Syd­ney’s his­toric lost gar­dens are the sub­ject of a new ex­hi­bi­tion, writes cu­ra­tor Colleen Mor­ris

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

AS the pale castel­lated tow­ers of the new Gov­ern­ment House rose in the Do­main in 1837, Syd­ney’s so­cially as­pir­ing res­i­dents be­gan to vie with each other to es­tab­lish im­pres­sive man­sions with elab­o­rately or­na­mented gar­dens of their own. Daniel Cooper, speaker of the first NSW Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly and knighted in 1857, in­her­ited an ex­ten­sive es­tate from his un­cle, also Daniel, in­clud­ing Hen­ri­etta Villa, the early colo­nial house built for Cap­tain John Piper.

The Cooper es­tate cov­ered al­most all of present-day Wool­lahra. His gar­den at Rose Bay Lodge in­cluded glasshouses for del­i­cate plants and fine foun­tains. Cooper had am­bi­tions to cre­ate an even more im­pres­sive es­tate with ter­raced gar­dens and grounds, by far the finest and most ex­ten­sive in the colony’’.

He laid the foun­da­tion stone for Wool­lahra House in 1856, on the site of Hen­ri­etta Villa, but the man­sion re­mained un­built be­fore his re­turn to Eng­land in 1861.

In Bri­tain he was an ad­vo­cate for NSW, took an in­ter­est in hor­ti­cul­ture and was cel­e­brated in the nam­ing of Hi­bis­cus cooperii , a plant he in­tro­duced to Bri­tain, al­though this is less well-known than Cy­athea Cooperi , which Fer­di­nand Mueller, di­rec­tor of the Mel­bourne Botanic Gar­dens, named af­ter him.

By the mid-19th cen­tury the ter­raced Ital­ianate gar­den, a style well suited to the slop­ing sites around the har­bour, was at the fore­front of fash­ion­able gar­den de­sign. The ap­peal of Lon­don’s Crys­tal Palace, con­structed in Hyde Park for the Great Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1851 and suc­cess­fully re-erected in Ital­ianate grounds at Sy­den­ham in Lon­don, had ce­mented the place of this style.

At Clarens, Potts Point, as­pir­ing politi­cian James Martin sur­passed his neigh­bours and de­vel­oped one of the most ar­chi­tec­turally elab­o­rate gar­dens con­structed in Aus­tralia.

For English vis­i­tor nov­el­ist An­thony Trol­lope, this gar­den fall­ing down to the sea’’ was like fairy­land.

Large man­sions in ex­pan­sive grounds spread fur­ther around the har­bour. By the 1860s, the gar­den of Thomas Mort’s Greenoaks at Dar­ling Point, ini­tially shaped by nurs­ery­man and land­scape gar­dener Michael Guil­foyle, was con­sid­ered the best pri­vate gar­den in Syd­ney.

In the 1880s, Cooper had recom­menced his fa­ther’s am­bi­tion to have the finest gar­den in Syd­ney around Wool­lahra House, the mas­sive pile he com­pleted in 1883. Al­though the es­tate was pro­gres­sively sub­di­vided af­ter his de­par­ture for Eng­land in 1888, it re­tained im­pres­sive grounds laid out in a gar­de­nesque rather than Ital­ianate style, un­til fi­nally de­mol­ished in 1929.

The gar­dens at Greenoaks and Wool­lahra House were among many in Syd­ney’s east that were sub­di­vided in the early 20th cen­tury in the face of the city’s growth and al­most in­sa­tiable de­sire for wa­ter views.

James Martin, born in 1820 in Cork, Ire­land, came to Aus­tralia in 1821 with his Ir­ish-Catholic par­ents. His fa­ther, John, was groom to the newly ap­pointed gov­er­nor of NSW Thomas Bris­bane and young James grew up in Par­ra­matta. James Martin worked as a jour­nal­ist, trained for the law, then en­tered pol­i­tics in 1848. He was at­tor­ney-gen­eral for both Charles Cow­per and Henry Parkes, and was premier three times be­tween 1863 and 1872.

Knighted in 1869, Martin suc­ceeded his close friend Al­fred Stephen as chief jus­tice in 1873 and re­mained in that of­fice un­til his death in 1886.

Martin mar­ried Is­abella Long in 1853. She had grown up in the wealthy splen­dour of Tus­cu­lum, Potts Point. Her fa­ther, William Long, pur­chased Clarens for the new­ly­weds. Con­structed circa 1842 in Wylde Street, it was one of a group of sand­stone vil­las, in­clud­ing nearby Bomera, that had been built on the north­ern end of Potts Point. Martin added stables in 1856.

He em­barked on a 12-year pro­gram of re­mod­elling the Clarens gar­den, act­ing as his own ar­chi­tect and su­per­in­ten­dent and spending a for­tune. He con­verted it into an ex­traor­di­nary ter­raced gar­den. In spirit and in the mind of its cre­ator it was of an­cient Greece but, in truth, it was Ital­ianate in style. It was much like the Ital­ianate east­ern ter­race at Gov­ern­ment House, de­signed circa 1861 un­der gov­er­nor John Young. But the Gov­ern­ment House gar­den was re­strained in com­par­i­son with Clarens, with its pro­fu­sion of clas­si­cal stat­u­ary, in­clud­ing one of the Graces with a mask of Co­mus — god of rev­elry (but also as­so­ci­ated with ex­cess) — in her hand.

While the or­na­men­ta­tion at Clarens took its in­spi­ra­tion from an­cient Greece, the plant­ings ful­filled the am­bi­tions of all Vic­to­rian-era gardeners: ex­otic and rare plants from all cor­ners of the globe.

Two sculp­tors, William Lo­rando Jones and Wal­ter McGill, were em­ployed at Clarens. Jones ar­rived in Syd­ney in 1859 and McGill in the fol­low­ing year. It was McGill who com­pleted the tri­umph of Martin’s Gre­cian gar­den odyssey: a replica of the Chor­agic mon­u­ment of Lys­i­crates erected in Athens in 334BC.

Un­til the El­iz­a­beth Bay es­tate was sub­di­vided in 1865, Thomas and Eleanor Win­gate at Percy Lodge and Joseph Thomp­son at Tor Cot­tage (later Chatsworth) were the only neigh­bours be­tween Clarens and El­iz­a­beth Bay House. Other vil­las be­gan to clus­ter around Potts Point from the 1870s: Lugano (later Jen­ner), Cam­brian Villa and oth­ers, their balustrades and stairs, sum­mer­houses, arches and gar­dens tum­bling pro­fusely down to bathing pools and har­bour jet­ties.

Thomp­son had been proud of his green­house and goldfish pond in 1864 but when it was re­ported in 1881 that D. Marks of Cam­brian Villa had a new fern gar­den in a painted lathe bush house filled with ar­tis­ti­cally ar­ranged rock­work with a lit­tle wa­ter­fall and foun­tain, taste in hor­ti­cul­ture reached novel heights.

With the Clarens gar­den as com­plete as he could make it, Martin turned his at­ten­tion in 1876 to build­ing Nu­man­tia, a coun­try re­treat in the Blue Moun­tains. Af­ter the death of one of their daugh­ters in 1881, the Martins grew apart. Grief­stricken, and fear­ful that in­creas­ing pol­lu­tion in El­iz­a­beth Bay made Clarens un­healthy, Martin’s wife leased Gr­ey­cliffe House in Vau­cluse.

Martin re­fused to leave Clarens, where he died in 1886. His wife sold it in 1888 and leased Wool­lahra House, with its stone-walled ter­races of or­chards and rose gar­dens, broad open lawns and long head­land of gar­den and shrub­bery.

Martin’s fine gar­den, in a less than lush state, was firmly la­belled an Ital­ian gar­den when Clarens (re­named Wilga and given a smart new ar­chi­tec­tural makeover) fea­tured in Dis­tinc­tive Aus­tralian Homes in 1925.

Along with Jen­ner, Bomera and Tarana, the com­mon­wealth gov­ern­ment ac­quired Clarens for naval use in 1941, dur­ing World War II. Clarens’s mas­ter­piece, the Chor­agic mon­u­ment, was moved and re-erected in the Royal Botanic Gar­dens, on the lower gar­den near Farm Cove. In 1943, the lower part of the gar­den was al­most com­pletely de­stroyed when stairs, stat­u­ary, paths and urns were smashed dur­ing construction of an un­der­ground sub-sta­tion. The house was de­mol­ished in 1965.

In the 1970s, Jack Gibbs, head gar­dener at HMAS Kut­tabul, be­gan ex­ca­vat­ing rem­nants of the Clarens gar­den. Un­like the mak­ing of the gar­den, this was an ex­er­cise in pru­dence and pa­tience, piec­ing to­gether the story of the gar­den and re­con­struct­ing it. Frag­ments of the orig­i­nal urns sup­plied the de­tail for re­pro­duc­tions; the sum­mer­house, re­mark­ably still there, was re­stored. Al­though the gar­den can only be a small part of its for­mer glory, Gibbs’s work over 20 years was a re­mark­able ac­com­plish­ment, akin to Martin’s mak­ing of the gar­den more than 100 years be­fore. This is an edited ex­tract from Lost Gar­den­sofSyd­ney by Colleen Mor­ris (His­toric Houses Trust, $49.95). The book is the theme of an ex­hi­bi­tion run­ning at the Mu­seum of Syd­ney to the end of Novem­ber. More:

A clas­sic of its kind: The Martin fam­ily at Clarens in Potts Point, then one of Syd­ney’s grand­est har­bour­side gar­dens

Pic­tures: From LostGar­den­sofSyd­ney

For­mer glory: Stone steps at Clarens

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