Tracing family connections
On first glance at the photo above you’ll see an 1890s-style table setting re-created in the dining room at Rouse Hill House; however, take a closer look and you’ll find clues to the Rouse family’s fascinating friendships with the residents of Meroogal in Nowra.
We can trace back the connections between Rouse Hill House and Meroogal through Miriam Hamilton (nee Terry), a sixth generation Rouse descendant, and former co-owner and resident of Rouse Hill House. Her father, Roderick Terry (1899–1980), was one of the five sons of Nina and George Terry, who lived at the property from 1924.
In 1892 Miriam’s maternal grandmother, Miriam Macgillivray (1853–1924) married the Reverend James Thomas Thorburn (1860–1935), becoming the sister-in-law of Belle, Georgie, Kate and Tot Thorburn. Six years earlier the Thorburn sisters had moved with their mother, Jessie, into the newly built Meroogal, where they spent the rest of their lives together.
As lifelong friends of Bessie Rouse (nee Buchanan, 1843–1924, third mistress of Rouse Hill House), Miriam Thorburn and her sisters frequently visited Rouse Hill House. Miriam’s daughter, Bonnie (1893–1976), spent much of her childhood there and married Roderick Terry in 1922.
Miriam Hamilton herself spent a year living at Meroogal in 1933 so as to get to know her grandfather the Reverend Thorburn, who had retired there in 1932 and lived with his sisters until his death in 1935.
Ties that bind
The collections at both houses speak of a shared history, as is often the case when relationships are closely forged. Take the two pink glass lamps on the Rouse dining table in the photograph, for example. These delicate, treasured, late-19th-century kerosene lamps, which have long resided in the dining room, were a gift from Miriam Thorburn and her sister Annie Jane Perry (nee Macgillivray, 1855–1922) to Bessie Rouse.
Look a little further in the background of the photograph, behind the dining table, and you’ll also notice a lacquered folding firescreen painted asymmetrically with a white hollyhock design. This firescreen appears in a photograph of the drawing room dating back to 1894. A very similar item, with the same ogee arch-shaped top and four-panelled arrangement, can be found in the drawing room at Meroogal – this one is painted with chrysanthemums (as shown in the photograph at right). These two late-19th-century lacquered (japanned) firescreens in the style of the aesthetic movement are evidence of similar tastes and fashions making their mark on the interiors of both of the houses and their collections.
We have found numerous connections like these in letters, photographs, invitations and inscriptions in books. Rouse Hill House & Farm and Meroogal share a similar collection philosophy: both houses are furnished with all original items – objects owned and cherished by the people who lived in them. And now that they are connected in a Sydney Living Museums portfolio (along with Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta), we have the opportunity to explore these intriguing links more thoroughly and draw out the personal stories that tie these places together.
TOTTIE THORBURN'S DIARY
This diary was hand-written between 1888–1893 and 1895–1896 by the youngest member of the family for whom Meroogal was built, Kennina Fanny Thorburn (1865–1956), known to her family as Tottie.
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
A star-gazing schoolmaster, a mourning widow, an immigrant farmer, a practical chemist, a defiant bushranger, an unidentified child and a trio of genteel young girls: they all feature in the earliest portrait photographs from the Sydney Living Museum’s collections.
Recently added stories
Washed away: the story of Meroogal's clock
In the hallway at Meroogal is a grandfather clock with the most wonderful and eventful history. It first arrived from Scotland with the McKenzie family and was with them when they moved to a small village called Terara, on the banks of the Shoalhaven River. There the McKenzie family and their clock might have stayed if not for a catastrophe that struck in 1860.
The battle of Broken Hill
On New Year’s Day 1915, a mass shooting in which four people were killed and seven injured occurred in the mining town of Broken Hill. The attackers, two men variously described in the press as Hindoos, Indians or Turks, were later killed in a gun battle with local rifle-club members, civilians and police. The act of violence made headlines around Australia: ‘Dreadful affair’, ‘Two foreigners run amok’, ‘War in Broken Hill’, ‘War in Australia’, ‘Holy War at Broken Hill’. The story of that day in Broken Hill is complex and emotionally charged. The actions of the two shooters, Mullah Abdullah and Gool Badsha Mahommed, have been variously understood as the violent eruption of two unhappy and disenfranchised men or as an act of war on Australian territory.
Driver Robert James Macgregor Barnet
Robert James Macgregor Barnet was a great-nephew of the Thorburn sisters of Meroogal. He was the eldest son of Jessie Macgregor (1869–1946) and her husband, the Reverend Donald McKay Barnet (1869–1940). Barnet was a keen amateur photographer, developing and printing his own photographs and carefully storing and listing the negatives in a special Kodak negative album. The pictures he took in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War I and in the period before he embarked for war service overseas provide a poignant record of a young man at the beginning of his adult life.