The creation of a modern Greek state occurred during the 1820s. This happened to coincide with the recognition of Greek culture as the foundation of Western thought as well as the popularity of Greek Revival architecture.
Half a world away, John Verge was one of the most fashionable architects to incorporate the new old ideas into Australian Colonialism. Elizabeth Bay was “the finest house in the colony” because of its three-story tall elliptical hall with a floating staircase.
As grand as the entrance was, the servants’ quarters were diametrically miserable, claustrophobic, and poorly ventilated. The staircase above led to the home’s cellar which, believe me, would have been more desirable. Only the head servant had a comfortable room and you can bet she was a nightmare to work with; no one at the top of the chain wanted to lose their privileges.
Elizabeth Bay was commissioned by Alexander Macleay, colonial secretary and second only to the governor. The home was built at ‘considerable expense’ and that doesn’t often end well when coupled with unfortunate land speculation, forced retirement, expensive hobbies, and changing financial times. William Macleay saved his father from bankruptcy, but he did also kick him out of the house and force him to sell off his furniture and 4,000 books.
My favorite room was the same room that Alexander Macleay was most passionate about: his library. A century and a half later the room still smelled like mothballs despite the fact that the majority of his specimen collection had been donated to museums.
The sunlight was streaming in through the old glass plate windows and it made Barret and me eager to step outside. Macleay’s former botanical gardens were now filled with low-rise apartments and expensive villas. A narrow pedestrian route just down the street climbed the steep rise to Potts Point, a gentrified neighborhood with oak lined streets.
Barret and I found a café with a patio on the aptly named Macleay Street and ordered coffee. In addition to that street, Macleay also had a museum, a river, an island, and a mountain range named after him. He did not find the kind of financial success he wanted; however, if he were alive today, Macleay would surely be pleased with his namesakes.
How to get to Elizabeth Bay House: 7 Onslow Avenue, Elizabeth Bay NSW 2011