Friday, 4 May 2012

Old Government House, Parramatta

As I said in my last post, we nearly didn't get the tour at Old Government House, but we won in the end.   One of the things I didn't mention about the name Parramatta is that it comes from an Aboriginal word, Burramatta, which refers to the multitude of eels to be found in the Yarra River there.  Of course in times past, eels were a mainstay of the British diet and one can still find eels at the fishmongers.  It's not a dish I'm likely to try, however, and I recently read that European and American eels are on the endangered species list.  If that doesn't serve as sufficient excuse, one can always remark on the extraordinarily high fat content of eels and express concern about potential dioxin contaminants.  That should get you out of eating eels.  Aren't you glad I let you in on these tips?

Source:  Wikipedia

Anyhow, Old Government House was home to the first ten Governors of New South Wales.  The first lath and plaster house was built by (1st) Governor Phillip but it didn't last long at all, due to termite infestation (Australian termites are pretty awesome).   The next Governor built a brick house on the same site and the present house with additional wings and the front portico is the result of work of (5th) Governor Macquarie...and his (2nd) wife. 

The tour guide began by explaining that the house is Georgian in style but that substitutions had to be made because of lacking the proper materials.  The columns out front are not marble but concrete painted to look like marble, as are the interior 'marble' fireplace mantles painted wood.    The front door is not oak, but local wood painted; the house is not built of stone, but is brick, disguised to look like stone; the front hall tiles are not tile but painted wood, and so on.  I suppose one does what one must. 

Mrs. Macquarie had interior doors added to some rooms to bring about the symmetry required by the Georgian style of architecture.   The decor of the house is in the style brought about by the efforts of Governor and Mrs. Macquarie who lived there from 1810 to 1821.  Naturally, photos were not allowed inside, but this page gives you a glimpse of what we saw.

Our guide made two statements which I thought were incorrect, though I said nothing at the time.   He referred to 'consumption' as being heart disease; consumption is what they used to call tuberculosis.  He mentioned that Britain had for a time sent convicts to the American colonies, a practice that was halted by the Revolutionary War.  I didn't believe that convicts had been sent to America, but I was wrong.   Initial Transportation Acts in Britain were for sending convicts to North America, a practice that may have started as early as 1620.  Funny how in Australia people are generally pleased to identify a convict (early 'settler') in their family tree, but I've never heard this claim made in the US.  It may just be that records don't allow identification, but it does seem strange to me.  So I learned something about American history on this trip to Australia. 

The tour guide also made reference to a 'slave' whom Macquarie had named Jarvis, his first wife's maiden name and indicated that Macquarie had made generous provision for Jarvis in his will.  I wondered about the race of this man Jarvis and how slavery fit in with the early history of Australia.  In writing this post was pleased to find out more about George Jarvis, who indeed was held in high esteem by the Governor.


As to the house, my notes remind me that I was taken with a great square ottoman in the centre of one of the parlours.  It will have been comfortable seating and - if they were smart - fantastic storage.  I was also taken with the shutters in that same room (since the opening credits of Downton Abbey I always notice shutters).  Our guide showed us a hidden surface that indicated the former paint colour of the room.  Also, he pointed out that in summer the upper shutters were closed and the lower ones opened; it was the reverse in the winter.  I also took note of the ladies' sewing table with a central hole and a pouch hanging down.   The table in that personal sitting room - where Mrs. M would invite her close friends - had a pouch of bright red silk.


Another item of note was a grandfather clock in the hall that chimed four o'clock as we passed.  Our guide paused, saying that in the four years he'd worked there he'd never before heard the clock chime.  I can't remember who made the clock but it was purchased new in the early 1800's for a huge price of £40; the same price for which James Ruse sold a house and 30 acres to John Harris about the same time. 

Meat safe (L) and ice box (R) at Como House

I may or may not have seen a 'meat safe' before (makes me think of a chicken coop), but I know I never before seen a 'sugar loaf'.  The one sitting in the kitchen was about a foot tall and the guide explained that smaller sugar loaves were involved in making a traditional German Christmas drink.


I'm quite taken with these 'pouch tables'... They are 'only' about £2,250 on eBay....


Anonymous said...

And what is the purpose of the pouch tables? sewing?

I pondered your bit about "convicts" and found myself wondering if those who came to the US may not have been "indentured servants," gradually earning their freedom.

Shelley said...

Terri - I'm not positive, but it looks as though large items being sewn, say a table cloth, could be put through that pouch and the portion being worked on pulled out. I can't imagine sewing equipment going in that large bag as it would be difficult to find what one wanted - drawers would make more sense.

The link I found referring to 'penal transportation' doesn't mention indentured servitude but another one about convict settlers in the US does. I've always thought of indentured servants as 'selling themselves' to get out of debt or to travel to a new place, but perhaps this isn't accurate. I'm still thinking convict status is a different thing, but I don't really know...interesting mystery.

Boywilli said...

"Indentured Servant" seems to have been a euphemism for "slave", probably because it wasn't felt to be the thing to have white slaves

Beryl said...

That must have been some clock. How funny that it chimed when you were there. I'm glad your trip had some fun siteseeing included.

Curious Charlie said...

A couples years too late, but that chicken coop is not the meat safe - the meat safe is to the right of your picture (not in the picture). The chicken coop was to keep fruit/veggies.

Shelley said...

Hi Charlie - Better late than never! I'll have to go back and look at my photos to see if I got the meat safe. Thanks for your correction. And for bringing back to see the photos here again! Best wishes.