Tusculum is a large two storey Regency mansion designed by John Verge, built 1831-35. Constructed from stuccoed brickwork it is surrounded on three sides by a fine Classical two storey verandah of the Ionic order, probably built sometime in the 1870s. Cedar of interiors imported from Lebanon; marble for flooring and chimney pieces imported from Tusculum in Italy. High shuttered French doors open on the broad verandahs. Original low pitched slate roof is now covered with tiles. (Australian Heritage Commission, Register of the National Estate).
Tusculum is one of the few remaining Regency houses remaining in Sydney. It is one of the few colonial houses to display the attributes of a villa with basement offices and stair.
Gardens and grounds:
The setting which Tusculum once had, with a frontage to Woolloomooloo Bay, has been irretrievably destroyed. Although the removal of the 1920s and 1930s flats to the west (facing Tusculum Street) would enable the west faade (or original garden front) of the house to be revealed, such action, in itself, would not recapture the aesthetic significance of Tusculum as one of the villas of Woolloomooloo Hill, able to be seen from the city, as in the 19th century. Such action, would, however, assist in the appreciation of the exterior of the house and its villa form, and would enhance the quality and use of the internal spaces.
The original garden of Tusculum has been progressively alienated over the years, and the present setting represents only a small portion of the former garden. It would therefore not be possible to reconstruct the garden which once existed around the house. However it is possible to construct a garden as an appropriate setting for the house (CMP, 1985, section 6.4.7 Setting & 6.4.8 Garden).
- An appropriate setting for the building should be provided and maintained;
- The practical impossibility of reconstructing the elaborate 19th century garden of Tusculum should be recognised;
- The front fence to Manning Street should be reconstructed to its c.1920 state (from photographic evidence (CMP, 1985, (Policy) 7.5 Setting).
The spacious setting which Tusculum once enjoyed as one of the villas of Woolloomooloo Hill, has been savagely eroded by a series of subdivisions. There is no visible evidence of the 19th century garden of Tusculum. Archaeological investigation may produce some evidence (CMP, 1985, section 4.3.3 Garden - original).
Post 1920 modifications evidence includes:
Drawing of H.E. Ross and Rowe, Architects, and Consulting Engineers, dated February 1928, approved March 1928. Work included: Demolition of steps to verandah on western side-Construction of bathrooms and WCs on western verandah at both levels - RSJs to ceiling of Billiard Room - SW wing (Billiard Room) chimney, chimney breasts and fireplaces demolished - Alterations to room over Billiard Room for operating Theatre; wall repositioned, new doors-Construction of new sterilising room, supported by concrete column below - New Doctor's dressing room - now removed - Construction of bathroom on northern verandah at ground floor- Glass partitions to eastern verandah, near entrance - WC removed from - WC removed from near upper stair (SE wing) - Construction of rooms on eastern verandah (first floor) On the drawing of Spain and Cosh, Architects, dated April 1933, approved 16th June, 1933. Work included: First floor SE wing completely rebuilt (at higher level) -New stairs and other alterations at southern end of SE -Western wall (external), repositioned - External door to relocated - Construction of new rooms on eastern verandah (first floor) - Space F10 enlarged and former bathroom made open - Construction of bathroom and WC on first floor northern verandah -New partitions and an opening enlarged to stair hall. A measured drawing, prepared by C.C. Phillips, Architect, dated 22nd February 1954 shows a number of items not included in the 1933 Spain and Cosh plan. - Fireplace to removed (breast relocated) - Porte cochere still in existence - Doctors' dressing room still in existance, Additional partition. - Verandah divided into 5 rooms. A drawing by C.C. Phillips dated 23rd March 1956 shows a proposed three-storey wing with eighteen hotel rooms (120 feet by 19 feet). This proposal did not proceed,and in September that year a further scheme was prepared. A drawing dated 14th September 1956 indicates major alterations and additions to Tusculum, accommodating 34 units. As with C.C. Phillips' earlier proposal of March 1956, this work was not undertaken. (Clive Lucas & Partners P/L 1985 Pages 10-13) Conservation works between 1985-87 included the demolitions of accretions to reveal the original form of the building while preserving significant elements and components including the Edwardian staircase. (Clive Lucas & Partners P/L 1985 '7.0 Draft Conservation Policy' Pages 60-64. A set of Working Drawings is held by RAIA (NSW Chapter).
Very good, maintained by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
In the 1830s the whole area from Potts Point to Kings Cross and up to Oxford Street was known as Darlinghurst- probably named in honour of Governor Ralph Darling (1824-31)'s wife, Eliza. The rocky ridge that extended inland from Potts Point was called Eastern or Woolloomooloo Hill from the early days of white settlement. The earliest grant of land on Woolloomooloo Hill was made to Judge-Advocate John Wylde in 1822. In 1830 Wylde sold six of his 11 acres on the Point to Joseph Hyde Potts, accountant to the Bank of NSW, after whom Potts Point is named.
By the late 1820s Sydney was a crowded, disorderly and unsanitary town closely settled around the Rocks and Sydney Cove, with a European population of around 12000. Governor Darling was receiving applications from prominent Sydney citizens for better living conditions. The ridge of Woolloomooloo Hill beckoned, offering proximity to town and incomparable views from the Blue Mountains to the heads of Sydney Harbour.
In 1828 Darling ordered the subdivision of Woolloomooloo Hill into suitable 'town allotments' for large residences and extensive gardens. He then issued 'deeds of grant' to select members of colonial society (in particular, his senior civil servants). The first 7 grants were issued in 1828, with the other allotments formally granted in 1831.
The private residences that were built on the grants were required to meet Darling's so-called 'villa conditions' which were possibly determined and overseen by his wife, who had architectural skills. These ensured that only one residence was built on each grant to an approved standard and design, that they were each set within a generous amount of landscaped land and that, in most cases, they faced the town. By the mid-1830s the parade of 'white' villas down the spine of Woolloomooloo Hill presented a picturesque sight, and was visible from the harbour and town of Sydney. (State Library, 2002).
Tusculum was named by its original owner, Alexander Brodie Spark (1792-1856), after a town in the Alban Hills, 10 kilometres south-east of Rome where wealthy Romans built luxurious villas - that of Cicero being especially famous. The name of A.B. Spark's other property, 'Tempe' also has classical origins.
The building of the house signified Spark's rise to good fortune during the 1820's. He arrived in Sydney as free settler in 1823. His success in shipping and commerce meant that he was quickly accepted as an influential member of colonial society. Spark had received a literary education, which may account for the naming of his villa. His 1828 grant of over 9 acres was one of the few original grants made to a private citizen. John Verge's plan for Tusculum was approved by Governor Darling in 1830. Spark probably built it as an investment property, as he only lived there for a brief period. The villa was under construction from 1831-5. (State Library, 2002).
His failure to occupy it symbolised Spark's financial decline, the collapse of the Bank of Australia and the depression of the 1840s. Spark sent a plan of his proposed house to the Colonial Secretary on 1st June 1830, explaining that the plan had been prepared for some time, but that he had wanted to make it more 'ornamental'. This is 10 months prior to the first reference to Spark's house in John Verge's ledger. It is possible that Spark may have had the earlier plan prepared independently, and engaged Verge to assist in making it 'more ornamental'. John Verge's Ledger records details of the commission from 'Plans' in 1831 to 'Details for Pilasters front door of' shortly before completion in 1836.
Alterations were made in 1836 to suit its first tenant, Bishop Broughton. The Broughtons made Tusculum a centre of hospitality and, after Government House, it was the most important domestic building in the colony. (State Library, 2002). The Broughton papers contain several references to the unfinished state of the house when he moved in during 1836, and the alterations and improvements he undertook 'to bring the premises into a state of decency.'
In Broughton's early years at Tusculum a garden was established - there are references to a kitchen garden, rose trees from England etc. In 1839 he had shelves put up for his library so that his books could be 'released from captivity, and placed in security from damp and dust'.
An interesting letter from Emily Crawley (nee Broughton) to Phoebe Boydell, dated 22nd September 1850, describes the accommodation arrangements at Tusculum for the Conference of Australasian Bishops held in October that year. Bishop Broughton lived at Tusculum from 1836 to 1851 - for almost the full length of his episcopacy. He appears to have been occasionally unsettled by his accommodation, with numerous references in his letters to his desire to relocate. Broughton had difficulty in obtaining suitable alternative accommodation, and became resigned to the circumstances of Tusculum.
Broughton took out another lease on the property for seven years in 1848 at (Pounds)300 p.a. (letter to Coleridge, 16th February 1848) - 'lt is a sad, imperfect place and anything but episcopal in pretensions: but it is in a cheerful situation and good air, and answers my, purposes tolerably well.'
By 1843 there was a serious financial crisis in the colony, and the Darlinghurst grantees suffered. They pressed for the freedom to subdivide their land, and Sydney's first exclusive suburb opened up to investors. From the early 1850s, the Gold Rush boosted the economy, and interest in the land available at Darlinghurst grew. The first subdivisions occurred around the edges of the original grants, with blocks of a size that allowed other grand houses to be built and new streets formed. In the 1870s, heavy land taxes imposed by the administration of the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, led to another wave of subdivisions of the original grants. The late 19th century saw the final demise of the grounds surrounding the original villas, and in some cases, the villas themselves. (State Library, 2002).
Broughton was no longer living at Tusculum in 1851, the year prior to his departure. Tusculum was then purchased by William Long. (Clive Lucas & Partners P/L (Ref 1), 8-9)
The authorship of the substantial alterations undertaken at Tusculum for William Long is not certain. It is likely that John F. Hilly may have been the architect. Hilly did a lot of work in the Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo areas and owned a local quarry. The cast iron balustrade design on the verandahs at Tusculum is very similar to those at Fiona, Edgecliff (1864), Guntawang (1869-70) and the Prince of Wales Theatre (1863) all works of Hilly.
Tusculum was auctioned on 21st October 1904. Lewis Edward Isaacs bid (Pounds)3,750 for Lot 1 which included the house. Isaacs engaged the architect, John Burcham Clamp to undertake extensive alterations to the staircase and stair hall and a tender was let to Mr. John White. Tusculum was purchased by Orwell and Alfred Phillips in 1906. Orwell later purchased his brother's share in the property. It is likely that Burcham Clamp was also responsible for the Billiard Room addition. He did other work for the Phillips family (such as a house at Moss Vale, c.1915). (Note: Later owners and their modifications are documented under Modifications).
In the 1920s and 1930s, the original villas and the later grand 19th century residences were demolished to make way for blocks of flats, hotels and later, soaring towers of units. Today only 5 of the original 17 villas still stand, with the lost villas and other grand houses commemorated in the names of the streets of Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross (State Library, 2002).
Following its use as a serviceman's club during WW2 and a private nursing home, the building fell into disrepair and was the subject of a compulsory resumption in 1983, being the first under the provisions of the (then) recently gazetted NSW Heritage Act 1977.
Subsequently, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) leased Tusculum for 99 years, on the condition that it will be responsible as custodian for the restoration and maintenance of the building and for making it available for public enjoyment. In addition, the Government sold the freehold of the back section of the Tusculum site to the RAIA and the Heritage Council gave permission for a new building to be constructed adjoining the villa. The new building, which was the subject of a national competition, won by the architectural firm Levine & Durbach, houses the RAIA and subsidiary organisations, a 143 seat auditorium, and offices.
The restored villa is used for meeting rooms, a gallery and for receptions.
The two buildings operate as one complex, a combination of restored nineteenth century heritage and quality 1980s architecture. Clive Lucas, OBE, FRAIA, a prominent conservation architect and the leading authority on John Verge was commissioned by the RAIA to undertake the conservation work. The restoration is intended to evoke the early to mid Victorian period and was completed in 1987 in accordance with the 'Draft Conservation Policy' in Reference 1. Both buildings were officially opened by the Premier of NSW on 11 March 1988 (Press release RAIA c1988).