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Elizabeth Bay House

Elizabeth Bay House is an historic Colonial style home in the suburb of Elizabeth Bay in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Built between 1835 and 1839, Elizabeth Bay House was known as 'the finest house in the colony'. Elizabeth Bay House is a home in the Regency style, originally surrounded by a 54-acre (22 ha) garden, but now situated within a densely populated inner city suburb. It is managed by the Sydney Living Museums as a museum that is open to the public, on behalf of the Office of Environment and Heritage, an agency of the Government of New South Wales.

Elizabeth Bay House
Façade of Elizabeth Bay House
Elizabeth Bay House is located in Sydney
Elizabeth Bay House
Location in Sydney
Etymology Elizabeth Bay
General information
Status Used as a museum
Type Government home
Architectural style Georgian Australian Colonial
Location Elizabeth Bay
Address 7 Onslow Avenue, Elizabeth Bay, NSW 2011
Town or city Sydney, New South Wales
Country Australia
Coordinates 33°52′12″S 151°13′35″E / 33.8701°S 151.2264°E / -33.8701; 151.2264Coordinates: 33°52′12″S 151°13′35″E / 33.8701°S 151.2264°E / -33.8701; 151.2264
Construction started 1835
Completed 1839
Client Alexander Macleay, NSW Colonial Secretary
Owner Sydney Living Museums
Landlord Office of Environment and Heritage, Government of New South Wales
Design and construction
Architect John Verge / John Bibb
Main contractor James Hume
Other information
Parking No parking; public transport:
Official name Elizabeth Bay House
Criteria a., c., d., e., f., g.
Designated 2 April 1999
Reference no. 00006

Elizabeth Bay House is a superb example of Australian colonial architecture, best known for its central elliptical saloon with domed lantern and geometric staircase,[1] and was listed on the (now defunct) Register of the National Estate[2] and is listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register since 2 April 1999.[1]



Elizabeth Bay House was built for NSW Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay between 1835 and 1839 on land granted in 1826 by Governor Ralph Darling. The designer of the house is uncertain, with recent research suggesting that the accomplished colonial architect John Verge (1788–1861) was the main designer, but that he was presented with an imported scheme that he modified for Macleay. The fine detailing demonstrates the role of Verge's partner John Bibb. The house's facade is severe, owing to its incomplete nature: like many colonial houses begun in the late 1830s, the house is unfinished, the victim of Macleay's growing financial distress and the severe economic depression of the 1840s.[3] It was originally intended to have an encircling single-storey Doric colonnade (included in several views by Conrad Martens, and akin to the colonnade at Vineyard, designed by Verge for Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur); the small portico was only added in the early 20th century.[1]

Donald Friend, an Australian artist, was a resident of the house after it was vacated by the Macleay family and converted into residential flats.[3]

The main axis of the house is aligned with the winter solstice. Though no documents are known to discuss this feature, it is unlikely to be an accident.[4]

A rear service wing (since demolished) contained a kitchen, laundry and servants' accommodation, and a large stables (also demolished) was sited elsewhere on the estate. A design for a proposed bathing pavilion imitated the Tower of the Winds in Athens. The pavilion was intended for the extremity of nearby Macleay Point, facing Rushcutters Bay and which was poetically named Cape Sunium after the peninsula east of Athens with its picturesque ruined temple.


In 1977 the house was extensively restored and refurbished, initially so it could become the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Sydney.[1] In 1980 it was put in the care of a trust before coming under ownership of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW in 1981.[1]

The house was refurnished in the style of 1839–45, the interiors reflecting the lifestyle of the Macleays and presenting an evocative picture of early 19th century Sydney life. Largely in the Greek Revival style with elements of the Louis revival, the house's interiors have been recreated based on several inventories, notably an 1845 record of the house's contents and a list of furniture sold to the newly completed Government House, plus pieces known to have originated at the house that is now located at Camden Park or Brownlow Hill (originally the Macleays' country property near Camden, NSW). The large library contains several insect cases and a desk originally owned by Macleay, on loan from the Macleay Museum at Sydney University. Wall colours have been determined from paint scrapes that revealed the original colour schemes. The house also contains a collection of significant early Australian furniture from Sydney and Tasmania.

A nearby grotto, with accompanying stone walls and steps, plus several trees, are all that remain of the original extensive garden, which contained Macleay's considerable native and exotic plant collection, an orchard and kitchen garden. A hand-written notebook of "Plants received at Elizabeth Bay" in the collection of the Mitchell Library, is indicative of the original collection.

Modern history and useEdit

In 2010–11, the house was used as the set for the music video of Jessica Mauboy's single "What Happened to Us" featuring Jay Sean. The song was one of Mauboy's biggest hits at the time.[5] Elizabeth Bay House is available for hire as a reception venue and is often used for wedding receptions.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Elizabeth Bay House". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Elizabeth Bay House (Place ID 2000)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. 21 March 1978. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Perkins, Matthew (3 September 2010). "Colonial delusions of grandeur and our history". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  4. ^ "Winter Solstice Sunrise at Elizabeth Bay House". Observations. Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Government of New South Wales. 21 June 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  5. ^ "MTV Presents Summerbeatz 2010!". MTV Australia. MTV Networks. Retrieved 3 February 2011.


  This article incorporates text by New South Wales State Heritage Register available under the CC BY 3.0 AU licence.

Further readingEdit

  • Broadbent, J. The Australian colonial house : architecture and society in New South Wales 1788-1842. Sydney, Hordern House in Assoc. with the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. 1997
  • The Book of Sydney Suburbs, Compiled by Frances Pollen, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1990, Published in Australia ISBN 0-207-14495-8

External linksEdit