In May Pioneers in Petticoats will have the great pleasure of playing at Abercrombie House, a gracious mansion outside Bathurst.
Abercrombie House was built in the 1870s by James Stewart, of the pioneering Stewart family. James father William Stuart came to New South Wales in 1825 to be Lieutenant Governor General of New South Wales, second only to the Governor. He was given a land grant in Bathurst when he retired, encouraged to go there by early Bathurst settler Sir Ralph Darling.
The Stewart family soon bought another 12,000 acres of land, expanding the property to 15,000 acres. However, the building of Abercrombie House did not begin until 1870, and took eight years. Its builder, James Horne Stewart, was born in Edinburgh, and came with his family to NSW in 1835. He married Harriet Bryce in 1855 and they had five children.
The two storey house is constructed in the Jacobean Scottish Baronial style, and looks as if it has been transplanted from the Scots moors. Originally known as The Mount, it is made of granite blocks with sandstone dressings to its quoins and window surrounds. Its 52 rooms, covering 210 squares, include 30 fireplaces and a magnificent ballroom. The houses most striking architectural feature is its curvilinear parapeted gables topped by iron finials. Extensive outbuildings include stables that had room for four to five coaches as well as being home to the master coachman and his family.
Abercrombie House is considered to be of great historical significance and is listed on State and National Heritage Registers as an outstanding example of Victorian Tudor architecture.
The secondary gates at Abercrombie House have an interesting history, since they are much older than the house. They were brought from Toxteth Park in Sydney (now St Scholasticas College), which was built in 1829. Toxteth Park was the home of Sir George Wigram Allen, who was the brother in law of Harriet Stewart, the wife of James Horne Stewart. The house was sold in 1901 to the Good Samaritan Sisters and they wished to bring the gates from their old convent in Pitt St which was being demolished. The gates from Toxteth Park were no longer needed so they were transported to Abercrombie House.
James Stewart lived there at the Mount until he died in 1920 at the age of 95. He had a number of tenant farmers and was known as a kind landlord. In times of drought he halved the rent for his tenants so that the families could survive.
After James died in 1920 his son Athol, who had been born there, took over the property. He had married Frances Helen McDougall in 1905. But when his wife died in 1927, Athol closed the house and moved to Sydney. The house remained empty and fell into decline until it was bought by the Morgan family from James Stewarts great grandson in late 1968.
Rex Morgan said We went looking for a weekender and ended up with a 50 room mansion. But he became determined to restore the house to its former splendour. It gave us a greatchallenge, he said.
A condition of the sale was that the name of the house be changed. The Morgans decided to call it Abercrombie House partly because it is located in Abercrombie Shire, but it also refers to General Sir Ralph Abercrombie, under whom William Stewart had served in the 1790s in the West Indies.
Since 1969 the Morgan family has made major renovations to the house.
Rex still owns the property which is currently occupied and managed by his son Christopher, who grew up at Abercrombie House, and his family.
The house was totally barebecause it had been closed by theStewart family in 1927, said Christopher.
Growing up withhis two siblings in AbercrombieHouse was a magical experience. We all played hide-and-seekendlessly in those first summers, hesaid. It felt like wed moved into acastle.
After Rex and Mary Morgan had completely restored the property and grounds they launched a programme of public heritage tours of the house. Christopher says hes privilegedto be able to live in the historic residence,and provide his children witha similar experience to his own.
Its very much alive, he said. Ithas a warmth about it. The grandeuris palpable.
Now, as a middle-aged man livinghere and raising my own childrenhere with my wife, it just feelswonderful. We are all very honouredto be its custodians.
But the family also really enjoys sharing the house with visitors.
I had always envisaged it becoming a great cultural centre, and it’s only the last few years that it’s really become that, says Rex Morgan.
We have had members of the royal family stay with us, and people like Dame Joan Sutherland that used to come regularly for lunch.
That’s one of the great attractions- the privilege of being able to share it: not only with high-end people, but with everybody. I think to be able to share it is probably the key thing in our whole way of life.
And now you have the opportunity to see Abercrombie House come alive with four women from the nineteenth century when Pioneers in Petticoats brings colonial history alive there. Dont forget to book at www.blaxlandanddaughter.com or call Ticketek 13 28 49.