Saturday, February 26, 2011

Darlinghurst: Books: Villas of Darlinghurst, by the State Library of NSW: Adelaide Cottage

Now that I am allowed back in to the Kings Cross Library, I can learn so much more about the neighbourhood's history. The City of Sydney library network has hundreds of local history titles, including many obscure and niche publications such as this one. 
Villas of Darlinghurst was published by the State Library of NSW in 2002 to coincide with a free exhibition of the same name, which ran from January to June of that year. The show was curated by Avryl Whitnall and featured illustrations, paintings and short histories of the original 17 gentleman's villas of Darlinghurst.
In the late 1820s most of Australia's European population of about 12,000 was closely settled around The Rocks and Sydney Cove region and there was increased demand for better living conditions for the city's elite. In 1828 Governor Ralph Darling (who governed from 1825 to 1831) offered up what was then called Woolloomooloo Hill - the ridge extending inland from what is now known as Potts Point, back to Darlinghurst.
The area was named Darlinghurst, apparently after the Governor's wife, Eliza Darling, and was subdivided into allotments for large residences and extensive gardens. Seven deeds of grant were issued to select members of colonial society in 1828 and a further nine were granted in 1831.
The development of the allotments had to meet certain conditions imposed by the Governor and were overseen by Eliza, who had architectural skills. Only one residence could be built on each allotment and they had to be designed to an ''approved standard'' as well as set within a generous amount of landscaped garden.
Seventeen grand villas or mansions were built during the 1830s and the new area of Darlinghurst quickly became a ''haven for wealthy and influential people''. But by 1843 those same citizens were affected by a serious financial collapse in the colony and pushed for permission to subdivide their land. So Darlinghurst was finally opened up to investors. 
Only five of the 17 villas remain today. Many were demolished from the 1890s on,  to make way for terrace housing and apartment buildings. Even as recently as 1983 there were plans to demolish one of the remaining villas, Tusculum, which was saved from the wrecking ball when it was purchased by the NSW State Government. 
I took a walk around the neighbourhood to see the remaining villas and also to see exactly what buildings replaced the residences that were demolished. I have written a little piece about each villa and the owner who commissioned it, but because the stories combined are quite lengthy, I will publish them one at a time, in alphabetical order as they appear in the book, over the coming weeks and months. But to begin with, here is a little piece about Adelaide Cottage.


1844: Adelaide Cottage, artist unknown.
Adelaide Cottage: built on an allotment of over 8 acres granted to Henry Grattan Douglass in 1828.

Dublin-born Henry Douglass moved to Sydney in 1821 following a distinguished medical career in England and Ireland but within a decade, his behaviour led him to be described by Sir Darling as ''too mischievous for public office''. 
Douglass's exploits allegedly included behaving improperly with a convict girl, Anne Rumsby, public drunkenness, torture of prisoners and other ''disreputable'' conduct.
Life in Sydney had begun well for Douglass, who was initially made head of the colony's General Hospital and superintendent of the Female Factory - both at Parramatta, in Sydney's west. He was later appointed as a magistrate. 
Douglass embraced his new hometown, becoming a member of the Agricultural Society, vice-president of the Benevolent Society and the first secretary of the Philosophical Society. 
But it began to unravel when he became a regular visitor to the home of Governor Thomas Brisbane (who was Darling's predecessor from 1821 to 1825), which brought him in to conflict with senior colleagues on the Parramatta bench.
Governor Brisbane intervened when Douglass was accused of improper behaviour with Rumsby and complained to London of a conspiracy against his friend.
Douglass was forced to resign as a magistrate in either 1824 or 1825 after being told a ''considerable proportion of the community'' did not like him.
Still, in 1828, new Governor Darling granted an 8 acre allotment to Douglass, who then employed architect Edward Hallen to design Adelaide Cottage.  But the same year, Governor Darling became tired of Douglass's intrigues, with the final straw being some ''injudicious remarks'' he made at a Turf Club function. Governor Darling suspended Douglass from his duties in Parramatta and sent him back to England on half-pay. 
The building of Adelaide Cottage continued, but Douglass never lived there. Back in the UK he worked as an ''extraordinary physician'' attached to the King's household and later went to Paris where his knowledge of infectious disease was valuable during a cholera epidemic.
Douglas sold Adelaide Cottage and part of his land grant to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Shadforth, and by 1858 the residence was owned by merchant John Henry Challis.

The cottage was demolished in 1899 and blocks of four-storey flats now cover the site. The cottage's Macleay Street frontage is home to a group of ten terrace houses, which were built in the late 1890s. One of the terraces was known in the early 1970s as The Yellow House and was home to an artists's collective, which included painters Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley and Peter Kingston, as well as photographers George Gittoes and Greg Weight and filmmaker Albie Thoms. 
Today the Yellow House, at 57-59 Macleay Street, is home to the Yellow Bistro and Food Store and the Martin Browne Fine Art gallery.

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