Collection Close-ups: Elizabeth Bay House
Join Assistant Curator Mel Flyte on a tour of one of Australia’s finest colonial homes. Learn about the three generations of the Macleay family who lived in the house, and find out about their scientific collections.
Elizabeth Bay House has two large and entirely separate cellars. To the north is the wine and spirit cellar, which could be accessed internally via a set of stairs that would have allowed the house butler or footman to swiftly deliver drinks to the Macleay family and their guests. The cellar in the south wing contains the larder as well as space for dairy and coal storage.
The house’s original owner, Alexander Macleay, was once a London wine trader, so the family never lacked for variety or quantity when it came to drinks. In fact, eagle-eyed visitors can still spot original handpainted labels for sherry, sauterne, madeira, claret and brandy on the stone walls of the cellar.
Elizabeth Bay House was originally surrounded by a 21 hectare garden that included a famous collection of both native and exotic plants. However, as subdivisions and leaseholds slowly divided the estate, these features began to disappear and today little remains of what was once a truly spectacular garden.
One surviving feature is the grotto, attributed to the architect John Verge. Designed to provide a shaded place to view the harbour, it’s a hidden gem that can be found about 100 metres south of Elizabeth Bay House along Onslow Avenue. Tucked within the stone walls that support the garden terrace above, it features stone seats with a roof carved from an overhanging rock.