Chinese tiles at Vaucluse House

In the collection at Vaucluse House a handful of decorative green glazed perforated tiles, or blocks, survive as orphaned relics of 19th century garden ornament on the estate.

They are large, 32.5 cm square and 4cm in depth, and can be dated to the middle years of the 19th century when such tiles were imported into the Australian colonies in quantity from China. The Melbourne Argus, for example, reported in June 1856 that a recently arrived cargo of Chinese tiles included plain red ones suitable for kitchen and dairy floors and ‘fancy ones’ which were very decorative. The Argus had no doubt that the fancy tiles were likely to be sought after ‘as they may be used with little or no difficulty in a great many ways, and being light and well burnt’ were easy to transport. An example of the architectural use of these fancy tiles can be seen in a house called Potsdam (later Windemere) at Hunters Hill, built in the late 1850s. At Potsdam the tiles were framed in timber and used as supports, balustrade and frieze to the upper verandah of the house.

The Potsdam tiles were very similar to the tiles that survive at Vaucluse House where, judging from the evidence of provided by a 19th century watercolour, an early twentieth century etching and two historical photographs, they were used to make planter boxes in the courtyard and as garden edging.

About the Author

Head and shoulders photo of woman holding up card to face with conservator's white glove on hand.
Megan Martin
Head, Collections & Access
Megan is the head of Collections & Access at Sydney Living Museums. She has a particular interest in the working of the historical imagination, in teasing out the meanings of objects in museums collections and in crafting the stories that can be recovered/discovered through a close reading of those items of material culture.

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