Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Woollahra House


Hilly and Mansfield


Point Piper


Built- 1883 Demolished- 1929. The house was demolished and the grounds were subdivided into twenty-three building lots.


Victorian Italianate


Rendered brick Stone


Summary There were two houses called Woollahra House built on the same site in Point Piper, Sydney, Australia. The first was built in 1856 by Sir Daniel Cooper and the second by his son William Charles Cooper in 1883.
Above- The second Woollahra House c. 1885, built in 1883 by William Charles Cooper
Above- The two houses called Woollahra House. The top photo shows the first house built in 1856 by Sir Daniel Cooper, and the bottom photo, with the same outbuildings in the foreground but a larger house in the background, shows the second "Woollahra House" built by William Charles Cooper in 1883
Above- Iconic ‘Minimbah House’ (née ‘Dulcamah’) in the Hunter Valley- lookalike Woollahra House
Above- A garden party given by Lady Paston-Cooper at Woollahra House in 1897.
Woollahra House

Although the lavish lifestyle associated with Henrietta Villa ceased when John Piper and his family moved from the area, the house itself stood for some years after - for exactly how long is something of a mystery. In 1903, Piper's daughter, Jane, recalled that "it was pulled down by Mr Cooper, who afterwards bought the property". The Cooper in question, the first Daniel Cooper, purchased Henrietta Villa at John Paul's May 1826 auction, yet the house was depicted in Frederick Terry's Landscape Scenery published in 1855. By the mid-1820s Daniel Cooper was one of the most prosperous merchants in Sydney. Transported from England for theft, Cooper arrived in January 1816.

He managed a general store and on receipt of a conditional pardon in 1818 became licencee of a public house. In 1821, when he received a full pardon, he became a partner in the Waterloo Company, which soon emerged as the leading trading establishment in the colony. In partnership with Solomon Levey, Cooper became in 1825sole owner of the Waterloo Company. Cooper and Levey supplemented the retail side of the business with extensive trading and shipping activities. The firm imported goods from Van Diemen's Land, India, Mauritius and New Zealand , and pioneered the shipping of wool to Britain. Whaling and sealing also became major activities, but in New South Wales Cooper made his mark in property. Piper's estate was his first large acquisition. In 1826 Levey left Australia to manage the firm's affairs in Britain, and Cooper remained in sole control until his own departure in 1831. He was a leading force in founding the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Bank of New South Wales.

Cooper's acquisition of John Piper's estate included 538 hectares covering Point Piper, Woollahra, Bellevue Hill and Rose Bay. In 1830 Governor Darling issued a consolidated grant for the area. Such was the extent of the holdings and Cooper's management of them, that until the early twentieth century much of the area was still known as the Cooper Estate. Henrietta Villa underwent extensions, in the form of first floor additions, which are shown in Terry's 1855 views. The account book of architect John Verge refers to "house at Point Piper" and it could be that Verge, designer of such individual residences as Camden Park, Elizabeth Bay House and Hannibal Macarthur's The Vineyard, was responsible. It may be possible that Daniel Cooper lived at Henrietta Villa, but following his departure to England it was leased. In 1834 it became the home of Colonel J . G. Gibbs, collector of customs, and in 1851 Randolph Want lived there.

The next Cooper to be involved in the transition from Henrietta Villa to Woollahra House was also a Daniel Cooper, nephew to the original Daniel Cooper. The second Daniel was born in 1821 at Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, the second son of Thomas Cooper, Daniel's half-brother. The family came to Sydney in the 1820s, but returned to England when young Daniel was fourteen in order to complete his education. The elder Daniel Cooper took a great interest in his nephew's progress and in 1842 took him into his London office. In 1843 the second Daniel Cooper travelled to Sydney where he went into business, first with his brother-in-law James Holt and then with his elder brother, with whom he formed the firm of Cooper Brothers.

In 1852 this became D. Cooper and Company, one of the largest mercantile houses in New South Wales and the first to ship gold from Australia. With the death of his uncle in 1853, Cooper, already wealthy from his own business dealings, inherited a vast parcel of land. Included was the Point Piper estate. Cooper had already served as an elected member of the Legislative Council. In 1856 he became the first speaker of the newly constituted New South Wales Legislative Assembly. In that year he decided to build a mansion worthy of one of the colony's leading politicians. From the time of Cooper's arrival, the family had lived at Rose Bay Lodge, a residence designed in 1834 by John Verge for James Holt.

The house, considerably altered, still stands in Salisbury Road, Rose Bay (ed- now restored). They lived there until 1848 and again from 1855. In December the following year the Empire reported on the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of a new house before 400 invited guests. Shortly before 2 o'clock, Governor and Lady Denison and the official party were conveyed to Point Piper aboard the gigs of HMS Juno. Accompanying gunboats fired an eighteen-gun salute.

The official party and guests watched as Cooper's eldest son, eight-year-old Daniel Cooper, placed in the northeast corner of the excavations a metal box. It contained coins of the realm, from a two-sovereign piece down to a quarter-farthing, an Australian sovereign and half-sovereign. The boy then handed Sir William Denison a silver trowel with which to lay the first stone. In his speech the governor said:
I lay this the first stone of the house of "Woollahra", the property of Mr Daniel Cooper, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of this colony; and I lay it with my best wishes that the house may prove as solid as the foundation upon which it rests. And may it remain ever in this family.

The ceremony concluded, the party travelled to Rose Bay Lodge where "a sumptuous de feuner was laid out in the most recherché style". Evergreens and flowers fixed to a framework formed an arbour over forty metres long. Two rows of tables ran the length of the arbour and were brought into a square in the centre, giving the host an unobstructed view of those present. Dinner was served, two bands provided music for dancing on the green and the company gradually drifted away as dusk fell. The ceremony did not impress everyone.

The diary entry for 25 November 1856 of Jane Barker, whose husband, Frederic, had the previous year been enthroned as Bishop of Sydney at St Andrew's, recorded:
We are to be present at the laying of the stone of Mr Daniel Cooper, the Speaker's house on the 13th. He isa great millionaire and rumour says is to be knighted.

He and his wife have both convict blood in them and only just being received into Society, but "money covers many things" and they are well behaved people. His palace is to cost £70,000 and the Governor is to lay the stone. What nonsense! There will be no stone-laying at our palace. The mansion had been designed by the firm of Hilly and Mansfield in the Italianate style, which would become one of the most fashionable articulations of Victorian-era architecture. The main block of the building was 37 metres long and 34 metres wide. The main entrance was on the south side, through a large portico at the end of the carriage drive. A great hall would be illuminated by skylights. The eastern part contained the principal drawing room, which, when connected to the ancillary drawing room, would form a hall over 18 metres long and 7 metres wide.

Beyond this was the family drawing room. The northern front consisted of the library and study, and a secret door from the study led to the strong room. Mr Cooper's business room and secretary's room completed the north front. The great staircase,9 metres square, was on the west side, together with the family breakfast room and the great dining room. On the first floor, over the dining room, was the ballroom, its ceiling extended up through the second floor to the roof, to a height of 10 metres. The remainder of the first floor was taken up with family bedrooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms.

On the second floor were fifteen bedrooms, principally for guests. A four-storey tower, a trademark of the Italianate style, faced the north frontage, rising above the strong room. The "domestic offices of the mansion", including the kitchen and servants' hall, were in a block on the west side. The stables and coach-houses were adjacent, and excavations would extend into the hill. The conservatory and gardens were to be arranged on the north side, the excavations for which were already in progress by the time of the stone-laying ceremony. The northern grounds extended from the extreme point on the east (now known as Woollahra Point) to the little sandy bay to the north (Lady Martin's Bay). Fountains would dot the lawns and gardens." There can be little doubt," the Empire concluded, "that the mansion of Woollahra, if carried out as projected, which it will, no doubt, will be the finest residence in or around Sydney".

The architectural firm formed by John F. Hilly and George Allen Mansfield had offices at 27 Pitt Street during the1850s. Mansfield, in' particular, had a long association with Sydney architecture throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. He was the first president of the New South Wales chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the first native-born Australian elected to be a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Among his private commissions were Ewana, originally Weemala, at Faulconbridge and Edwinville at Annandale, and the City Bank (1873) in Pitt Street, much of which was dismantled and re-erected on the grounds of the Santa Sabina Convent at Strathfield after a fire gutted the building. It was estimated that Woollahra House would cost Cooper in the vicinity of £50,000. But Cooper's health, which had troubled him from his time as a student, deteriorated and he remained at Rose Bay Lodge until he left Sydney in 1861 to return to England. The vast mansion he planned was never built, and no Woollahra House would rise on the site until 1883,when his second son, William Charles Cooper, came to Australian shores.

Daniel Cooper was knighted in July 1857, principally for his service in the colony's first Legislative Assembly and his subscription to the Crimean War Patriotic Fund, which consisted of £1500 annually for the duration of the war. In England he continued to advance the commercial interests of New South Wales and frequently acted as agent-general. In 1863 he was created first baronet of Woollahra. According to at least one source-G. Nesta Griffiths 'Point Piper, Past and Present’, published in Sydney in 194 7- Sir Daniel Cooper did not build Woollahra House.

The mansion of that name did not appear for 27 years afterwards. What had happened to Henrietta Villa? That it was standing in the early 1850s, as Terry's drawings testify, is beyond question. It would seem a logical assumption that it had been demolished in time for the foundations of Sir Daniel Cooper's residence to begin in 1856, since the Empire's coverage of the ceremony mentioned that the box laid in the foundations of Henrietta Villa had been recovered.

The report goes on to say that the site for Cooper's residence would be "on the western point of Rose Bay- the spot on which the old Point Piper house stood".Sir Roger Therry, in his 1863 book Reminiscences of Thirty Years' Residence in New South Wales and Victoria, records: "the terraced orangeries and vineyards climbing the hill of Woollahra, the seat of Sir Daniel Cooper, also come here finely into view. The whole scene is one that, to use a felicitous expression of Southey- 'Quite sends a summer feeling through the heart'."English novelist, Anthony Trollope, who visited Australia in 1871, composed the work Australia and New Zealand, which was published in two volumes in London and Melbourne in 1873 and was serialised in the Melbourne Australasian in the same year. In it he recorded his impressions of meeting the colony's more influential members and in doing so confuses the matter considerably.

There is a rock outside - or probably inside the grounds of Woollahra, belonging to Mr Cooper, on which the blacks in the old days, when they were happy and undisturbed, used to collect for festive, political or warlike purposes. I wonder whether they enjoyed it as I did! How they must have hated the original Cooper when he came and took it - bought it for 20s an acre, out of which they got no dividend, or had a grant of it from the English crown! Woollahra is a magnificent property, covered with villa and gardens, all looking down to the sea.

In England it would be worth half a million of money, and as things go on, it will soon be worth as much in New South Wales; and perhaps some future Cooper will be Duke Cooper or Marquis Cooper and Woollahra will be as famous as Lowther or Chatsworth. It is infinitely more lovely than either. I envied the young man, and. almost hated him for having it - although he had just given me an excellent dinner. It is certain that that "young Cooper" Trollope was referring to was the first son of' Sir Daniel Cooper, for the father would have been fifty years old at, that time. The third Daniel Cooper was then 23 years old. Since his father was living in England, it is possible that the young Daniel was in Sydney taking care of family affairs. It has been established that the third Daniel Cooper was in the colony .in the early 1880s. In a letter dated 11 March1881 to Sir Henry Parkes, Sir Daniel Cooper informed his old friend that his eldest son was leaving Plymouth by the Votose on 26 March to take up residence at Woollahra House.

A difficult task indeed, if there was nothing on the site apart from the half completed foundations of Sir Daniel's 1853 residence . Another letter to Parkes dated September 1881 discusses a rumour that the New South Wales government was at the time considering the purchase of Woollahra House. Yet another item to confuse the reader is that the gatehouse to the estate was constructed in 1871, the year of Trollope's visit. The architects were Hilly and Mansfield, the designers of Sir Daniel's 1853 house. If the contemporary newspaper reports are to be believed, Henrietta Villa was demolished in 1853 to make way for Woollahra House. That there were buildings on the estate, and reasonably substantial ones at that, is evidenced by the entries in the assessment and rate books of Woollahra Council.

The earliest, sadly undated but from sometime in the 1860s, lists Sir Daniel Cooper as owner and Edward S. Hill as occupier. Sands' Sydney Directories for the early 1860s also give Hill as occupier. The estate was described as comprising a mansion constructed of stone and slate, gardener's house, offices and green houses. Edward S. Hill was in residence until 1880, after which it was briefly leased by George Checke. Whether Woollahra House was completed to the full extent of Cooper's vision is doubtful.

The Empire's description of the proposed mansion makes mention that in excess of sixteen bedrooms were planned, yet a later assessment made by Woollahra Council recorded that the house had a grand total of only sixteen rooms. The logical assumption is that the 1853 Woollahra House was not completed, but was built to a stage allowing at least a comfortable level of habitation. Apart from that it has been impossible to establish any other details. At the time of Sir Daniel Cooper's death in 1902, the baronetcy passed to his eldest son, the third Daniel Cooper, who was born in 1848. On his death in 1909, his brother, William Charles Cooper, became the third baronet. However, decades before, in about 1882, William had purchased from Sir Daniel Point Piper- the original 190 acres (77 hectares) granted to John Piper - for £10,000.On 10 January 1883 another foundation stone was laid. Mrs William Cooper wielded a special silver trowel presented to her by the contractors, Phippard Bros. During the period the second Woollahra House was under construction, the Coopers resided at nearby Kambala, owned by a prominent businessman and pastoralist, Walter Lamb. In 1892 the Church of England girls school that today bears the name of the estate, moved to Kambala; it is still a well-known private school.

The Woollahra House that was commenced in 1883 remained a focal point of Point Piper until its demolition in 1929. Commonwealth Home of October 1929 reported that Woollahra House "must be one of the largest examples of its particular type, which might be called early Victorian Colonial with a few touches of French Renaissance". It was a two-storey stone structure further heightened by a mansard tower. Wide balconies ran along the northern front, ornamented with "the cast iron columns, frieze and balustrading of former days, and although fashion has discarded them for newer styles there is the feeling that one cango further and fare worse". The main entrance was through a portico on the eastside, approached from a carriageway that wound through the estate from the ornate gates on New South Head Road. On theground floor was the vestibule, hall, dining room, library and drawing room. Upstairs were nine bedrooms, three bathrooms and auxiliary rooms.

To the southwest the kitchen and laundry were built around a courtyard. There were four maids' rooms and a maids' dining room. Adjoining the main house was a two-storey ballroom,
"the walls are divided horizontally by a low dado, and a frieze and vertically with panelled pilasters with Roman Ionic cap and enriched base. Above the cornice the circular windows in thearched recesses make a very decorative feature which is balancedby the domes with their ornamental reliefs". From the ceilinghung opulent chandeliers.The Woollahra Council assessment book for 1883-84 notes the transfer of ownership from Daniel to William.

The first subdivision of the estate occurred soon after. Over seventy lots had been measured out and many were sold within a year; one of the principal buyers was James Jones of Bathurst Street. The grounds of Woollahra House were reduced to ten hectares. William Cooper occupied Woollahra House until1888, when the family returned to England. The house was leased for the next decade to Lady Martin, widow of Sir James Martin, who gave her name to the sandy beach nestled in Felix Bay. The assessment and rate books of Woollahra Municipal Council dated 1888-89, show that Woollahra House estate was valued at £500.The rates were £25, excluding a street lighting rate of £6 5s.The Coopers finally decided to live permanently in England. In 1898, at a time when there was widespread discussion about the creation of a federal government house, Cooper offered Woollahra House for the purpose for £25,000. For reasons that might never be known, the offer was refused. In 1899, three years before the death of Sir Daniel Cooper, a second subdivision of land adjoining the mansion, totalling 16hectares, was authorised.

The carriageway that ran from the gatehouse at New South Head Road to Woollahra House became WunuHa Road and was extended to the tip of Woollahra Point. Another major road, Wyuna Road, branched from it and ran behind the house. Lots included waterfront blocks, although Woollahra House, with 2 hectares of surrounding land, retained its frontage to Port Jackson. Agents for the subdivision, Richardson and Wrench, released a handsome brochure for the occasion. Prospective purchasers were advised of the advantages of the area. The tram from the city, following a trip of some 25 minutes, deposited visitors at the gates to the estate. The broad carriage drive, bordered by shady English trees for some 350 metres, led to the imposing bulk of Woollahra House, with its wide veranda and walls blanketed in creepers and climbing roses. "The lawn infront of the house is reminiscent of some of the splendid stretches of sward to be seen in England . . . On either side of the lawn are the gardens proper. Asphalt walks wind around the beds, shaded by tall shrubs and trees. There are several tennis courts of both lawn and ashpalt."

The terraces were covered with hundreds of fruit-bearing trees, "the tropical persimmon flourishing with the hardier pear. A considerable area is cultivated as a vegetable garden, and there are several large hot-houses". The brochure confused two classes of allotment those with water-frontages and those on higher ground overlooking the harbour: "An important matter in this connection is the fact that in the case of the Woollahra Point Estate, there is no known reservation of 100 feet [30 metres] of the frontage. Each title, therefore, will carry the right to the foreshore, as faras the mean high-water mark".

In August 1899 Woollahra House and its 2 hectares of land passed to Thomas Longworth, part-owner of the Cobar Copper Mines, for £9000. The Longworth family, included ten children, and the youngest daughter, Lillian, fondly recalls her childhood there. Brother Sydney raised pigeons and kept a chemistry room at the rear of the house, while Lillian bred canaries and remembers roller-skating in the vast ballroom. When Thomas Longworth died in February 1927 the estate was valued at over £305,000.

The house and grounds were sold in April 1929 to Herbert Samuel Abrahams, Mark Harris, Robert Lewis Richards and Jacob Diamond for £57,200. The house was demolished and the grounds were subdivided into twenty-three building lots. A new road through the land was named Longworth Avenue in honour of the last owner. Remnants of Woollahra House survived. The eldest daughter of the Longworth family, Rose Crane, salvaged a quantity of stone and had it re-erected at All Saints' Church, Woollahra. A marble chimney-piece was purchased by Warwick Fairfax and incorporated into his home, Barford, at Bellevue Hill. The gatehouse, incorporating the original structure built for Piper's Henrietta Villa, is now the Rose Bay Police Station on New South Head Road. The stables to the southwest of Woollahra House were converted into flats by Sydney Gilchrist and are now known as Wyuna Court. In 1929 a waterfront block of land on Wunulla Road commanded £5000 while barely a mile away at Rose Bay it was possible to purchase house and land for only £2750. Property values have risen astronomically in the intervening years and Point Piper remains one of Sydney's most prestigious suburbs.

Lost Glories: A Memorial to Forgotten Australian Buildings
David Latta, Angus & Robertson, 1986