Reasons to visit Elizabeth Farm in Rosehill, NSW 2142

image by sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

Elizabeth Farm, located in Rosehill, New South Wales, Australia, is a historic estate. It can be found at 70 Alice Street. Elizabeth Farm was built in 1793 for John and Elizabeth Macarthur, a young couple from the military. It is Australia’s oldest home. It was located on a small hill with a view of the Parramatta River’s upper reaches, just 23 kms (14 miles) west of Sydney Cove.

Elizabeth Macarthur and John Macarthur had arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790. They brought with them new ideas that became the foundation of their home and garden. Governor Grose gave Macarthur 100 acres (40ha) in 1793 near Parramatta, on the west side “Tipperary Farm”. Through grants and purchases, the area would grow to 925 acres (374ha) by 1818. It was almost 1,100 acres (450 ha), when it was surveyed in 1881.

Elizabeth Farm was built in 1793. It was a single-storey brick building with four rooms, a hallway, closets and a cellar. There was also an adjoining kitchen and servants apartments. It was Elizabeth Macarthur’s home and the Macarthur family’s residence until her death in 1850. As their family grew to nine, the Macarthurs continued to occupy and extend the house grant. A bedroom was added to the back of the drawing room and verandahs in 1805. In 1830, the second kitchen was constructed.

The peaceful homestead conceals a turbulent past. It has been a site of major events in colonial history, including the overthrow of governors and the rise of convict rebellion, and the birth of the Australian wool sector. The family’s lives were filled with drama and turmoil as the cottage became a colonial bungalow.

Macarthur began to crossbreed his sheep at Elizabeth Farm in 1794, after which he became interested in raising them. This house was the center of political and social activity, including visits by many governors and their spouses. During John’s time in England, Elizabeth managed the farm as well as their other properties.

Macarthur used pattern books, as well as other architects and builders like Henry Cooper and James Smith to create his building plans over the last 12 years.

John Macarthur brought olive plants (Olea europaea cv.). In 1805, John Macarthur brought olive trees (Olea europaea cv.) to Sydney. Although George Suttor had brought olives to Australia in 1800, among other plants from Sir Joseph Banks’ collection, these seem not to have survived. Macarthur’s olives survived. John, who was exiled in London for his involvement in the overthrow and execution of Governor William Bligh felt the mood of British officials – who were encouraged to see Suttor’s reports claiming that New South Wales could be a good place for horticulture because of its climate. Macarthur embarked on a tour through France and Switzerland in 1815 to learn more about “the whole practice and making of wine and oil,” He returned to London in May 1816 with a collection containing olives and vines that he wanted to ship to Australia. These were certain to impress Lord Bathurst, secretary to state for the colonies and help his return to Australia. However, it took him a year to get permission. In September 1817, he arrived with a load of “useful plants”, including two olives from Provence.

Five years later, Macarthur made a similar impression on Commissioner John Bigge. Bigge was visiting NSW to examine all aspects of colonial administration including the development and promotion of agriculture and trade. Bigge noted that Macarthur’s olive tree had been able to adapt well to the environment and that NSW olive oil could be a profitable export product. Due to the settlement’s British cultural heritage and inexperience growing olives commercially, as well as competition from the wool industry, olive production was kept at bay. Elizabeth Farm still has two olive trees on its front (northern), lawn. These olive trees are unknown if they date back to 1805 or 1817. They are the oldest olive trees that survived in Australia. Therefore, despite Suttor’s introduction in 1800, Macarthur may be credited with introducing, or at least successfully establishing, olives in Australia. This would have led (at least in late 20th century) into a growing agricultural sector.

Macarthur built stables and added a second two-storey section at the rear in the 1820s. Open planning was used for the house additions, with French doors opening to the verandahs. The verandahs were possibly remodeled a few years later. In 1826, a Doric columned northern verandah was built in contrast to the treillage on the eastern verandah. Henry Cooper designed further extensions in 1826 and 1827. Around 1833, John Verge may have refaced the servants’ quarters. John Macarthur, who died in Camden in 1834, moved to Camden that year.

A small, three-roomed brick cottage built in Australian Old Colonial style was converted by the late 1820s into a country home. It is surrounded by orchards, pleasure grounds, and nearly 400 hectares (1,050 acres) of semi-cleared. The original cottage, which was enclosed in later extensions, is still intact and it is Australia’s oldest European-style dwelling. Sydney Living Museums manages the estate as a museum open to the public at a modest cost.

Edward Macarthur, a widower, left Elizabeth Farm to Elizabeth Onslow, his niece, who was James’s daughter.

In 1881, the Macarthur family sold Elizabeth Farm Estate. Between 1852 and 1883, Elizabeth Farm was occupied from various tenants and agents. William Billyard, Crown Solicitor for NSW, was one of these tenants.

Septimus Stephen became the new owner and subdivided the land. He then put the block up for auction. In 1884, there were more subdivisions. The house was used as a boardinghouse and a glue factory. William Swann and Elizabeth Swann purchased the house and six acres in 1904 to make it a home and a land-value only. The house was in serious disrepair. They quickly cleaned, disinfected, and repaired the house. Parramatta’s family was transformed into an institution through their house-based activities, which included music, education, secretarial school, and dental surgery. The Swann family owned the house and lived there until 1968, when it was bought by Elizabeth Farm Management Trust.

Elizabeth Farm was taken over by the State Planning Authority in 1973. The buildings were restored by the Heritage Council of NSW and the Public Works Department between 1978 and 1983. They are important because they preserve the oldest examples of colonial building techniques in Australia.

In 1983, the site was given to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and it was opened to the public in 1984 as a house museum. Friends of the Historic Houses Trust have raised funds for entry display refurbishment, lighting, iPad interpretation ($38,000), soft furnishings ($33,000), and reproduction of Elizabeth Macarthur’s ivory workbox ($8000). They also organize and support the Festival of the Olive, which draws a wide variety of visitors to the property.

The estate was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999. This is the first property that was included on the register.

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