If the fluted timber columns made for Burdekin House now look a little battered and perhaps not as elegant as they were in the mid-19th century, it is hardly surprising after surviving two house demolitions.

Ten Greek-revival fluted columns with angular or ‘Scamozzi-style’ Ionic capitals were first made to adorn the front verandah of a grand house in Macquarie Street Sydney, built in 1841 for wealthy merchant Thomas Burdekin (1801-1844). When it was near completion in August 1841 the Sydney Herald pronounced it ‘the most handsome house in Sydney’, even suggesting that it would do discredit to no part of London.

The house remained in Burdekin family ownership and occupation until 1922 but barely a decade later it was demolished to make way for a new St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church. The church’s original building in Phillip Street had been resumed by the Sydney City Council for the extension of Martin Place through to Macquarie Street.

The historical significance of Burdekin House created a great deal of interest in the sale of its fixtures and fittings. Six of the ten timber verandah columns were acquired by Madame Rose Du Boise, a well-known figure in Sydney society. She used them, in a cut-down form, to replace the existing cast iron flat grille verandah columns on her c1856 house, St Malo, on the Lane Cove River at Hunters Hill.

In the late 1940s St Malo itself came under threat with plans to build an expressway through Hunters Hill and new bridges at Figtree and Gladesville. The National Trust of Australia (NSW) acquired a 20 year lease on St Malo in 1955 as part of a doomed campaign to save the property.  The house was eventually demolished in 1960-61 and in 1961 the Burdekin House columns were again on the move, this time to the National Trust who found a new use for two of the columns later that same year: they took to the stage of the Old Courthouse theatre at Scone NSW. The remaining four, only one with a surviving capital and base, stayed with the National Trust until acquired by the Historic Houses Trust (Sydney Living Museums) for the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection in 2012.

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.