Bessie’s Studio at Rouse Hill House & Farm

Black & white photo of woman in room with table set for breakfast.
Miriam Hamilton in the Studio room when it was recreated as the Breakfast Room in 2002. Photo © Sydney Living Museums
Recently at Rouse Hill House & Farm, we reopened the Studio to visitors, further enhancing the experience of exploring this unique property. This room has had a variety of uses over its time, most recently used to store fragile garden furniture from the collection.

The space that this room now occupies was originally part of the house’s encircling verandah, and formed a passageway between two buildings: the main house and adjacent service wing.

In 1875, Bessie Rouse [nee Buchanan, 1843-1924] and Edwin Stephen Rouse [1849-1931] engaged architect John Horbury Hunt to build the splendid stables at Rouse Hill, and also to create a link between the upper floor of both buildings. This bridging link contained a corridor to access a nursery created in the upper floor of the service wing and a new, internal bathroom.

Completed in 1877, the bathroom originally had a marvellous rectangular marble bath tub - though the use of this luxurious item was short-lived as it leaked water. The four pieces that made up the construction of the bath remain in the collection held at the property.

A pretty studio

In the early 1890s, Bessie Rouse (1843-1924, nee Buchanan) created a new room – a painting Studio - in the space created below the bathroom.

Amy Bell told me Bessie had made such a pretty studio at the end of the drawing room

Hannah Rouse (1819-1907) to Amy Bell, April 1890 from Rouse Hill House and The Rouses, Caroline Rouse Thornton, Caroline Thornton Publishing, 2015.

R88/45. 1885-1886. A head and shoulders portrait photograph of a woman, Bessie Rouse, wearing a dress with a square neckline and a black velvet at her neck decorated with a gold bar brooch (HR93/201-1). Rouse Hill House & Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums

Bessie Rouse was a keen painter and several of her paintings and drawings are held in the collection at Rouse Hill House & Farm. She decorated her new studio with patchwork quilts, paintings, an elaborate mirror and drapery, as well as exotic rugs upon the floor. Shelves lining the walls held knick-knacks and family photographs. Bessie created for herself an inviting and inspiring space in which to paint and create.

Painting, [View to Second Ponds Creek and Rouse Hill Village], c1900. Oil painting on canvas, undated. The scene depicted is of Rouse Hill Village, Windsor Road and Second Ponds Creek. The creek dominates the lower foreground with the village towards the middle background. No signature visible on painting but attributed to Bessie (Eliza) Rouse (née Buchanan). Hamilton Rouse Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

There are many remnants of the Studio still present in the seemingly empty room. Delicate picture hooks, found throughout the house, are seen in this room.  Intriguing  window hardware appears on the doors at either end of the room. The outline of a grand mirror sits  like a shadow on the wall, and picture hooks with pretty, facetted heads sit in formation as if awaiting the return of their long-gone frames. 

The Studio once extended beyond the space it currently occupies and onto part of the western verandah. Glazed panelled walls enclosed the space, making the room hug the south-western corner of the house.

The Breakfast Room

In 1924, when Nina [1875-1968, nee Rouse] and George Terry came to live at Rouse Hill, the room was used as a Breakfast Room and was much loved by Nina as a place where she could feel close to her mother, Bessie. While Nina and George took their breakfast in this quaint little room, Nina’s sister Kathleen took her breakfast on a tray in her bedroom, and Edwin Stephen Rouse, father of Nina and Kathleen, continued to take his breakfast in the formal Dining Room, upholding fading traditions.

After Nina’s passing in 1968, the added glazed walls were dismantled; the space no longer functioned as a Breakfast Room, but rather as a storage space for some of the family’s many possessions.

Memories and mysteries

In 2003, the then Historic Houses Trust recreated the Breakfast Room for a short term exhibition.  The  room was created based on the memory of Nina and George Rouse’s granddaughter, Miriam Hamilton.  The  walls that once enclosed part of the verandah were reinstated and furniture was retrieved from around the house and from family collections, to recreate a scene that was a very fond memory for Miriam, who recalled as a little girl taking breakfast in the room during the period 1929-30.

Like the verandahs, the arcade and the front and rear halls of the house, the floor of the studio is sandstone and worn with age. Intriguingly, against the wall of the main house, at either end of the Studio, are two pieces of sandstone flooring, painted in  a black and white chequerboard manner with a border along one side. Why are there only two of these decorative pieces? Why are they on opposite sides of the room? Was there a chequered oilcloth between them? Were they moved from another location, in the long tradition of recycle and reuse at Rouse Hill House & Farm? If so, where did they come from?

In addition to these mysterious remnants, another long-past piece of Rouse Hill House remains. Prior to being painted red in 1909, the house was a cream colour and a patch of this is still visible in the Studio, high up in a corner, once covered over and hidden from view.1

The Studio is an engaging example of the secrets and gems that can be hidden in plain view within the walls of a seemingly empty room. Unlike the other rooms of Rouse Hill House, the Studio offers us the opportunity to explore a vacant environment and the unique gems it holds. Be sure to enter the Studio when next you visit Rouse Hill House & Farm.

  • 1. P. 241, Rouse Hill House and the Rouses, Caroline Rouse Thornton, Caroline Rouse Thornton Publishing, 2015.
Hand drawn ground floor house plan with red outlined section halfway down left hand side.
Plan of Rouse Hill House showing the location of the studio. Sketch © Sydney Living Museums
Slightly faded old photo of interior of art studio.
Bessie Rouse’s studio, photographed by Dudley Batty in 1894. Rouse Hill collection, Sydney Living Museums

‘Conserve as found’ at Rouse Hill House & Farm

Rather than replacing old material with new, our approach at Rouse Hill House & Farm is to support as much of the built fabric as possible, to maintain the condition of the property as it was when it came to SLM. We also aim to minimise the impact of any works on the building.

About the Author

Portrait shot of woman in outdoor setting.
Rebecca Jones
Former Assistant Curator
House Museums Portfolio
Raised in a family of collectors with a fascination for objects and stories, Rebecca Jones was destined to work with museum collections.

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