Heritage

Bronte House

Item details

Name of item: Bronte House
Other name/s: Bronte estate
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Landscape - Cultural
Category: Other - Landscape - Cultural
Location: Lat: -33.9022870268 Long: 151.2645070000
Primary address: 470 Bronte Road, Bronte, NSW 2024
Parish: Alexandria
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Waverley
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP123571
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
470 Bronte RoadBronteWaverleyAlexandriaCumberlandPrimary Address
Bronte RoadBronteWaverleyAlexandriaCumberlandAlternate Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Waverley CouncilLocal Government19 Oct 05

Statement of significance:

Bronte house is of a style not commonly found in Australian Colonial architecture, with its superb siting and substantial garden it is a significant essay in the picturesque. The property has connections with colonial architect Mortimer Lewis and more importantly with Robert Lowe, later created Viscount Sherbrooke. It is especially notable stylistically as an individual mid-Victorian design reflecting a romantic and picturesque interpretation of the medieval past. It is substantially intact and retains its outstanding original setting. Bronte House is the oldest known residence in the Waverley Council area. Sources: Dowd, pp. 154-161. Kerr J, Broadbent J, Gothic Taste in the Colony of New South Wales, p. 107.

A historic, extremely rare, picturesque garden constructed in a naturally irregular site as a setting for an equally picturesque colonial house by one of the colony's rarest inhabitants - a cultivated lady. (James Broadbent for National Trust of Australia, 1981)

Bronte House is one of Australia's most picturesque surviving colonial residences and dates back to 1845. Built in the 'Gothick' taste so fashionable in the late 18th & early 19th centuries it is a perfect example of the cottage ornee, not a mansion but a romantic retreat from more formal city life. Its restored and adapted garden is now a small scale botanic garden, a repository for rare and beautiful plants, and one of Australia's best new private gardens. (Schofield, 2002)
Date significance updated: 08 Dec 03
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Branch intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Georgiana & Robert Lowe; Mortimer Lewis (house)
Construction years: 1843-1845
Physical description: Garden:
The placement of the house in its landscape is particularly felicitous, the formal garden merging easily with the natural landscape of Bronte Gully to make it the embodiment of the romantic marine villa. The garden, laid out by Mrs. Robert Lowe in the 1840's occupies the head of a small valley leading down to Bronte beach and Nelson Bay.

The property contains largely overgrown remnants of an important mid-nineteenth century picturesque garden. The garden, laid out by Mrs. Robert Lowe in the 1840's occupies the head of a small valley leading down to Bronte beach and Nelson Bay. It had been severely sub-divided but the most important section, including the natural rock outcrops beneath the house, survives.

The original drive now forms the upper part of Bronte Road and only part of the carriage loop (originally planted with a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), since replaced) before the western front of the house survives. The eastern (beach) side of the hose gives onto a grassed terrace apparently reformed with steps, a circular concrete pond or flower bed and extended by the construction of a stone retaining wall in the late nineteenth century.

Beneath this wall to the east and north, down the steep rocky slope to the stream (now a storm water drain) is the elaborate rockery garden formed by Mrs. Lowe (see her own drawing album, Mitchell Library). Mrs Lowe's orchard and vegetable garden occupied the lower part of the valley, now a public park much altered and replanted, (recent bush regeneration works are reintroducing native rainforest and coastal forest species). The rock garden although neglected for many years is largely intact with irregularly curving paths and random steps being constructed or cut from the living rock along the slope. The mounded rockery, complete with weathered rocks and coral gathered from the nearby shore on the bank east of the house, has been uncovered and replanted with a range of choice succulents.

The overgrown plant material which has survived is possibly largely original, or at least of nineteenth century origin; Gymea lily (Doryanthes excelsa), Port Jackson figs (Ficus rubiginosa), Cook's and Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria columnaris & A.heterophylla), Bangalow palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), bromeliads such as Billbergia, Aechmia and Neoregelia spp./cv.s etc. Two large Alcanteria sp. are in raised urns edging a path under the Moreton Bay fig.

A large clump of giant bamboo (Bambusa balcooa) still growing was almost certainly planted by Georgiana Lowe, who recorded this plant in one of her watercolour paintings of the estate. This plant was almost certainly obtained from her cousin, Governor Gipps. There is an identical and equally large clump still growing in the grounds of Government House, Sydney, where the Lowes stayed for a short time after their arrival from England (Schofield, 2002).

The garden had a fine lawn and the rest was laid out in terraces, each laid out into flower beds intersected with gravel walks. Plants and flowers of the most choice and rare description. It was described as "one of the finest botanical collections in the colony". Dame Mary Gilmore recalled that waratahs (Telopea speciosissima) were planted there and that her grandfather (the Lowe's bailiff) had laid out a "maze" for Georgiana Lowe. This is the first record of the successful cultivation of waratahs in a Sydney garden.

In almost all of her letters to relatives in England, Georgiana described the pleasure she had in making her garden. Writing to her mother-in-law in October 1847, she notes "I am in the garden all day and quite delight in cultivating our place. My brother John has sent me a large collection of the new annuals and vegetables. I shall have great pleasure in planting them. I have just been planting seeds that were collected on Dr. Leichardt's (sic) expedition. A gentleman who accompanied him gave me a few seeds of each new flower and tree discovered. I intend to make drawings of our new place."

And make them she did. The State Library of New South Wales has Georgiana Lowe's sketchbook containing some twenty six highly accomplished watercolour drawings including many of the house and its surroundings. One of these provides clear proof that the specimen of giant bamboo (Bambusa balcooa), in front of the house dates from her time and may well have been planted by her. Equally impressive are the two magnificent pines on the northern side of the property, a Cook's pine (Araucaria columnaris) (syn. A.cookii) and Norfolk Island pine, (Araucaria heterophylla), were also probably planted in the garden's earliest days. Bananas (Musa sp.) were sketched by Mrs Lowe and remain growing in the garden today.

However, there is no evidence that any other of the current planting dates from Mrs. Lowe's time here, although it is tempting to speculate that the brush box (Lophostemon confertus) on the edge of the gully to the north of the house and the brown pine (Podocarpus elatus) near the Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubiginosa) may have begun life as some of those seeds gathered on Leichhardt's expedition. It is also possible that Mrs Lowe planted the Port Jackson fig. A large Moreton Bay fig (F.macrophylla) with wide spreading branches also straddles the northern edge of the same rock terrace on which the house sits

Bronte House:
Designed very much in the 'picturesque' style, its features include romantic circular and hexagonal corner turrets, deep bay windows and fanciful pierced wooden tracery on both the eastern and western fronts. The plan of a four sqaure house with bay and bow windows is typical of Lewis.

In its use of Gothic details, asymmetrical forms, rusticated elements and castellation, as on the bargeboard above the front entrance, Bronte House departs from the simplicity and symmetry of earlier Georgian building types and hints at the rampant revivalism of the Victorian era.

Although lacking the architectural distinction, grandeur and scale of, say, Elizabeth Bay House, Tusculum, Rockwall, Carrara or the other great surviving mansions built around Sydney Harbour, Bronte House is nevertheless highly significant as a lively and largely intact example of a cottage ornee in the 'Gothick taste', a decorative style much favoured in the last quarter of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. Ornamental 'cottages' of this type occur throughout England, Europe and the United States, even in Russia where the English architect Adam Menelaus created a magnificent one on the Gulf of Finland for Tsar Nicholas Ill.

Joan Kerr and James Broadbent in their book on 'Gothick Taste in the Colony of NSW' described the house as:

"One of the larger of the cottage ornees of the 1840's is the extant Bronte House at Bronte (c. 1843), an amusing 'Gothic-Italianate' design, described in its sale advertisement in 1849 as 'in the Swiss style'. It is a turreted single storey building picturesquely sited at the head of a small valley leading down to Nelson's Bay. The Gothick detailing of its wide bay windows and timber traceried verandahs is particularly pleasing'.

Kerr and Broadbent suggest that, while the Lowes almost certainly followed Lewis's general plan for the house, 'the elevation details probably owed much to Mrs. Lowe's markedly Picturesque Taste.'

In his more recent authoritative work 'The Australian Colonial House', Dr. Broadbent astutely suggests that the design of Bronte House may have been inspired by J.J. Ricauti's 'Rustic Architecture' published in 1840, a copy of which Sir Thomas Mitchell loaned to Lewis in 1841.

Rectangular form main house (Georgian cottage ornee) with high double roof, originally shingled (now slates). Verandahs to east and west. Single storey servants' wing to south, double storey addition (c1880) to south of it facing Bronte Road. Encaustic tile floors on verandahs.

Sydney's Bronte House was built in 1845 during the Victorian period. The house is an open decorative forn of a then-popular Gothic revival, clearly depicted in details like the pointed, arched timber seen around the windowpanes.
Modifications and dates: 1832 12 acres (Lewis)
1836 42 acres (Lewis)
1861 52 acres sold
1861-1882 Holdsworth adds a second storey addition to the south of the house.
1882 77 acres sold to Ebsworth. Subdivision to create through road (Bronte Road) to south to beach, one of corner turrets of house demolished.
Later 19th century - western verandahs enclosed, the north western verandah with several courses of sandstone blocks to make a kind of conservatory, which was later glassed over. The southwestern verandah was enclosed with lattice. The property had weeping willows (Salix babylonica), hothouses, an orchard, vinery, fernery and a gardener's cottage.
Smoking and billiard rooms gone.

Post 1945 occupied by Red Cross and used as offices until 1969.
1948 acquired by Waverley Council as part of valley consolidation for public parkland

1980-84 Clive Lucas, Stapleton & Partners did restoration work for Council and tenant Christopher Selmes. The main works were: new internal walls between bedroom 1, the drawing room and central passage; new baths 2 & 3; provision of 4 modern bathroom fitouts and 1 modern kitchen fitout; removal of division walls from kitchen area, and 2ndary bedroom areas; closure of several doors in western passage; closure of side openings to front hall or porch; creation of a new rear porch; reconstruction of shutters; reconstruction of south-west verandah; east elevation to wing - external stonework restored with some second hand stone introduced as necessary.

The garden (property was originally 17ha/42 acres) has been severely sub-divided (c.1hectare now) but the most important section, including the natural rock outcrops beneath the house, survives.

1982 single storey double garage built on western tip of property by entry, in form of early carriage house (Lucas). Curtilage fenced (wire mesh/pipe to north/park, timber picket to south/Bronte Road), unfortunately excluding some former Lowe era garden remnants outside fence (Georgiana Lowe's 'woodland boudoir' , a circular planting area and considerable dry stone walled areas).

1983 leased to Selmes, re-roofed, restoration work begins. James Broadbent garden plan partly implemented, eg: 19th c. varieties of Camellia japonica planted on northwestern border approaching house by carriage drive, carriage drive reconstructed and Norfolk Island pine planted in centre of loop, replacing a cement fountain added in the c1980s, and re-creating a 19th century NI pine planting here, sprinklers installed, Magnolia grandiflora added to southeastern border, 2 frangipanis planted near (north of) house.
1992 Lucas & Tanner reports on necessary repairs.

1994-2000 extensive restoration, conservation and adaptation works to house and garden.
New sandstone dry stone retaining wall north of the northern border on top of the bank is added. Camphor laurels removed (a few kept).

Most of Broadbent era camellias removed in NW border. 1 x frangipani north of house removed, 1 x kept. New gravel path and steps cut in bank northeast of house (west of Port Jackson fig tree) to lower parts of garden. 2 x wire pointed arches erected over path, framing view east to ocean. Steps sandstone/sleepers added to north. 3 x Magnolia grandiflora 'Exmouth' pruned into cones on western borders.

New plantings of Qld kauri (Agathis robusta) east of garden, Norfolk Island pine, Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii), Qld. Lacebark (Brachychiton discolor) added. Predominantly white and yellow coloured flower borders added north of house, Indian shot/canna (C.indica cv.s) walk to the southeast added near fountain.

A new succulent garden laid out on eastern slope below lawn and original late Victorian mounded rockery, which has itself been uncoved, cleared and planted. 1886 circular fountain restored.

1998 three bin compost bins added in south eastern corner. Period appropriate roses (most admired by Georgiana Lowe in Alexander Macleay's garden at Elizabeth Bay house) added to borders - 'Souvenir de Malmaison (introduced c.1843), 'Gloire de Dijon (1853), 'Reine des Violettes (1860) since replaced with 'Crepuscule' (1904), Lady Hillingdon (1917), and several Graham Thomas hybrids 'Abraham Darby' and 'Graham Thomas', both yellow flowered.
2 citrus trees added to lawn southwest of house.

2004 work continuing to extend succulent garden past the 150 year old giant bamboo (Bambusa balcooa) clump to the north-east. Frangipani garden in south-east is being reworked to display the most prized specimens, to be complemented by the underplanting of a produce garden. (www.brontehouse.com, 2004).

Modifications/re-creation since 1980s/1994.
Following extensive restoration work on the house, the garden at Bronte House has undergone a complete overhaul. A plan for re-planting was drawn up in April 1983 by Australia's most respected authority on historic houses and gardens, James Broadbent. Some elements of his plan were implemented (eg: a replacement Norfolk Island pine was planted in the centre of the carriage loop, two evergreen /Southern magnolias/ bull bays (Magnolia grandiflora cv.)(NB: now pruned into tall cones) at the end of the southern shrubbery, a pair of laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) planted flanking the steps, old 19th century varieties of Camellia japonica cv.s were planted in the northern border west of the house (since mostly removed), a rustic fence and creepers were re-erected on top of the bank east of the eastern lawn, and sandstone retaining walls holding the eastern terraces were repaired.

But in an attempt to achieve instant privacy, Selmes had removed historically appropriate trees and replaced them with others far less suitable but faster growing. This process has now been reversed.

Combined with poor maintenance, this ad hoc approach resulted in a garden that, when Schofield took possession (1994) was seriously neglected, wildly overgrown and almost completely shaded so that any new growth was dramatically restricted. Weed infestation of the site was extensive and the historic rock garden on the ocean front of the property was almost completely buried under a mountain of weeds.

The original late Victorian mounded rockery, complete with weathered rocks and coral gathered from the nearby shore, has only recently been uncovered and this whole area has now largely been cleared, restored and re-planted. Plantings today feature Mauritius hemp (Furcraea selloa & variegated form 'Variegata'), variegated century plant (Agave americana 'Variegata'), Canary Island dragon tree (Dracaena draco), Agave parvifolia & A.p.'Variegata', silver candles (Kleinia serpens), Madagascan Kalanchoe beharensis which is forming a small tree, Cereus peruvianus sp. (candelabra cactus), Yucca sp., mother-in-law's tongue (Sanseviera sp. 'Variegata'), a spotted form of Aloe sp., Gasteria maculata, Puya sp., Aeonium cv.s ('Schwartzkopf') and red New Zealand flax (Phormium cookianum 'Rubrum' (?).

Also uncovered was a circular fountain of 1886 which had been filled with earth and planted with ailing arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica). It has been restored and planted with aquatic plants. Bird-of-paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) also grows nearby. An area of compost heaps forms the property's south-eastern corner, facing paling fences to Bronte Road.

A stand of poorly grown Hill's fig (Ficus microcarpa 'Hillii') along the southern boundary to Bronte Road has recently been removed and replaced, in accordance with the original Broadbent plan, with eighteen advanced native lily pilly (Acmena smithii).

Many of the plants used in the current scheme are being trialled to test their suitability to coastal conditions, indifference to sandy soil and resistance to salt winds. The final form of the garden will evolve over the next few years and many refinements remain to be made. Urns on pedestals feature in parts of the garden/ending walks - e.g. Agave attenuata (in a raised urn), A.victoriae-reginae in two urns at the eastern end of a flight of steps/path from the salon to the eastern lawn and giant bromeliad Alcanteria sp./cv. in two urns flanking a path near the Moreton Bay fig.

The eastern terrace has been edged by Nile lily (Agapanthus orientalis cv.) and Mexican daisy (Tithonia rotundifolia), Hippeastrum paplio with its green/cream/purple-striped flowers, next to a reconstructed rustic fence on top of the terrace/s retaining wall and bank to the east. This is covered with a white Wistera sp. 'Alba' and ladder ferns (Blechnum sp.) below.

A border of cannas, castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), Lantana montevidensis, Aztec lilies (Alstroemeria cvs.), Rosa rugosa cv.s, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), Gymea lilies (Doryanthes excelsa), ornamental grasses and other plants surrounds a metal semi-circular Victorian bench at the southern end of the eastern lawn, screening the fountain further east.

Under the huge Moreton Bay fig to the house's north-east, a low wire mesh/pipe fence over the cliff face has been covered with Buddleja madagascarensis. The fig is also planted with epiphytic rock lilies (Dendrobium speciosum) and under planted with birds nest fern (Asplenium nidus), cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) and bromeliads. Walks are edged with Cymbidium orchid cv.s, Puya sp. and other shade loving plants such as Ctenanthe lubbersiana cv.s. A yesterday, today and tomorrow bush (Brunfelsia americana) with its deep blue flowers also grows in this border.

The cast iron fountain has been restored and planted with Japanese iris (I.ensata cv.s), arum lilies and water lilies. A herringbone brick path around it has been remade into gravel path with brick bed edgings.

A collection of frangipanis (Plumeria rubra cv.s) has been planted in a tear-drop shaped area east of the fountain, leading to the compost bins and service area.

8 topiary 'balls' of box (Buxus sempervirens) have been added at triangular bed corners edging the western entry garden's carriage loop. Another pair of box 'balls' has been added by the steps up to the house's western entry door.

4 wire work Victorian pointed arches have been added to principle paths, two framing views east to the ocean. One of these supports Rangoon creeper (Quisqualis indica).

A frangipani on the house's north-western corner supports a climbing dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), and at its base a small path and steps are edged with two giant clam shells. A large shrub of Hibiscus tiliaceus with its lemon yellow flowers is near the north-eastern corner of the house and the 'yellow' border path.

A new path has been cut in the northern bank west of the Port Jackson fig, allowing easier access to the lower path and around the bottom (north) of the garden. The sandstone steps are recycled blocks from the formerly enclosed northwestern verandah of the house, recycyled. Dramatic changes are unlikely to the rockery or to the northern gully where the bank has recently been planted with three and a half thousand kaffir lilies (Clivia miniata cv.s and C.m.'Belgian hybrids' in orange and yellow). These will be shaded by a median canopy of tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi) and seventeen recently introduced specimens of the dwarf date palm, (Phoenix roebellinii). A number of frangipani have been planted (Plumeria rubra & other spp.), banks of ornamental gingers (Hedychium spp., Alpinia spp., etc) and red crucifix orchids (Epidendron ibaguense) in the shade and honeysuckles such as the giant Burmese honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandeana)(trained on the south side of the house to Bronte Road and on the house's south-western 'turret'), along with a more 'cottage garden' effect in borders close to the house, river lilies (Crinum asiaticum and C.pedunculatum) areas of succulents and cycads (e.g. sago palm, Cycas revoluta in a grove at the base of the rockery) over rocky banks in the Victorian rockery, replacing bromeliads in this area which were not doing well - these were moved into shadier sections of the garden.

A pair of surviving red oleanders (Nerium oleander cv.) have been kept flanking the southeastern steps into the house. An old Camellia japonica cv. (single carmine) remains planted south-east of the house.

Red and purple forms of Alternanthera sp. have been clipped into shapes giving colour and contrast in the borders. Red forms of New Zealand flax (Phormium cookianum cv. 'Rubrum' and 'Purpureum'(?) give height and contrast to other plants in borders and in the rockery. Spiky plants are used to provide contrast, such as Puya sp. and the giant sea holly, Eryngium giganteum) with its 'razor' edged sword-like leaves in a mound.

Palms in the garden include a mature remaining Canary Island palm (Phoenix canariensis), mature bangalow palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), mature cluster and Lord Howe Island palms, (Kentia belmoreana & K.fosteriana), the red latan palm with red stalks (Latania lontaroides), mature Cocos Island palms (Syragus romanzoffianum)(removed), blue/silver Yatay palm (Butia capitata) from Argentina. A tall bird-of-paradise plant (Strelitzia nicolae) with its white and blue flowers and banana like leaves is a dominant feature here also.

Collections and clusters of small feature plants in decorative pots are features near doorways and entries. These contain houseleeks (Sempervivum spp./cv.s), a collection of begonias (B.spp./cv.s) on a wire rack in the north-western house porch and Zygopetalum orchids in matching pots on the same porch. (Stuart Read, pers.comm. (various dates/visits).

European plants like salvias are arranged in block plantings side by side with gingers and succulents. Other areas of the garden have been planted eclectically, in themed family groupings. Although the majority of plants aren't the original species or cultivars used, the thematic planning remains true to the era (Baldwin, 2006).
Current use: home, leased and open to the public
Former use: home, function centre

History

Historical notes: Bronte the Suburb:
Bronte the suburb takes its name from an early settler's home (Pollen & Healy, 1988, 39).

Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis bought 12 acres (most of the beach frontage at Bronte)(Pollen & Healy, 1988, 39))(including the current house's site) at Nelson Bay in 1836. By 1838 he had bought 42 acres in total, including the valley to the beach's west, the creek, a waterfall, part of the headland to the north and all of the headland to the south of the beach, and all of the beach. Lewis chose the house site, cut roads, fenced the land and lay the foundations of the house. He established a slab hut and a home farm on the property.

In 1841 Lewis refused an offer of 4000 pounds for the property. He faced financial crisis in 1842 and work on the house halted. In 1843 Lewis sold the site and unfinished house to the Lowes for 420 pounds. His design was probably altered by Robert and Georgiana Lowe. Completed in 1845, Bronte House is among the oldest buildings in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

Bronte
The name Bronte is a late 19th. century conceit and suggests a much grander residence than is really the case. Early records refer to the house simply and more appropriately as 'Mr. Lowe's Cottage at Cugee'.

Even the appellation Bronte is a relatively recent one. In 1799, Ferdinand IV, King of the Two Sicilies, created Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte.

In ancient Greek, the word 'Bronte' means 'Cyclops' or 'Thunder' (Lady Hamilton used to refer to her lover as the 'Duke of Thunder') and in 1520, the name was officially applied to a small village on the slopes of the volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily. It was this Duchy that was awarded to Nelson, so Bronte must have seemed an apt choice of name for both the eponymous house, the beach and the suburb as they are all at what was, and indeed still is , known as Nelson Bay, a name that survives in all official maps and is much older than that of 'Bronte Beach'.

The Rowes (1845-49)
Robert Lowe (1811-92), an Oxford graduate and a member of the English Bar, arrived in Sydney from England on the ship 'Aden' in 1842 with his wife Georgiana. He had introductions to Governor Gipps who was a distant relative of his wife.

Lowe, who had a promising career in England, had come to Australia for his health. The choice of a seaside residence was a curious one, as he was an albino. His skin and hair were both white and he wore a pair of curious- looking goggles to protect his eyes against glare. This is possibly why the bay window in the dining room at Bronte House is fitted with unique sets of adjustable upper and lower shutters to control direct light.

Mrs. Lowe was much taken with her seaside cottage where she and her husband entertained the intellectual elite of the colony. In one of her letters home she wrote "We have a little estate of 42 acres, four miles from Sydney on the sea; it is lovely beyond conception. We have given only 420 pounds for it."

Georgiana Lowe was a an accomplished artist and horsewoman but she took particular interest in the garden at Bronte House which is mentioned in several of her letters home. She established a thriving vegetable garden on land above the house and was often to be seen taking her produce to Sydney for sale.

The garden had a fine lawn and the rest was laid out in terraces, each laid out into flower beds intersected with gravel walks. Plants and flowers of the most choice and rare description. It was described as "one of the finest botanical collections in the colony". Dame Mary Gilmore recalled that waratahs (Telopea speciosissima) were planted there and that her grandfather (the Lowe's bailiff) had laid out a "maze" for Georgiana Lowe. This is the first record of the successful cultivation of waratahs in a Sydney garden.

In almost all of her letters to relatives in England, Georgiana described the pleasure she had in making her garden. Writing to her mother-in-law in October 1847, she notes "I am in the garden all day and quite delight in cultivating our place. My brother John has sent me a large collection of the new annuals and vegetables. I shall have great pleasure in planting them. I have just been planting seeds that were collected on Dr. Leichhardt's (sic) expedition. A gentleman who accompanied him gave me a few seeds of each new flower and tree discovered. I intend to make drawings of our new place."

And make them she did. The State Library of New South Wales has Georgiana Lowe's sketchbook containing some twenty six highly accomplished watercolour drawings including many of the house and its surroundings. One of these provides clear proof that the specimen of giant bamboo, Bambusa balcooa, in front of the house dates from her time and may well have been planted by her. Equally impressive are the two magnificent pines on the northern side of the property, a Cook's pine (Araucaria columnaris) (also known as A.cookii) and Norfolk Island pine, (Araucaria heterophylla), were also probably planted in the garden's earliest days. Bananas were sketched by Mrs Lowe and remain growing in the garden today.

However, there is no evidence that any other of the current planting dates from Mrs. Lowe's time here, although it is tempting to speculate that the brush box (Lophostemon confertus) on the edge of the gully to the north of the house and the brown pine (Podocarpus elatus) near the Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubiginosa) may have begun life as some of those seeds gathered on Leichhardt's expedition. It is also possible that Mrs Lowe planted the Port Jackson fig tree.

In 1849, the Lowes returned to England. Robert Lowe, his health much improved, subsequently became Chancellor of the Exchequer and was later elevated to the peerage as Viscount Sherbrooke. Neither he nor his lively wife ever returned to Australia, although both spoke warmly of their years at Nelson Bay.

After the Lowes (1849-1948)
The Lowes sold Bronte House to G.A.Lloyd, an auctioneer, merchant and Colonial Treasurer for 1300 pounds. Lloyd owned the house for only a few months before it was sold for 2000 pounds to one J.Lublin, then sold again to the superintendent of the Bank of Australasia, JJ.Falconer, who in 1861 once again put the property up for auction.

The buyer was J.B.Holdsworth, a hardware and ironmonger magnate, who paid 4750 pounds for the house. Before he died, Holdsworth added the second storey to the wing on Bronte Road .

Holdsworth's son sold the house and 77 acres to Stanley Ebsworth in 1882 and a period of rapid change of ownership ended. A subdivision created a through road (Bronte Road) south of the house to the beach (on part of the former carriage drive). This entailed demolition of one of the corner turrets to the house and construction of the 2 storey wing to the south.

Members of the Ebsworth family, many of whom were wool brokers, owned (from 1882 - AGHS-SHB, 2013) and lived in the building for over six decades until 1948. James E.Ebsworth was second commissioner of the Australian Agricultural (A.A.) Company, which had land grants in Port Stephens, the Hunter Valley and Peel River (around Tamworth) districts of NSW. His descendent E.M.Ebsworth, based in Bronte House, was the manager of the Mitchell Estate in the northern part of Rose Bay, where Ebsworth Road was subdivided off for sale in 1909 (Crosson, 2012). In 1935 the Ebsworths tried to interest the NSW Premier Sir Bertram Stevens in the State Government buying the house.

Post Ebsworths (1948+)
For a time after the war (1945+) it was occupied by the Bronte branch of the Australian Red Cross (two rooms and the kitchen at the house's rear) and used as offices (AGHS, SHB, 2013).

In 1848 Austin Ebsworth, a bachelor, sold it to Waverley Council who seem to have acquired it as part of an exercise to consolidate the valley leading to Bronte Beach as parkland. Council owned and operated it in various uses for some years. It suffered from unsympathetic changes to the house and inadequate maintenance.

Council agreed that the Red Cross could rent part of Bronte House and this continued until 1969. An evening card party was held by them each week to raise money for their rent. After 1969 the house was restored by Council (AGHS, SHB, 2013).

By the late 1970s it was in poor condition.

By 1980 the house, which was then in use as a venue for weddings and parties, had fallen into disrepair and had suffered a number of insensitive alterations. Its exterior form remained largely unchanged since the Holdsworth occupancy but the interior, with walls removed and bars and kitchens inserted , had been altered beyond recognition. In 1982 an outbuilding for garaging and storage was built near the entrance gates at the site's western end. (Waverley Council, 2007, 5).

Faced with a dilemma over what to do with its property, Waverley Municipal Council embarked in 1983 on a far-sighted and ambitious plan to lease the house for a peppercorn lease ($1/year) for 25 years to a person or persons willing to undertake the cost of the extensive repairs, on condition of opening it to the public 6 times a year.

Tenders were called and on January 31, 1983, Bronte House was let to an Englishman, Christopher Selmes, who undertook to spend a minimum of two hundred thousand dollars on repairs to the house (Waverley Council had already spent some money on repairs to the roof) and duly did so. Indeed, the sum expended on restoration, carried out under the supervision of the conservation architect, Clive Lucas, was closer to $300,000. Selmes also furnished the main rooms of the house with antiques as required under conditions of lease.

The lease was transferred to Mr & Mrs Peter Muller c.1987 (Tanner & Associates, 1994).

Arts organiser Leo Schofield assumed responsibility for the lease of Bronte House in November of 1994.

Bronte House more recently:
Leo Schofield undertook restoration of the house and garden from 1995-2002 in keeping with its period of original construction and occupation by the Lowes. He had wallpaper printed in England from original blocks of 1845, and furnished the house with mostly Gothic revival or neo-Classical pieces.

Following extensive restoration work on the house, the garden at Bronte House has undergone a complete overhaul. A plan for re-planting was drawn up in April 1983 by Australia's most respected authority on historic houses and gardens, James Broadbent. Some elements of his plan were implemented (e.g.: a replacement Norfolk Island pine was planted in the centre of the carriage loop, a Magnolia grandiflora at the end of the south-eastern shrubbery, a pair of laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) planted flanking the steps, old 19th century varieties of Camellia japonica were planted in the north-western border (since mostly removed), a rustic fence and creepers were re-erected on top of the bank east of the eastern lawn, and sandstone retaining walls holding the eastern terraces were repaired.

But in an attempt to achieve instant privacy, Selmes had removed historically appropriate trees and replaced them with others far less suitable but faster growing. This process has now been reversed.

Combined with poor maintenance, this ad hoc approach resulted in a garden that, when Schofield took possession (1994) was seriously neglected, wildly overgrown and almost completely shaded so that any new growth was dramatically restricted. Weed infestation of the site was extensive and the historic rock garden on the ocean front of the property was almost completely buried under a mountain of weeds. The original late Victorian mounded rockery, complete with weathered rocks and coral gathered from the nearby shore, has only recently been uncovered and this whole area has now largely been cleared, restored and re-planted.

Also uncovered was a circular fountain of 1886 which had been filled with earth and planted with ailing arum lilies. It has been restored and planted with aquatic plants.

A stand of poorly grown Hill's fig (Ficus hillii) along the southern boundary to Bronte Road has recently been removed and replaced, in accordance with the original Broadbent plan, with eighteen advanced native lilly pilly (Acmena smithii).

Many of the plants used in the current scheme are being trialled to test their suitability to coastal conditions, indifference to sandy soil and resistance to salt winds. The final form of the garden will evolve over the next few years and many refinements remain to be made, but dramatic changes are unlikely to the rockery or to the northern gully where the bank has recently been planted with three and a half thousand kaffir lilies (Clivia miniata). These will be shaded by a median canopy of tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi) and seventeen recently introduced specimens of the dwarf date palm, (Phoenix roebellinii). A number of frangipani have been planted (Plumeria rubra & other spp.), banks of ornamental gingers (Hedychium spp., Alpinia spp., etc) in the shade and honeysuckles such as the giant Burmese honeysuckle (Lonicera hildebrandeana), along with a more 'cottage garden' effect in borders close to the house, areas of succulents and cycads over rocky banks.

Schofield had the assistance garden designers Michael McCoy and Myles Baldwin in his work to restore and revive the garden, work taking over 8 years. He re-established Georgiana Lowe's garden and extended it. The garden has been described as 'a small scale botanic garden, a repository for rare and beautiful plants'. (AGHS, SHB, 2013).

Schofield also wrote a book 'The Garden at Bronte' (Viking, 2002) chronicling his time and work to revive the property.

Bronte House is owned bv Waverley Municipal Council and privately occupied under a lease agreement. It is open to the public six times a year (Schofield, 2002).

12/2003-1/2004 Schofield sold the four-years-remaining lease and departed. The new lessee is Magazine publisher Matt Handbury. Gardeners Myles Baldwin and Chris Owen maintain the garden today (2004).

The Hanburys have decided not to sign a new lease when the current one expires in January 2013. Waverley Council considered a report on options for the property, including sale of the property, retention with standard or commercial leasing, Council use or a 'repairing lease' as at present (the current tenants are required to spend $200,000 per year on the upkeep of the property as part of their lease)(Wentworth Courier, 17/10/2012).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes of urban amenity-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes and gardens of domestic accommodation-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes and gardens of domestic accommodation-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Gardens demonstrating the travels and sojurns of a gardener-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Gardens and landscapes reminiscent of an 'old country'-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes demonstrating styles in landscape design-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes demonstrating styles in landscape design-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Significant tree(s) providing urban amenity-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Gentlemens Mansions-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing public servants and officials-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Naming places (toponymy)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from rural to suburban-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Resuming private lands for public purposes-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Sub-division of large estates-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in regional settings-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Country Estate-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Rural estates-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Developing roles for government - conserving cultural and natural heritage-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Developing roles for government - public land administration-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Local government-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Designing landscapes in an exemplary style-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building in response to climate - verandahs-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building in response to natural landscape features.-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Landscaping - Victorian period-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Landscaping - Victorian gardenesque style-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Victorian rustic Gothic-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Victorian Gothic Revival-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Kitchens and servants-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in a rural homestead-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Enjoying public parks and gardens-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Gardening-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Places of informal community gatherings-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Red Cross activities-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Peter Muller-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with E.M.Ebsworth, Manager Mitchell Estate, Rose Bay and resident of Bronte House-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with G.A.Lloyd, auctioneer, merchant and Colonial Treasurer-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Leo Schofield, arts organiser and promoter-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with James Broadbent AM, cultural historian, curator and author-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Mortimer Lewis, Colonial Architect, 1796-1879-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with J.J.Falconer, Superintendent of the Bank of Australasia-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with J.B.Holdsworth, hardware and ironmonger magnate-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Dame Mary Gilmour, writer, journalist, activist-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Christopher Selmes, English gentleman-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Stanley Ebsworth, wool broker-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Robert and Georgianna Lowe, artist (latter)-

Recommended management:

Recommendations

Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Recommended ManagementProduce a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) 

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0005502 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0005506 Mar 81 0381418
Local Environmental PlanBronte 06 Dec 96   
National Trust of Australia register  6854   
Register of the National Estate 246721 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Bronte House View detail
WrittenCharles Weber, for Waverley Council2007Bronte House Plan of Management View detail
WrittenCrosson, Bruce2012"Ebsworth Street, Rose Bay" in 'Street Story', in The Wentworth Courier
WrittenHoward Tanner & Associates1994Statement related to application for work dated October 1994 - Bronte House, 470 Bronte Road, Waverley
WrittenKerr, J., Broadbent, J. Gothic Taste in the Colony of New South Wales
WrittenMyles Baldwin2006Digging up the Past - The Sun Herald
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)1981Survey of Gardens in New South Wales
WrittenPollen, Francis & Healy, Gerald (ed.s)1988'Bronte' entry, in 'The Book of Sydney Suburbs'
WrittenSchofield, Leo2002Swaying in the Wind, (in Burke's Back Yard magazine, 11.2002)
WrittenSchofield, Leo2002The Garden at Bronte View detail
Writtenunattributed: AGHS, SHB2013Bronte House - 'a little estate by the sea'
WrittenUnknown Bronte House - A Brief History
WrittenWentworth Courier2012'Historic House 'not for sale' " in 'Near You / Bronte' in 'The Wentworth Courier

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

rez
(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045208
File number: S90/06149 & HC 32119


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