- Admiralty House, Sydney
Admiralty House is the official
Sydneyresidence of the Governor-General of Australia. It is located in Kirribilli, on the northern foreshore of Sydney Harbouradjacent to Kirribilli House, which is the Sydney residence of the Prime Minister. The large Italianate sandstone mansion at Kirribilli Point, once known as “Wotonga”, has commanding views across Sydney Harbour to the Sydney Harbour Bridgeand the Sydney Opera House. Its name originates in the fact that it served as the residence for the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Australian Squadron. The original house on the site was completed, as a private dwelling, in mid-to-late 1843, by Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes, the then Collector of Customs for New South Wales. A portrait of Gibbes, painted in 1808, hangs in the house.
Before the arrival of European settlers in Sydney Harbour, the Aboriginal tribe “
Cammeraygal” lived along the Kirribilli and Milson's Point foreshores, and in the surrounding bushland. The area was a fertile fishing ground, and thus the name “Kirribilli” is derived from the Aboriginal word "Kiarabilli", which means "good fishing spot". The name “ Cammeraygal” is displayed on the North Sydney Municipal Council emblem, and also gave name to the suburb of Cammeray.
Beginnings of Admiralty House
In 1794 Thomas Muir, a Scottish constitutional reformer, was sentenced to transportation for sedition. Thomas Muir was granted farmland across the harbour from his cottage on what is now
Circular Quay. The farm, which covered all of Kirribilli, was named “Hunter’s Hill” by Thomas Muir, after his father’s home in Scotland. However, in 1796, Thomas Muir escaped with ease from the colony aboard an American brig, never to be seen again.
Four years later, Muir’s “Hunter’s Hill” farm of roughly convert|120|acre|km2, was granted to a man named Robert Ryan for his services in the Marines and in the New South Wales Corps. By 1801, the property had passed into the hands of Robert Campbell, an esteemed Sydney merchant. Campbell built Australia’s first shipbuilding yards in 1807, at the site that is now the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Kirribilli.
Campbell’s property in Kirribilli was used for grazing under lease to Campbell’s friend
James Milson, hence the name “Milson's Point”. Milson's Point is the next point along from Kirribilli point, where the Sydney Harbour Bridge crosses the harbour. In 1842, the five-acre site where Admiralty House now sits was leased to the Collector of Customs for the Colony, Lieutenant-Colonel (later full Colonel) John George Nathaniel Gibbes, MLC. Colonel Gibbes (1787-1873) intended to build a private home on the site. (Since his arrival in the colony in 1834, Gibbes and his family had been living in Henrietta Villa, also known as the Naval Villa, on Sydney's Point Piper, under a leasehold arrangement.) On the superb Kirribilli Point location, Gibbes erected, between 1842 and 1843, a graceful single-storey house with wide verandahs and elegant French doors. Gibbes designed the house, which he called "Wotonga" (or "Woottonga"), himself. The stone for the house's walls was quarried locally and the hardwood and cedar joinery came from George Coleson's timber-yard in George Street, Sydney. Gibbes engaged James Hume, a well-known builder who dabbled in ecclesiastical architecture, to supervise the construction of the building and its stables. Gibbes, however, hired his own masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and ironmongers to work on the project, paying each of them separately as work progressed. Gibbes used the Custom Department's cutter to commute to and from the building site. Once completed, Gibbes' L-shaped residence featured a plain, yet stylish, double facade to maximise the building's magnificent, sweeping views across Sydney Harbour. These views enabled Gibbes to monitor shipping traffic in and out of Darling Harbour and, more importantly, Circular Quay, where the Sydney Customs House was situated. Today, Wotonga forms the core of Admiralty House and the building's 180-degree, east-west panoramic sight-lines are even more spectacular than they were in Gibbes' day, owing to the subsequent high-rise growth of Sydney's CBD.
Colonel Gibbes, incidentally, was said to be the illegitimate child of His Royal Highness
Frederick, Duke of York, (King George III's second son). This reputed connection to the British monarchy adds spice to the house on Kirribilli Point's subsequent role as a vice-regal establishment. For more information about Wotonga's construction, see the "North Shore Historical Journal" article "John Gibbes: Builder of Admiralty House", in Volume 37, Number 1, April 1997, pages 8-12.
Gibbes, Travers & Feez
In 1849, Robert Campbell died and the executors of the estate sold the property, comprising the house and five acres land, to Gibbes for about 1,400 pounds. On 27 December 1851, Gibbes sold the property to James Lindsay Travers, a merchant of Macquarie Place, Sydney, for 1,533 pounds. (Gibbes then leased
Greycliffe Houseat Shark Beach, Vaucluse, from the Wentworthfamily; he and his wife, Elizabeth, would dwell at Greycliffe until they retired to Yarralumlahomestead in 1859.)
A small portion of the Kirribilli Point land, a little over an acre was sold in 1854 to a merchant, Adolph Frederic Feez. On this land,
Kirribilli Housewas built. Kirribilli House, next door to Admiralty House, now serves as the official Sydney residence of the Australian Prime Minister.
The Crimean War
In 1855, during the
Crimean War, Governor William Denisonreclaimed the tip of Kirribilli point, on which fortifications were built. These fortifications, along with Fort Denison, were intended to strengthen the defences of Sydney Harbour, as it was feared that the Russians might attack. In 1856, Lieutenant-Colonel George Barney, a one-time officer of the Royal Engineers, lived in “Wotonga“ and designed and supervised the installation of a battery of five, 8-inch muzzle-loading guns on Kirribilli Point, as well as constructing the martello towerat Fort Denison.
Lassetter, Wilshire & Cadell
In 1856, Lt Col Barney bought the house and its grounds so that he could view all of the sites that he had fortified. In September 1860, Barney sold the house and grounds for 9,000 pounds to George Alfred Lloyd. In 1866, it was let to Mr Frederick Lassetter and subsequently to Mr James Wilshire, a former
Lord Mayor of Sydneyand Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1858 to 1861.
In April 1874, Wotonga House was auctioned and bought for 10,100 pounds by Mr Thomas Cadell, a Sydney merchant and member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1881 to 1896. At that time, the house was described as containing a wide verandah, a spacious entrance hall, drawing and dining rooms, 10 bedrooms and the usual rooms in the main part of the house, as well as having a large courtyard, servant's rooms, kitchen, stables, etc, with an abundant water supply, which never failed in the driest weather.
In 1885, the Royal Navy’s Australian Squadron was raised to the status of an Admiral’s command in recognition of the colony’s growing importance. The colonial government bought “Wotonga” as residence for the Admiral of the Navy. The house was renamed “Admiralty House”, and additions were made to the property. A second storey was added to the house, as was a colonnaded verandah. A neo-Gothic-style gate lodge was also added to the grounds, as was a covered Admiral’s Walk leading down to the berth for the Admiral’s barge below.
In 1913, this part of the history of Admiralty House came to a close as the last British Admiral left the house as the
Royal Australian Navytook over responsibility of the Naval Defence of Australia.
Federation of Australiain 1901, the Government House of New South Wales in Farm Covewas used as the Sydney residence of the Governor-General. In 1912, the Government of New South Walesdecided to put the building to public purposes once more, leaving the Governor-General of the period, Lord Denman, without a Sydney Residence.
With the departure of the last British Admiral from Admiralty House the following year, the Admiralty handed the house back to the New South Wales Government. This provided Lord Denman’s successor, Sir
Ronald Munro Ferguson, with a Sydney residence. Admiralty House was the residence of the Governors-General for the following fifteen years.
In 1930, during the
Great Depression, the Scullin Government had Admiralty House closed, and its contents were sold at Auction in 1931.
Isaac Isaacs, appointed in 1931, was the first Governor-General to live permanently at Yarralumla, in Canberra. During his term, Admiralty House remained empty and neglected. Sir Isaac described it in 1934 as being “stripped of its glamour, with no furnishings but a few fine mirrors, its garden wild and overgrown”. In 1936, the State of New South Wales reopened Admiralty House as the Sydney residence for the new Governor-General, Lord Gowrie. The house has been used ever since as a vice-regal establishment.
Formal title to Admiralty House finally passed from the State Government to the Commonwealth by Crown grant in 1948, on the condition that the house was to be used only as a residence for the Governor-General.
Admiralty House, its grounds, and
Kirribilli Houseare usually open to the public once a year, sometime in spring when the gardens are at their best. However, there had not been a public opening since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United Statesbecause of security concerns until 2005, which saw a public opening once again on the 30th October. A history of the garden was published in the "Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens".
Admiralty House is at present the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia, and of important overseas visitors. The Royal Family and other important dignitaries, such as the American President and the
Pope, visit Admiralty House when they are in Sydney.
The ground floor has two reception rooms, a dining room, a study, and an elaborate central staircase. The residents' private rooms are on the upper floors.
The house is furnished with colonial furniture, porcelain and numerous historical artworks such as portraits of Captain
James Cookand former Governors General including Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson. Many were acquired for the nation by The Australiana Fund.
* Clifford-Smith, Silas; 'Admiralty House', "Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens", South Melbourne, 2002
* Thompson, CJ; "Admiralty House, Sydney – Brief History and Catalogue of Contents of State Rooms"; Government House, Canberra, 1984
* Kerr, John Semple, "Admiralty House: A Conservation Plan Developed for the Department of Housing and Construction", Sydney, 1987
* Steele, Jeremy, "Sydney Cove to the Heads"; The University of Sydney, 1978
* Stephensen, PR & Kennedy, Brian; "The History and Description of Sydney Harbour"; Reed Publishing, 1966 & 1980
* Messent, David & McGonigal, David; "The Complete Guide to Sydney Harbour"; David Messent Photography, 1994
* [http://www.gg.gov.au/html/ahouse.html The Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia: The History of Admiralty House: 1794-1948]
* [http://www.theaustralianafund.org.au/admiralty.html The Australiana Fund: Admiralty House]
* [http://photosau.com/StantonPictures/scripts/home.asp North Sydney Council: The Face of North Sydney Image Library]
Government Houses of Australia
Government Houses of the British Empire
Governor-General of Australia
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