more than ‘pretty’; it carried a web of meanings about art and landscape, and how to look at them. Here Vaucluse House is seen in its secluded wooded setting through the misty, sublime light of Sydney Harbour – a characteristically picturesque scene. Conrad Martens, Vaucluse House, c.1841. Sydney Living Museums (V98/8)

Pleasure garden

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.

Kitchen garden

Delight your senses in the recreated Victorian kitchen garden. You’ll discover heirloom varieties of colonial staples like cabbage and squash, as well as lesser-known fruit and vegetables such as medlars, cardoons and salsify.

The estate

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.

Come inside to see...

Portrait image of the hallway in Vaucluse House. A black and white tiled floor sits under a number of busts on stands.
Hallway of Vaucluse House Photograph © Patrick Bingham-Hall

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.   


 

Oil painting of three women with long curly hair, the centre figure is blonde while the others have darker hair.
Three Daughters of W.C. Wentworth by Hans Julius Gruder, 1868. Vaucluse House Collection, Sydney Living Museums. COL_V88_0074a

‘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.