Monday, 19 April 2010

Tempe House


Lovely Tempe House is, I think, the oldest surviving house in the area. Unfortunatley the price we had to pay for its conservation and restoration was its sale to a developer and its restoration as part of a major new development at Wolli Creek. To date the property has been fully and beautifully restored but stands empty and is rarely open to the public. The house would make a wonderful function centre and the adjoining chapel (now deconsecrated) lends itself to a small theatre or art centre. I hope they are able to be more fully used in the future - hopefully by the local community. Much as I dislike the surrounding little coloured boxes, having this gracious old lady (by Australian standards) still standing and now restored to her former glory is something special.

Ref: Heritage Council of NSW
Tempe estate was named after the 'Vale of Tempe' in Ancient Greece, due to its extensive gardens, designed to enhance the view of the Cooks River. The house was commissioned in 1831 by renowned architect John Verge and is a rare example of his architectural style. The Land was first released in 1809 as a series of three land grants, the largest portion awarded to Sergeant William Packer and the remaining two grants were reissued in 1810 by Governor Macquarie. Sergeant Packer sold his land to the original owner of Tempe House, Alexander Brodie Spark in 1826 for 100 pounds. Records from the 1828 census indicate that there were six people living and working on the estate at the time, and by the 1836 census, there were thirty-one  people recorded as living and working on the estate.

Tempe Estate formed a deliberately modified natural element, identified as 'Mt Olympus', which included Australian shrubbery, and created a suitable backdrop for a house in a picturesque setting. The riverbanks were developed to lay extensive lawns, and as the property was only accessible by boat at the time, a wharf was constructed to accommodate guests, however, it was not completed until 1838. The house after completion was used extensively for entertainment purposes and the scenic gardens included up to fifty differing varieties of grape vines from France, which also attracted horticultural awards.


The construction of a dam between 1839 and 1841 was built from quarried stone in the surrounding cliffs by convict labour, and served to enhance the Estate's already splendid views. The dam allowed the area to be linked to the city by road, leading Spark, in 1841, to construct a carriage drive, a new coach house, stables and grooms quarters. The stables burnt down in 1844, and were replaced, where they then remained until 1960.

1840 saw A.B.Spark begin to face extensive business problems, with his personal borrowings seemingly insurmountable. He attempted to rectify his position by planting saleable crops, however, was eventually overcome and his insolvency was listed on the 23rd August 1843. He remained at Tempe Estate with his wife and children and attempted to sell twice, however, at the time of his death in 1856 his estate failed to meet his debts.

Tempe Estate was subdivided, and the house was auctioned to brothers Patrick and Thomas Maguire on the 24th August 1859 for 2000 pounds. The brothers never resided at Tempe Estate in their twenty years of ownership, however, leased the property out, most notably to Caroline Chisholm. In the years 1863 to 1865, Caroline Chisholm, seen as one of Australia's greatest philanthropists, ran an educational establishment for young ladies in Tempe House.

In 1876, Tempe House was leased as a private residence to Mr C.T.Richardson.

5 comments:

Julie said...

Loved all that history stuff. So settlement went out that direction at about the same time as it came in my direction, late 30s to early 40s.

I have only seen the Wolli developments from the train - possibly that is close enough.

Bill said...

It is a beautiful house though. Up here it would just have been bulldozed to make way for another set of McMansions, no doubt. Congratulations to whoever made the decision to restore it.

Ann said...

Its heritage listed - and rightfully so.

J Bar said...

I've always wanted to see inside because I've seen from a distance either by road or train.

Anonymous said...

An amazing house, I tracked down 25 members of the Spark family and invited Her Excellency the Governor to Tempe House for a visit - first time the Spark family had been back in 155 years - a wonderful day was had by all including her Excellency !