Join us for a live stream of the 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.