The museum collections of Sydney Living Museums are distributed across our portfolio of seven house museums and three historic place museums where many items are on public view to visitors. Some collection formats are also accessible online though our Collections Catalogue, including pictures, wallpapers, floor coverings, garden ornament and builders’ hardware and ironmongery.
Each bite focuses on one object or a group of related objects with special stories to tell. Some of the objects are rare, a few come from demolished houses and others were common in their day, but all tell a larger story of how Australians built, furnished and lived in their homes.
Elizabeth Bay House
Elizabeth Bay House, built 1835–39 by the fashionable architect John Verge for colonial secretary Alexander Macleay and his family, now boasts a fine collection of Australian cedar furniture that reflects the neoclassical tastes of the early 19th century.
Elizabeth Farm, a colonial homestead built in 1793 for the family of John and Elizabeth Macarthur, has a collection of furniture and furnishings developed to emphasise the period of occupation by the Macarthur family from 1793–1850, including reproductions of some original pieces of furniture from the house.
Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Hyde Park Barracks was built as a male convict barracks in 1817–19 and was the colony's principal convict establishment until the end on transportation in 1848. From 1848 to 1886 the barracks provided lodging for government-assisted female immigrants and served an asylum for aged and destitute women. Today, the Hyde Park Barracks Museum uses its rich archaeology collection to unravel stories of its occupants and uses over the past 190 years.
Justice & Police Museum
The Justice & Police Museum, housed within the former Water Police Court (built 1856), Water Police Station (1858) and Police Court (1886), has a collection which includes objects relating to crime, policing and legal history, including an extensive archive of police forensic negatives created by the NSW Police Department between 1910 and 1964.
Meroogal, built in 1885 in the south-coast town of Nowra and home to four generations of women from the same family, contains an intact collection of furniture, household objects, diaries, letters, books, sheet music, photographs and costume.
Museum of Sydney
The Museum of Sydney on the site of First Government House has a collection that directly relates to the history of this site. It comprises objects known to have been in first Government House during the occupation of the first nine governors of NSW (1788 –1846) or directly associated with those governors; archaeological material; and significant objects associated with the symbolism of the site.
Rose Seidler House
Rose Seidler House, built 1948–50 and designed by renowned architect Harry Seidler for his parents, has a furniture collection that forms one of the most important mid 20th-century design collections in Australia. It includes a number of pieces commissioned by Seidler from leading designers of the day, including Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen.
Rouse Hill House & Farm
Rouse Hill House & Farm retains an original collection of furniture, furnishings, decorative arts, costume, books, pictures and farming equipment associated with the long occupation of the Rouse/Terry family from 1820 until the government acquisition of the property in the 1978.
Susannah Place Museum
Susannah Place Museum, a terrace of four houses built in the heart of The Rocks in 1844, tells the stories of the everyday lives of working people and the neighbourhood in which they lived. The diversity of 19th- and 20th-century decorative finishes, wallpapers and floor coverings which survive in the houses tells much about the decoration and furnishing of working-class interiors.
Vaucluse House, one of Sydney's great 19th-century harbourside estates, was purchased in 1827 by William Charles Wentworth, a gifted lawyer and politician who helped frame the first NSW constitution for representative government. The collection includes items owned by the Wentworth family and believed to have been at Vaucluse House between 1827 and 1910.
Caroline Simpson Collection
In 2004 the four children of the late Caroline Simpson OAM (1930-2003) gifted their mother’s outstanding collection of Australian colonial furniture, pictures and objets d’art, plus an important collection of pictures of other colonial places around the world, to the Historic Houses Trust and, at the same time, provided an endowment for our library, which has been renamed in her honour.
The collection has been dispersed among our properties. Some important items of colonial furniture have been placed at Elizabeth Bay House and at Vaucluse House. A collection of David Moore photographs has gone to the Museum of Sydney, along with two Sydney Cove medallions made by Josiah Wedgwood in 1789 to commemorate European settlement at Sydney Cove. Other items now form part of the collection at Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Many of the pictures, including a collection of Conrad Martens’ watercolours and drawings, are part of the library collection and can be found through searching our Pictures Catalogue.
WW1: stories from our museums
Often poignant and sometimes heartbreaking, the stories reveal combatants, pacifists, patriotic fundraisers and anti-war activists, explore broader narratives of patriotism and expressions of jingoism, and touch on the aftermath of war and the memorialisation of those who enlisted.