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Where is Sydney's Oldest House?

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by glenop (subscribe)
So much to see...so little time to see it all.
Published November 3rd 2012
Is Cadman's Cottage c1815 Sydney's Oldest House?

You would think that identifying the oldest houses in Sydney would be dead easy. You would have thought that a historical organisation or notable historian, academic or even a government department would have identified and compiled a definitive one through ten list of the oldest houses in Sydney by now. But to my disbelief, to my horror even, I discovered that no such list exists. I approached the Sydney Historical Association, The History Council of NSW, Historic Houses Trust, The National Trust, Royal Australian Historical Trust and The Department of Environment and Heritage and nope, sorry they all said, we don't have such a list, why don't you try so and so, and around and around I went.

But there was another degree of difficulty. Am I talking about the City of Sydney or Greater Sydney?

So despite having no formal qualifications in history of any description, I decided to undertake my own search. Using the resources of the University of Google and the good folk at the Department of Environment and Heritage who I asked to compile a list for me based on dates of their own self confessed incomplete data base, I attempted to cobble together my own imperfect list.

Elizabeth Farm c1793

I was a little surprised to discover that the oldest houses, in fact the oldest complete buildings of any sort in Australia, are not in central Sydney but in Parramatta. Elizabeth Farm lays claim to being the oldest surviving house in Australia. Built for John Macarthur, the father of the wool industry, and his wife Elizabeth, it dates back to 1793, five years after the founding of Sydney. The Governors Dairy Cottage (1798) and parts of old Government House (1799) are also in Parramatta.

Old Government House Parramatta c1799

After these notable 18th century dwellings at Parramatta, there are a cluster of houses scattered around greater Sydney that claim to have elements of their building dating to around 1810. I can't split them, as definitive construction commencement and completion dates are vague. These residences include Claremont House at Windsor, Collingwood House at Liverpool and Glenfield Farm in Casula.

Collingwood House Liverpool c1810

The oldest house in the City of Sydney is undoubtedly Cadman's Cottage located on the foreshore of The Rocks next to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Or is it? There is little doubt that bricks and mortor speaking it is the oldest surviving house in the City of Sydney, dating back to 1815. But as the house was actually built as a barracks and wasn't actually lived in as a house until 1827, which puts the next oldest house into the frame. The Francis Greenway designed Cleveland House in Surry Hills dates back to 1823 and mischievous historians claim that this is the oldest existing purpose built house and the longest continuously lived in house in Sydney.

Cleveland House Surry Hills c1823

So as you can see, I still don't have a definitive one through ten list and I can see why nobody has been game enough to put their name to such a list. The vagaries of identifying completion dates or identifying if the house was lived in or not makes any list open to debate and criticism. I've done all I can do. I am going to leave it to the qualified historians to argue over dates and locations and come up with the definitive one to ten list of Sydney's oldest houses.
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What about Experiment Farm and Hambledon Cottage, also in Parramatta. No idea of dates. Coral.
by pam (score: 1|57) 1811 days ago
Ryde is the third oldest area of Sydney, so theres some old buildings and houses there too. Some old houses include Addington c1810 and Brush Farm House c1820.http://www.ryde.nsw.gov.au/About+Ryde/Historic+Ryde/Historic+Buildings
by Brett Miller (score: 1|63) 1811 days ago
Thanks for the info Brett, Addington is one that slipped under my radar and Brush Farm is an impressive looking building. I can add them to my 'definative' list project
by glenop (score: 2|823) 1811 days ago
The current National Trust building on Observatory Hill was built in 1815 as a military hospital.

Observatory Hill, also known in earlier years as Windmill Hill or Flagstaff Hill, is a windy site overlooking Sydney and the harbour. In 1796 the first government windmill crowned Observatory Hill and in 1804 Governor King built Fort Phillip on Observatory Hill as a defence site, its wall visible today partially enclosing the present Sydney Observatory.

In 1812 Governor Macquarie chose a site for his new military hospital with healthy sea breezes on the Observatory Hill. He entrusted the building of this hospital to his aide Lieutenant John Watts, one of three “architects” in the colony at the time. Watts had worked for 18 months in an architectural firm before his enlistment as a soldier. Watts based his plan of the hospital on a standard design developed by the Royal Engineers.

Completed in 1815, the new hospital was a two storey Georgian style building with wide verandas on all four sides cooled by the sea breezes. Macquarie described the complex as “brick-built, two stories high, having upper and lower verandas, with all necessary out-offices for the accommodation of 100 patients, the whole enclosed with a stone wall or stockade”. Watts also designed The General Hospital in Parramatta in 1817, Lancer Barracks, and the extensions to Government House at Parramatta. After the withdrawal of troops from the town centre to Victoria Barracks in 1849, the military hospital on Observatory Hill was closed and used as a school.
by sherv (score: 0|4) 1797 days ago
My house! Just kidding, but it is pretty old, built in 1840. Live in Bondi
by Lucinda Rofe (score: 2|339) 295 days ago
Tahmoor House ( the name since 1922 only) Built 1822 as a pub became a residence in the 1870s when the train by passed the Myrtle creek area and it is still a home today. Much chopped around inside but still a beautiful old building. Older than the George in Picton but it had a lot of name changes as the publicans come and went.
by grayh (score: 0|3) 367 days ago
Addington House Ryde 1792
by ronal (score: 0|4) 382 days ago
Parramatta and Ryde were first land Grants. Ryde known as Eastern Farms.
you missed Williamsdale and Wilandra in Ryde, St Anne's church for many years had a teachers house, stone cottage at the side. This was built in 1794 and was the original home of John Small and Mary Parker two first Fleet Convicts. St Anne's is built on some of the very first land grants given by Governor Philips. The original Govt. House built 1788-89 was pulled down and the foundation blocks of this have only recently been unearthed.
by maisi (score: 0|2) 682 days ago
What a great project. Congratulations on the work thus far.
I add to the mix William Cox's Cottage at Mulgoa (1810) the oldest 'lived in private residence'. Just to add to the categories as well. This one wins as far as being conserved in its original state.
by Judyp (score: 0|2) 1085 days ago
We just discovered Rose Cottage 1811 now at Australian Pioneer Village Wilberforce. I don't know it's history. May be more on their web site.
by Ildik (score: 0|2) 1275 days ago
elizabeth farm, Parramatta
by svest (score: 0|4) 1744 days ago
parramatta, elizabeth farm
by roges (score: 0|4) 1783 days ago
Cadman's Cottage, The Rocks, Sydney
by lucky (score: 0|2) 1795 days ago
old govt house parramatta
by roges (score: 0|4) 1812 days ago

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