Architectural remnants from The Vineyard - Subiaco

The Vineyard at Rydalmere NSW (later known as Subiaco), designed by architect John Verge for Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur and completed in 1836, is almost universally described by architectural historians as one of Sydney’s finest colonial homes.

Yet nothing of it remains on its original site and only a few architectural remnants and some items of furniture survive, dispersed in public and private collections. The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) holds some of the architectural remnants including the entrance door fanlight and sidelight; a pair of timber capitals and their sandstone bases (but not their columns); a pair of timber pilasters from the main hall; and a pair of cast iron flat grille columns.

Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur (1788-1861), a nephew of John Macarthur of Elizabeth Farm and Camden Park, purchased the Vineyard property in 1813. In 1833 he commissioned John Verge to design a large house to replace the existing Vineyard cottage, in which he lived with his wife and children. Verge was then the most accomplished and fashionable architect in the colony of New South Wales. His office ledger shows that he fixed a site for the new house close to the existing cottage which was incorporated into the offices. He supplied plans, elevations and an estimate but it seems that the actual construction was supervised by local Parramatta builder James Houison.

Hannibal Macarthur was one of numerous prosperous colonists of the 1830s who were made bankrupt in the depression of the early 1840s. He was forced to sell The Vineyard, which was purchased in late 1848 by Archbishop Polding for the Benedictine nuns as their first priory in Australia. In March 1851 the property also became a boarding school for girls and was renamed Subiaco. New school buildings were constructed in the 1850s, increasing teaching space, and a verandah was added in 1868-69 to the upper floor on front of the house to provide weather protection.

Most of the estate was sold off in the 1920s so that by mid-20th century only seven acres remained. The once pastoral area had become increasingly industrial. In 1957 the nuns sold the property to a Benedictine order of monks and three years later the monks sold the property to Rheem Australia Pty Ltd, manufacturers of hot water heaters. In 1961 Rheem demolished Subiaco to make a car park, despite a public campaign against demolition led by the NSW branch of the National Trust. 

About the Author

Portrait of man in dark shirt against sandstone wall.
Michael Lech
Michael Lech is curator of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) and online collections at Sydney Living Museums.

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