ESTATE AND GROUNDS:
Tempe house site covered (in 2001) twelve (12) acres, subdivided into twelve (12) lots and is confined on all sides by a rail line, the Cooks River, the Princes Highway and an industrial area, the building remains largely intact and is constructed from traditional bearing walls, timber floors and roof framing. The house is symmetrically detailed utilizing classic motifs. [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.61]. Tempe house stands amongst a scenic garden setting depicted as an ideal 'Arcadian' landscape, with a long looped carriageway.
The grounds are of exceptional importance for their ability to demonstrate close adherence to early nineteenth century design principles, including the modified natural element Mt Olympus - an unusual example of a detached shrubbery, and for surviving early fabric - walling, gateposts and sundial. They are important for their association for one hundred years with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and for their framework of mature plantings, particularly the early Olea europaea subsp. europaea. The group of eucalypts on Mount Olympus has value in providing evidence of the natural vegetation on the site. Mount Olympus and the group of eucalypts which, as a group, are rare on a local level. These are an identifiable natural landmark on the Princes Highway.
Mt.Olympus is a small hill on the eastern side of Tempe House, adjoining (on the south side of) the Cook's River. Immediately east of Mt.Olympus is the Princes Highway. Immediately south of it is an access road and high rise blocks of flats built since 2002.
With subsequent master-planned subdivision and construction of Wolli Creek town centre apartments, Tempe House's grounds have been reduced to Mt. Olympus to its east, a wide lawn area in front (north of the house) to the Cook's River, and some land around St. Mary Magdalen's Chapel to the house's west and north-west of that. This open space is now called 'Discovery Park'. This park is broadly a sweep of grass afore the house between it and the river, with a crescent of trees nearer but south and north-west and west of the house. A brick wall around the edge of the lawn near the chapel dates to the religious order's era of occupation and provides division of space. Two pedestrals in sandstone with sandstone urn end and edge the western end of this wall, near the apartment blocks to the house's west (Stuart Read, 15/2/2018).
Trees in Discovery Park include:
NW of the house/lawn: Canary Island date palms NW of the house (Phoenix canariensis);
W and NW of the house, closer to it and the chapel:
Two European elms (Ulmus procera) north of the house on the (Discovery Park) lawn. Closer to the house's west and north of the Magdalene Chapel are a large evergreen holly or holm oak (Quercus ilex), a Southern nettle tree (Celtis australis), an American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), two Port Jackson figs (Ficus rubiginosa), one of which is an epiphyte which is growing on and taking over a camphor laurel (one of two such: Cinnamommum camphora), a Californian desert fan palm (Washingtonia robusta) and a Moreton Bay fig which is in poor condition (ibid, 2018).
Further north-west in Discovery Park are a line of Canary Island date palms (Phoenix canariensis)(ibid, 2018).
A range of shrubs and lower ground covers (mainly matt-rush, Lomandra spp.) make up the underplanting of the trees noted above (except the palms and two elms in the lawn), and similar shrubs fringe the house and lawn's east and Mt. Olympus. Mt. Olympus is richly planted with a mixture of exotic and native trees, shrubs and ground covers (ibid, 2018).
The Northeast elevation boasts bull nose edged verandahs and principally retains the form of the original verandah. There are two pairs of cedar French doors with fanlights above. The windows are symmetrically positioned on the facade, as are the semi circular verandahs with Tuscan timber columns situated either side of the central stairway. The entrance has a wide eight (8) paneled door. [Tanner & Associates, 2001: pp.62-63].
The Southeast elevation incorporates a courtyard with simple detailing and one entry, that is the original six (6) paneled wide cedar door. The original hipped roof is visible from the courtyard as is a small portion of the original verandah, however, the roof has been modified [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.64].
The interior of the house has many of the rooms retaining French doors and there are early fireplaces, and six (6) paneled doors throughout most of the common areas. Every room has views out to the trees, and the house revolves around a central hallway. The cedar joinery is finely molded, and is of a similar design throughout the intact areas of the house. The parlour and dining room both feature colonial marble fireplaces and French windows with large areas of glazing for optimal views of the river. There is evidence of the original floorboards in the rear rooms of the house [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.76-80].
ST MAGDALENE'S CHAPEL
The chapel was built approximately fifty (50) years after Tempe House and is constructed from good quality red brick with cream brick and sandstone detailing. The Chapel, like the house, represents the period of architectural style in which it was built. The Chapel is an example of Victorian Gothic architecture and measures approximately twenty (20) metres long, by ten (10) metres wide, and is a tall single story structure with a steeply sloping roof.
The northeast elevation has stained glass windows with carved sandstone windowsills and simply detailed gables capped with corbelled sandstone eaves, copper guttering and circular down pipes. The southeast elevation has a simple rose window high on the gable end [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.72-74].
The interior of the chapel is plainly finished, and the detail of religious scenes in the stained glass windows is evident. The most striking feature is the vaulted cedar boarded ceiling supported by a series of arched ribs. The interior of the Chapel consists of mainly one large room, with the altar stretching the width of the building, and has an ornate balustrade of wrought iron and timber [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.81-82].
The chapel's setting on the west and north-west is lawn, with a box (Buxus sempervirens) hedge near its south-west side. A young hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamiana) is to the chapel's south (ibid, 2018).
6/2001: The results of the archeological assessment indicate that if any archaeological deposits relating to the early nineteenth century use of the site survive, then they are likely to be of high historical and archaeological significance.
The land on which Tempe House now sits was first released in 1809 as a series of three land grants, the largest portion awarded to Sergeant William Packer and the remaining two grants were reissued in 1810 by Governor Macquarie. Sergeant Packer sold his land to the original owner of Tempe House, Alexander Brodie Spark in 1826 for 100 pounds Tanner & Associates, 2001, 7).
Spark shared Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay's aspirations for a picturesque estate but his plans for Tempe were more modest in scale. Spark, 'a struggling, worrying lerk with literary pretensions', in England, had inherited sufficient money to undertake a 'grand tour' of Europe, visiting Mount Olympus in Greece's Vale of Tempe, before migrating to Australia (Morris, 2008, 68).
In 1826 he purchased 110 acres of land, which included a cottage, at Cook's River, and by 1828 he had an overseer and gardener in his employment there. In July 1829 he was supplied with olives, guava and mulberry cuttings from the Sydney Botanic Gardens, and by 1830 he was experimenting with grape growing on the estate (ibid, 2008, 68).
Spark chose a site for his house that was backed by a wooded hill later called Mount Olympus, emphasising the association between his travels in search of the picturesque and his own 'Vale of Tempe'. The house sat on a slight bench in the landscape, a favoured model for country residences, as espoused by prominent late 18th century landscape designer Humphry Repton and repeated by John Claudius (J.C.) Loudon, who advocated that residences should be 'on a raised platform, the rising grounds behind being planted both for effect and shelter'. Spark also built the mansion 'Tusculum', at Potts Point, but did not live there long. He moved to Tempe in 1833 and occupied his new house in 1836. He hung its walls with fine paintings and saw his verandah finished and a lawn formed in front of the house long before Alexander Macleay lived at Elizabeth Bay (ibid, 2008, 68).
Alexander Brodie Spark (1792-1856) was born in Elgin, Scotland to George and Mary Spark. He arrived in Sydney in 1823 aboard the Princess Charlotte and established himself as a merchant. In 1840 he married the widow Frances Maria Radford, and here at Tempe estate, they raised their six children. Spark was a leading business figure in the colony of New South Wales. He became a major landowner and was the founding director for many of the early companies in NSW. Spark had shipping interests, was a magistrate and assessor for the Supreme Court, a patron of the arts and had influence in social and political circles. He also kept a detailed diary, which survives today and provides an interesting insight into life in colonial NSW from the 1820s-50s (Discovery Park sign c/o Dr Robert & Mrs Kerry Spark and family).
Tempe estate was named after the 'Vale of Tempe' in Ancient Greece, due to its extensive gardens, designed to enhance the view of the Cooks River (Tanner & Associates, 2001, 7). The Vale of Tempe is a gorge in Northern Thessaly (Northern Greece), located between Olympus to the north and Ossa to the south. The valley is 10km long and as narrow as 25m in places, with cliffs nearly 500m high, and through it flows the Pineious River on its way to the Aegean Sea. In ancient times it was celebrated by Greek poets as a favourite haunt of Apollo and the Muses. On the right bank of the Pineious River sat a temple to Apollo, near which the laurels used to crown the victorious in the Pythian games were gathered. After touring this area of Greece in the 1820s, Spark chose the name 'Tempe' for his home on the banks of the Cook's River (Discovery Park sign, sponsodred by David & Olivera Ferguson of Strata Plus).
Tempe house was commissioned in 1831 by renowned architect John Verge and is a rare example of his architectural style. Records from the 1828 census indicate that there were six (6) people living and working on the estate at the time, and by the 1836 census, there were thirty-one (31) people recorded as living and working on the estate. (ibid, 2001, 7-11). Spark's head gardener was Thomas Birkby (Discovery Park sign, sponsored by David & Olivera Ferguson of Strata Plus).
Tempe estate formed a deliberately modified natural element, identified as 'Mt Olympus', which included Australian shrubbery, and created a suitable backdrop for a house in a picturesque setting [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.131]. The riverbanks were developed to lay extensive lawns, and as the property was only accessible by boat at the time, a wharf was constructed to accommodate guests, however, it was not completed until 1838 [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.11]. The house after completion was used extensively for entertainment purposes and the scenic gardens included up to fifty (50) differing varieties of grape vines from France, which also attracted horticultural awards (ibid, 2001, 26).
Within a large estate there was often a clear distinction between the picturesque landscape setting for the house and the area where practical gardening was carried out. This was the case at Tempe: its famous garden was an enormous fenced rectangle on flat land - a kitchen and flower garden combined - in which Spark indulged his interests and where his English-born gardener Thomas Birkby supervised thirteen convict labourers. Sydney's Botanic Gardens supplied the architecturally striking dragon tree (Dracaena draco), rose, olive, passion flower and cuttings of honey flower (Melianthus major), lime, shaddock (a kind of grapefruit), James Busby's vines, coral and Indian rubber trees and numerous ornamental shrubs (ibid, 2008, 68).
During the late 1830s, Spark purchased plants from Shepherd's (Darling) Nursery (Chippendale), delighting in a 'double dahlia out in all its purple splendour', visited Macleay in his garden at Elizabeth Bay and keenly participated in the horticultural and botanical societies of his time. He was a mainstay of the newly-formed Floral and Horticultural Society, where he showed pomegranates and olives and won prizes for his flowers of 'heath (Erica) and Protea near (possibly P.neriifolia or P.nana)'. His purchase at auction of some paeonies and rare cacti indicate a quest for unusual specimens, some of which earned him prizes when exhibited (ibid, 2008, 68).
Artist Conrad Martens, who arrived in Sydney in 1835, was at one with the aesthetic tastes of his ambitious patrons and rendered the picturesque scenes to which they aspired in watercolours and oils to hang in their drawing rooms. Lady Jane Franklin acquired a Martens sketch of Tempe that she liked so much she took pleasure in visiting the estate in 1839. She described a garden with walks crossing at right angles, Norfolk Island pines at the intersections, a hoop pine, wattle trees, orange and lemons and 'one long trellis-covered wall of vines, all differently marked' (ibid, 2008, 68-69).
The construction of a dam between 1839 and 1841 was built from quarried stone in the surrounding cliffs by convict labour, and served to enhance the Estate's already splendid views. The dam allowed the area to be linked to the city by road, leading Spark, in 1841, to construct a carriage drive, a new coach house, stables and grooms quarters (ibid, 2001,16-17]. The stables burnt down in 1844, and were replaced, where they then remained until 1960 [Anglin and Associates, Conservation Plan: Tempe Estate, 1988: p.13].
1840 saw Spark begin to face extensive business problems, with his personal borrowings seemingly insurmountable. He attempted to rectify his position by planting saleable crops, however, was eventually overcome and his insolvency was listed on the 23rd August 1843. He remained at Tempe Estate with his wife and children and attempted to sell twice, however, at the time of his death in 1856 his estate failed to meet his debts [Tanner & Associates, 2001: pp.18-19].
Spark was one of the original trustees of St. Peter's Anglican Church, St.Peters. When Spark died he was buried in St. Peter's graveyard. The location of the grave is uncertain (St. Peter's parish, interpretive sign from graveyard).
Spark's house and garden, his wealth and charmed life may have drawn much attention, but he was in a vulnerable financial position. By June 1842 he and his wife, Maria, were picking their own oranges. Several months later Spark wrote, intend to make the garden pay its own expenses. From the proceeds of some cabbages, purchased a quantity of flower pots, to hold bulbs for sale.' At the close of 1842, Spark, director of the foundering Bank of Australia, could 'scarcely provide money enough for common expenditure'. Although declared insolvent, he held on to his beloved Tempe, continuing to garden and farm there - 'did great execution with the saw' he wrote, in 1848, 'in opening up vistas in the garden, my spouse aiding in cleaning and transplanting.'(ibid, 2008, 69).
Numerous artists have painted the beautiful vistas of the Tempe House Estate, many of their works hang in major galleries of the world. The most prominent of these artists who have painted the estate from teh opposite bank of the Cooks River, since 1836 are:
- John Glover, 1767-1849;
- Conrad Marens, 1801-78;
- Maurice Appleby Felton, 1803-42;
- John Skinner Prout, 1805-76;
- Georgiana Lowe, 1813-84;
- Samuel Elyard, 1817-1910;
- Frederick Casemero Terry, 1825-69;
- John James Clark, 1838-1915; and
- Sydney Long, 1871-1955 (Discovery Park sign, sponsored by Anthony Kioutsis of Result Property Group).
Following Spark's death in 1856, the 11 acre lot that included the house, part of the garden, shrubbery and orchard (ibid, 2008, 70), Tempe Estate was subdivided and the house was auctioned and sold to brothers Patrick and Thomas Maguire on the 24th August 1859 for 2000 pounds. The brothers never resided at Tempe Estate in their twenty years of ownership, however, leased the property out, most notably to Caroline Chisholm. In the years 1863 to 1865, Caroline Chisholm, seen as one of Australia's greatest philanthropists, ran an educational establishment for young ladies in Tempe House (ibid, 2001: 22). Advertisements for the establishment extolled the virtues of its bath house, its pleasure grounds, gardens and orchard 'intersected by wide and shady walks' (ibid, 2008, 70).
In 1876, Tempe House was leased as a private residence to Mr C.T.Richardson [Tanner & Associates, 2001: p.23].
In 1883 Tempe House was bought by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, who owned it for over a century and used it as a women's refuge called St. Magdalen's Retreat. During this period, highway widening on the eastern boundary dramatically reduced Mount Olympus and the immediate local area became industrialised (ibid, 2008, 70).
On November 23rd 1884, Tempe Estate was sold at Auction to Frederick Gannon for 4000 pounds who then sold it five (5) months later for the sizable sum of 6,750 pounds to the Trustees of the Good Samaritan Order, Mary Anne Adamson, otherwise known as Superior General Magdalene and Margaret Mary Byrne (ibid, 2001: 23).
The Good Samaritan Order focused on unmarried mothers and women who were seen to be at risk of sin. By 1887, the sisters had raised enough money to build a penitentiary, laundries and accommodation. The new buildings accommodated forty (40) penitents and were renamed St Magdalene's refuge, also known as The Retreat. A new Chapel was constructed in 1888, adjacent to the house, and by 1900, over one hundred (100) people worked a daily routine in the laundry operations and an inquiry into the refuge over unpaid wages was settled in favour of the Order (ibid, 2001: 24-25).
Renowned architects Sheerin and Hennessy were the principal architects employed to design the new penitentiary, laundries and accommodation for St Magdalene's Retreat. It is unclear who designed the Chapel, however, as it has a similar architectural style as the new buildings, the indication was that Sherrin and Hennessy were employed once again. Whilst further additions were made, the house remained largely unaltered until 1944-1945 [Tanner & Associates, 2001: pp.28-29].
By 1944, the Retreat began to develop more into a training centre for the rehabilitation of delinquent girls, who had ended up in the court system, and in the 1940's, there were 55 girls housed at the Estate(ibid, 2001: 32). Facilities to aid education were added in 1954, a swimming pool in 1959 and a chaplains residence in 1972. External conservation work was undertaken to repair deterioration on the verandah bays that was completed by Hurst and Kennedy architects in 1977 (ibid, 2001: 41).
From 1985 onwards various schemes were raised to develop Tempe House, and ownership changed hands several times (ibid, 2008, 70).
The Good Samaritan Order remained in ownership of Tempe Estate for over 100 years and in 1989 sold it to Qantek, a branch of Qantas (ibid, 2001: 37).
By 1999 Tempe House was at the centre of a new residential and commercial venture that involved blasting Mount Olympus on its southern side to accommodate one of the apartment buildings that now rises above it. Tempe House has been conserved as an immaculate relic dwarfed by the apartment buildings encircling its southern and western sides. Form many observers the opportunity to recover the significance of Tempe Estate was lost (ibid, 2008, 70).
1990 saw a permanent Conservation order established for Tempe Estate, including the house and surrounding grounds to the riverfront. The landscape was deemed to be of greater significance than the buildings associated with the Good Samaritan Order and subsequently, they were demolished with the exception of the Chapel and the iron fencing (ibid, 2001: 37).
The property passed possession from Qantek to Interciti Arncliffe Developments Pty. Ltd in 2000 (ibid, 2001: p.42], who have carried out staged high density development over the southern part of the former estate around a new railway station, Wolli Creek.