Hambledon Cottage, Parramatta

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.

Withdrawing Room

Withdrawing Room

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.

Kitchen

Colonial Kitchen

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.

Hambledon Cottage garden

Hambledon Cottage garden

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)]

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Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta

Located on a rise that would have once commanded a view of the growing settlement of Parramatta, Elizabeth Farm remains a treasured property with its status of oldest European homestead in Australia. It is located near the Parramatta River, and construction commenced in 1793. The house had various additions over time and grew from a simple bungalow to a substantial homestead with servants quarters. It was the home for John and Elizabeth Macarthur and their family, before changing hands over the decades until it was purchased by the Swann family in 1904. It stayed in the Swann family until it was transferred to the Elizabeth Farm Museum Trust in 1968.

The property is now managed by Sydney Living Museums, and it feels much more like a living space than a typical house museum where there is much to see but access is firmly limited by thick red ropes. The property has been filled with replicas of period furniture, and you are invited to touch, sit, be at home and to have a unique experience in the house. Guided tours are available as well as iPads with additional content about the Farm for self-guided visitors. The content includes photos, newspaper reports and recollections from the time of the Macarthurs, and also from the Swann family whose occupancy played a significant part in the preservation of the property. They were a large family with nine daughters, only one of them married, and they used all of the extensive property between them.

But it is the property’s association with the Macarthur family that is primarily on display. From the the hall entrance off the wide verandah with the dining room on one side and the drawing room on the other, there are many references to the Macarthur family throughout the house. I was particularly taken by the smaller rooms at the end of each side of the front of the house with their windowed alcoves looking out into the garden. These sunlit rooms were a contrast to the bedrooms at the rear of the house, especially the blue room which is kept in shadow in reference to the difficult times that John Macarthur spent here when his mental health declined before his death in 1834.

There is much to enjoy in the shape of the house and the servants quarters, the courtyard and the gardens, along with the kitchen with its big old range and copper saucepans lined up along the mantle. The kitchen garden was inviting with hearty silver beet, including heritage varieties, their yellow and scarlet stalks translucent in the afternoon light. The garden is a joy, modelled on letters and diaries outlining the botanical delights of the garden in the 1830s. Spending time in this historic house is like heading back to an earlier era, and you can nearly forget that you are within an extensive business and residential area, just 23 kilometres from Sydney.

Have you been somewhere that made you feel as though you have stepped back in time recently?

[Photo: view of the front of Elizabeth Farm from the carriage loop]