Tucked away on the remnants of the once extensive Elizabeth Farm property is Hambledon Cottage. Elizabeth Farm is the oldest remaining European building in Sydney and was one of the major estates in the Parramatta/Rose Hill district. It was built for John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793 and is managed by Sydney Living Museums.
Hambledon Cottage was built in 1824 to provide accommodation for extra guests staying at Elizabeth Farm, and initially offered sleeping quarters only; the kitchen, laundry and coach house followed later. One of the most well-known residents of Hambledon Cottage was the Macarthur’s governess, Penelope Lucas.
Lucas arrived in the colony in 1805 with Elizabeth Macarthur, eldest daughter of John and Elizabeth. Elizabeth had travelled to England with her father and brothers but it was decided that it would be best to send her home and have her educated in the colony. A governess was sought and Lucas was the successful applicant.
With limited social circles in the small colony, it was inevitable that Elizabeth Macarthur and Penelope Lucas would be spending considerable time together, and not just in the education of the Macarthur daughters. Penelope was financially independent, or at least had her own financial means of support. In 1827, Penelope moved to the cottage upon her retirement and it was her home until her death in 1836. A small annuity and the use of the cottage had been left to Penelope in John Macarthur’s will.
Lucas had named the cottage ‘Hambledon’ after her former house in Hampshire. The cottage continued to be used by the Macarthur family before being sold off in the late 1800s and having various owners until it was acquired by Parramatta City Council in 1953. It has been leased to the Parramatta and District Historical Society since 1965 and is furnished with pieces from 1820-1890 to cover the Macarthur period of ownership.
The cottage itself consists of a couple of bedrooms located around the withdrawing room and dining room. The main bedroom is dominated by heavy furniture, including an Australian red cedar four poster bed. The bed had its origins in Parramatta, and after a varied life made its way to the cottage, which is beautifully maintained by the Parramatta Historical Society.
There is a study which includes several items of furniture originating from the household of Reverend Samuel Marsden. Marsden was a formidable presence in the early colony, and his reputation, like John Macarthur’s, tended to divide people into supporters or detractors. Marsden’s missionary work extended to New Zealand and in the Parramatta and Harris Park areas, there are streets named for New Zealand locations in honour of Marsden’s work and land holdings which once extended through this part of the colony.
In the study, there is also a drawing of a horse-drawn ferry, an early attempt to speed up the journey by boat from Sydney Cove to Rose Hill. It wasn’t a great success, as the horses weren’t keen on the endless looping in a circle to power the ferry.
The house is decorated with a mixture of furniture and fittings complimentary to the period in which it was built. There are many stories contained within, and the displays change throughout the year. Part of the cottage is also used as a display gallery, featuring an exhibition called HERSTORY, tracing the lives of convict women who passed through the Parramatta Female Factory.
There’s something about the word pictures created by some of the volunteer guides who provide tours around the cottage. On the most recent trip, the guide shared a vision of the retired governess and Elizabeth Macarthur walking from Elizabeth Farm to Hambledon Cottage of an evening after supper, two older ladies talking softly or sharing a companionable silence. A nice image to ponder on.
There is a lovely memorial to Penelope Lucas in St John’s Cathedral at Parramatta which you can see here.
[Photo of Hambledon Cottage from Gregory Place (side view)]