Vaucluse House is the former home of William Charles Wentworth, an Australian colonial barrister and politician. In 1827 Wentworth purchased the land and the single story cottage atop it from an eccentric Irish knight, Sir Hayes, who had been banished to Sydney for kidnapping an heiress and attempting to marry her by force.
Curiously enough, despite being sent to the ends of the earth, Sir Hayes had managed to get his hands on enough Irish peat to encircle his house to protect it from snakes. St Patrick had ‘so managed matters that no snake could live on or near Irish soil’.
Over the next five decades Wentworth and his family developed the property into one of the most charming harbor side estates that no upstanding citizen would set foot in.
Both William Wentworth and his wife Sarah were the children of convicts as well as, “part of a new generation of Australian-born colonists determined to break down the social and civil barriers that divided free settlers from the convict-stained.”
William was successful in this regard as he held important political positions and advocated for social issues like the right to trial by civilian juries. However, high society could not forgive Sarah for having her first two children out of wedlock. Even the Sydney Morning Herald put their two cents in:
Whenever a woman falls, she falls forever … She becomes as it were socially dead.
Ouch- and Wentworth had fought Governor Darling for freedom of the press.
In response to their lack of social status William never installed a front door (note the hedge in front of an off-color square wall) and the family spent a lot of time in Europe. Upon their return to Sydney in 1861, after having been in the presence of the Queen’s court, the Wentworths finally find a more welcoming high society. Too little too late? Nah, Sarah enthusiastically jumped into the very scene that had once resoundingly excluded her.
William died in England in 1872 and when his body arrived in Sydney, he received the first ever state funeral in New South Wales. Over 2,000 people attended his funeral and around 65,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession.
In 1923, this comment appeared in Freeman’s Journal: Much interest is being taken in the re-storing of this famous home, so that it will remain always for the people, and it will be to Australians what Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is to the American citizen.
By 2013, the grounds of the Vaucluse estate receive at least 60,000 visitors annually. Many of these guests flock to the garden tearoom that was added in the 1920s. The art deco windows overlook verdant landscaping and the linen-covered tables are piled high with tiered cake platters, flutes of sparkling wine, tea pots, clotted cream, and scones. There is even a gluten free option and it is just as decadent as its counterpart. See those passion fruit tarts with candied flowers above? Not a spec of gluten on that plate.
It’s a bit ironic how one’s popularity can pick up in death. I think if Sarah Wentworth had had gluten free options she would have had a lot more guests. And by guests I mean picky eaters with loose morals.
How to get to Vaucluse House: Wentworth Road, Vaucluse NSW 2030