Join us for a live stream of the Winter Solstice


Whether by accident or design, Elizabeth Bay House was built in direct alignment with the sun’s rays at the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the moment when the sun rises at its furthest point north on the horizon. Join us on Sunday 21 June for a live stream of this year's Winter Solstice.

Shortly after sunrise on this day, when the sun is just above the horizon, the central axis of the house is evenly flooded with sunlight from the front door to an area of the cliff face at the rear of the property. This dramatic effect, as the architraves and stone flooring along the central corridor are evenly illuminated, lasts for less than a minute. For over two weeks before and after the winter solstice, the effect may be observed with varying luminance and duration as the elevation of the sun and its position on the horizon gradually change.

Elizabeth Bay House was completed in 1839. Its design is attributed to architect John Verge on the basis of his office ledger. The house's owner, Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay was well versed in matters of taste, architecture and landscape design. There appears to be no direct reference to this aspect of the house's siting in early documentation.

The creation of the site of Elizabeth Bay House involved removing the foot of the Darlinghurst ridge after nine years deciding on the location. The entire plan of the house and its kitchen block at the rear (demolished in 1927) emphasise the axis of the central corridor. A straight viewing line occurs through the doorways aligned along it and the house's staircases are set to one side. The height of this corridor above sea level must also have been precisely determined to properly accommodate the sun's rise over the landmass to the east.

Macleay had the scientific interest, contacts, and the time required for such a rational and ordered astronomical alignment. The symmetry and precision of this annual occurrence certainly sit well within the house's more celebrated design elements.

With Elizabeth Bay House still closed to the public, we invite you to experience this phenomenon at dawn this Sunday 21 June through our Facebook live stream. The live stream will be accompanied by insights from Ed Champion, SLM's head of house museums, and Dr Andrew Jacob, curator of astronomy at Sydney Observatory.



Frontispiece Frugal housewife Mrs Child


Making the Most of YourselfMonday 18 October 2021

Join CSL&RC librarian Dr Matthew Stephens, assistant curator Marina Grilanc and the State Library's Margot Riley for a discussion on domestic advice manuals, the 'self-help books of the 19th century.' This event is being hosted as part of Rare Book Week.

History Extension Online Seminar


The Project: History Extension Online Seminar 2021Thursday 14 October 2021

We are thrilled to announce bookings are now open for our online History Extension seminar, presented in partnership with the State Library of NSW.

Museum of Sydney exterior at night


Hospitality Partner Opportunity at Museum of SydneyWednesday 13 October 2021

A rare opportunity awaits a strategic & innovative restauranteur, catering and hospitality service provider at the Museum of Sydney.

Vaucluse House


COVID-19 updateFriday 8 October 2021

Sydney Living Museums is delighted to announce that we are reopening some of our museums and historic houses from Monday 11 October, with the safety and wellbeing of visitors and staff our foremost priority.