Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Henrietta Villa


Unknown. Possibly Francis Greenway or Henry Kitchen.


Point Piper


Built-  1822 Demolished- 1853


Old Colonial Georgian Romantic Classicism


Rendered brick Stone


Summary House built in 1822 for John Piper considered at the time the most elegant house in the Colony. It was demolished in the 1850s and Woollahra House was later built on the site.
"The first pleasing object which breaks suddenly on the sight after having entered the Port, is Point Piper, so called from a worthy Gentleman of that name, choosing this spot for his residence." So wrote English artist Augustus Earle, who portrayed the young colony in Views of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, published in Great Britain in 1830.
John Piper
Henrietta Villa

Henrietta Villa was demolished in 1853 to make way for Woollahra House

The first pleasing object which breaks suddenly on the sight after having entered the Port, is Point Piper, so called from a worthy Gentleman of that name, choosing this spot for his residence." So wrote English artist Augustus Earle, who portrayed the young colony in Views of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, published in Great Britain in 1830. The "worthy Gentleman" referred to was Captain John Piper, who amassed a fortune as naval officer for the Port Jackson settlement between 1813 and 1826.

The "residence" was Henrietta Villa, variously described as a naval villa and a marine pavilion. It was a gracious building in a country singularly devoid of original architecture. At Henrietta Villa, Piper hosted opulent parties for the leading members of Sydney society, dispensing an unrestrained hospitality unrivalled in Australia for decades afterwards. John Piper was born in April 1773 at Maybole in Ayrshire, Scotland. With the assistance of his uncle, after whom he was named, the eighteen-year-old Piper obtained an ensigncy in the British Army.

Gazetted into the New South Wales Corps, Piper arrived in Sydney in 1792; the colony was just four years old. His stay was brief, for the following year he requested, and received, a posting to Norfolk Island. By the time he returned to Sydney in 1795, he had been promoted to lieutenant. He was on leave in England in 1797-99 and returned to service as Captain John Piper. From 1804 to 1810, Piper served on Norfolk Island as commandant. It was there he met Mary Ann Shears, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a convict.

They married, and by the time Piper took leave in England in 1811, his family was well established. Piper carried with him to England Governor Macquarie's despatches for the Home Secretary, Lord Bathurst. Included was a recommendation that Piper receive additional compensation for his exemplary performance on Norfolk Island. Bathurst's response was to appoint Piper to the post of naval officer of New South Wales. He thus became chief customs officer and as such had the authority to collect harbour dues, duties on imports, and taxes on spirits and tobacco. Amongst his varied responsibilities was the sale of coal.

Upon his return in February1814 he took up his new position. In place of a salary, Piper received 5 per cent of all monies collected. Trade was increasing rapidly as the population swelled. Further consignments of convicts and the first waves of free settlers eager to take advantage of the new life offered in New South Wales meant that merchant ships of all nations called regularly at the port. Although the job of personally visiting each new arrival fell to Piper, the rewards were more than adequate. Within the first three months, Piper's commission amounted to over £100; at the peak of his service he was receiving thousands of pounds a year. Piper carved for himself a position as one of the wealthiest individuals in Sydney.

He could indulge in the level of living he had always wished for and before long he was seeking a home worthy of his newly acquired eminence. In 1818 Governor Macquarie granted Piper: 190 acres [77 hectares] of land lying and situate in the District of Sydney bounded on the South side by an Eastline of 47 chains [945 metres] Commencing at the small bridge over a salt water bank, on the East side by a northline to Rose Bay, and on all other sides by the water of Port Jackson Harbour and the before mentioned smalll Creek.It was, Macquarie added, "to be called Point Piper". The grant, registered in the Secretary's Office and dated 30 March 1820, made ce~tain conditions that anticipated future development. It reserved to the colonial administration the right "of making a Public Road through the same and also reserving for the use of the Crown such timber as may be deemed fit for Naval purposes". The location was idyllic and the headland , jutting majestically into Sydney Harbour, has retained the name Macquarie intended. On 2 November 1816 building officially commenced.

The Sydney Gazette reported: On Saturday last a large party of Officers and other Gentlemen , accompanied by a number of Ladies, proceeded by water to Elizabeth Point, near to South Head, at the invitation of Captain Piper, who gave an elegant fete champetre on the occasion of laying the foundation stone ,,of his intended building on that beautiful and commanding point; to which the Gentlemen proceeded' in Masonic order. The company took water at the Government's Wharf, about 12 o'clock ,in barges and other boats handsomely decorated: - the full band of the 46th Regiment leading, with agreeable and appropriate airs . At half past one they landed on Elizabeth Point, when the procession commenced, and the ceremony of laying the foundation stone being performed, an elegant cold collation was presented to the company; which separated at a late hour in the evening.

The Gazette provided only minor coverage of what was to be an historic event. For further information it is necessary to consult the communication of Lodge No. 227 to the Grand Lodge of Ireland, dated 14 February 1817. From this the full colour of the day is apparent, the boats bearing Piper's guests and Masonic brethren ·making their way up the harbour, passing the merchant ship Willerly, commanded by a fellow Mason who fired seven guns as a salute, and the members retiring to a secluded spot upon landing and opening the lodge. The Masonic procession was led by Brother Hetherington as Junior Tyler and closed by Brother Drummond as Senior Tyler. Each of the thirty-two Masons present carried a symbol of Masonry, including the corn, oil and wine that were ceremoniously poured over the foundation stone. The band played Pleyel's "German Hymn", "The Hallelujah Hymn" and "God Save The King". The Bible used at the ceremony is reputed to have been the West Bible on which George Washington was obligated.

The charity box was passed around and £6 14s was raised. The Reverend Samuel Marsden, a guest at the ceremony, made a speech congratulating the Masons for their efforts in assisting the poor of the colony. He reported they had raised in excess of £30, suggesting that Lodge No. 227 was active before Piper's ceremony. Into the foundations was placed a copper box containing coins of the realm. On the lid was an inscription in Latin . Translated, it read: "By the Blessing of In the Reign of George the 3rd and during the Government of L. Macquarie Esq. The Foundation Stone of this Mansion Erected by JohnPiper was laid by Edward Sanderson M. of the LODGE ofS. M. V. N.227 in 46th Reg. of Foot & in the Assembly of BRETHREN on 2nd Nov. A. D. 1816 of Masonry 5820" .

The existence of Lodge No. 227 was in fact due to Piper's efforts. The history of Freemasonry in Australia is sketchy, but since regiments on active duty overseas traditionally had Masonic lodges attached to them, it is probable that members of the marines accompanying the First Fleet were practising Freemasons. Nothing eventuated from the earliest recorded request - made in 1 79 7 - to establish a permanent lodge in the colony, and for many years a gentleman convict , Sir Henry Browne Hayes , was erroneously identified as the founder of Freemasonry here .Browne Hayes, who had been transported to Australia in 1801 for kidnapping a Quaker woman, applied to Governor King in 1803 for permission to hold a lodge meeting. The application was refused, but Browne Hayes went ahead with the meeting, which was raided under orders from King, who feared sedition as a result of the secret meetings. Piper had gone to great lengths to obtain permission to found the Australian lodge. While on leave in England, he approached the United Grand Lodge of England.

Circumstances were not favourable; the reign of George III who, unlike most of the English monarchs, was not a Mason and openly distrusted the order, engendered a certain atmosphere of hesitancy. Next Piper travelled to Scotland where he received a similar response, but in Ireland , a travelling military warrant, for Lodge Social and Military Virtues No. 227, was issued. On Piper's return in 1814, the lodge was established, with Captain Edward Sanderson of the 46th Regiment as Right Worshipful Master. An indication of the regard in which Australia's first constituted lodge was held can be gleaned from the list of brethren attending the stone-laying ceremony for Henrietta Villa. The commanding officer of the 46th, Lieutenant Colonel George Molle, donned the masonic regalia, as did John Oxley, the surveyor-general; Judge Jeffrey Hart Bent, the first justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court; John Horsley; John Harris , formerly surgeon of the New South Wales Corps; and David Allen, the deputy commissary general. While the ceremony was a significant Masonic event, certainly worthy of note in the Sydney Gazette, more important would have been the dedication of the first Masonic lodge-house.

Given the official disapproval of Masons that existed at the time, despite Macquarie's own involvement, it is unlikely that meetings would have been held at Piper's home. But according to current belief, a small structure built near the entrance to the estate had a hidden entrance to a large underground chamber, which was used as a meeting place. It was to form the nucleus of the gatehouse of the later Woollahra House and exists today as part of the Rose Bay Police Station.

Piper's villa was completed in 1822 at a cost of £10,000. It was a marvellous example of Romantic Classicism, which graced the lush bushland setting east of the Sydney settlement and evoked Arcadian qualities of pastoral innocence. It was a single-storey residence that differed from the strictly proscribed Georgian dictates then in fashion in Sydney. The verandas that fronted the villa terminated in two pavilions, each surmounted by a saucer-shaped cupola inset with clerestory windows that lit the rooms beneath. One pavilion housed a ballroom or banqueting hall, designed in the shape of St Andrew's Cross. A number of contemporary accounts give clear impressions of Henrietta Villa, including that of Augustus Earle, who commented in Views of New South Wales: The interior of the building corresponds with the taste displayed in the gardens, and the grand saloon is not only unrivalled in this Colony but would rank high as a chaste specimen of architecture in any part of the world. . . At every turn you see comfort and splendour, and one is much in doubt which most to admire – the elegance of the building as a work of art or the comfort of the house as a residence.

Earlier, Joseph Lycett, who published Views of Australia in London in 1824, had described the villa thus: The interior of the Villa is filled up in a style that combines elegance and comfort. The principal apartments are a spacious Dining Room, a Banqueting Room and a Drawing Room; all furnished in the most tasteful manner.

The Domestic offices are at the back of the building. Although there are numerous pictures of the exterior of Henrietta Villa, the only extant of the interior are two that were executed by Frederick Garling, who joined Piper's staff in the mid-1820s. The gardens were laid out with trees imported from England: ash, spruce and scotch fir being the most numerous. Piper obtained plantings of red and white clover from ·Sir John Jamison's Regentville estate. On a hill slightly to the west of the rear of the villa were planted fruit trees that yielded, amongst many other varieties, apricots, nectarines, oranges and peaches. Lycett mentioned that "Fish of every kind, natural to this country, are to be caught in great abundance. Wild Fowl, particularly Wild Ducks, Teal and Widgeon are found in Rose Bay, and Quails are bred in the Bush close to the villa". A row of small brass cannon was positioned in front of the villa. These were fired by Piper to salute his friends as they sailed up the harbour.

The festivities held at Henrietta Villa

The ballroom sketched by Frederick Garling in 1827 were legendary and it was little wonder that Piper came to be known as the "Prince of New South Wales". He did, however, have his share of detractors. One was George Thomas William Blarney Boyes, who arrived from England in January 1824 and spent two years in Sydney as deputy-assistant commissary general. Boyes was unimpressed with the colony in general but the leading figures of the time were selected for special vilification in the letters he composed to his wife. "Captain Piper," he wrote to his wife in 1824,is the naval officer here, a situation that has given him4 or £5000 a year - and I suspect he spends every farthing of it. He lives in a beautiful house just after you enter Port Jackson, it is certainly a sweet situation, but it stands alone, for there is nothing like it in the colony - he has laid out immense sums upon it and in making roads to it and no expense has been spared Iam told to ornament this fairy palace; they say that he has upwards of 100 men employed by him - he does the thing properly, for he sends carriages and four, and boats for those who like the water, and returns his guests to their houses in the same manner.

He keeps a band of music, and they have quadrilles every evening under the spacious verandahs. At the table there is a vast profusion of every luxury that the 4 quarters of the globe can supply, for you must know that this fifth or pickpocket quarter contributes nothing for itself. I was invited but declined, for there is no honour in dining with Piper, he invites everybody who comes here indiscriminately. Boyes's view was an unnecessarily harsh one, that of a middle ranking public servant who wished nothing more than to be back in England, in the civilised world to which he considered he belonged . His letters are full of inaccuracies and exaggerations and it was he who ventured that "there will be everything in this colony in time except plenty of water and honest men". Construction of Henrietta Villa had commenced soon after Piper received his grant (although one report puts it closer to 1819), but the estate was not fully occupied until1822 .

Initially Piper and his family lived in a government cottage on the western side of Sydney Cove, immediately north of the government dockyard. While Henrietta Villa was under construction they lived at Burwood Cottage, which had been leased from Alexander Riley in 1817.The architect of Henrietta Villa is unknown, although it is possible to make a few speculations. The best known architect of the period was Francis Greenway. He arrived as a convict in 1814 and had proved so helpful in Macquarie's master plan to rebuild the penal settlement that he was appointed civil architect just two years later. Greenway had been requested to make the aprons for the Masons taking part in Piper's stone laying ceremony, but an argument had developed between Greenway and Sanderson. The architect's abrasive personality was a match for the Grand Master's whip and the prolonged animosity that would have developed with other members of the Masonic fraternity would have made a working relationship rather strained.

The only other architect of note in the colony was Henry Kitchen. A pupil of English architect James Wyatt, Kitchen arrived as a free settler in the same year as Greenway. Kitchen was responsible for a number of the finer houses in the colony, notably Sir John Jamison's residence, Regentville, near Penrith. Piper went surety for Kitchen when the architect tendered for the construction of St Matthew's Church, Windsor, in 1817, so the two men would have been well acquainted. Henrietta .Villa, unlike many of the other buildings in New South Wales, was the work of a master architect. If It was designed in Sydney then it was the work of Greenway or Kitchen, although it must be said that it would have represented a major change in direction for both men. Another line of thoughtis that Piper brought the design with him from England whenhe returned from leave in 1814. It is a fascinating mystery and one that may well remain unanswered. Piper entertained lavishly at Point Piper even before the family took up permanent residence.

On 2 December 1819, yet another fete champetre was held, which was duly reported by the Sydney Gazette. Among the guests was Commissioner Bigge, in Australia to investigate the administration of Governor Macquarie; officers of the 48th Regiment, the Royal Anglican, which had replaced the 46th Regiment in 1817; Lieutenant Governor James Erskine; officers of the French ship L 'Uranie; and many of the more important members of the colony. "About100 Ladies and Gentlemen sat down to dinner; after which the merry dance' commenced, which was kept up with great spirit;and on the party leaving Henrietta Villa, they were saluted bya discharge of fifteen guns." On 9 November 1820 another party was held. Bigge and the lieutenant-governor were again in attendance, as were" Commodore Billinghausen of the Russian discovery-ship, and as many of the Russian Officers as could be spared from duty". Although a storm raged outside, "the Company escaped the weather favorably, by the Prince Regent schooner assisting in conveying the Party down and up the harbour".

The band of the 48th Regiment provided the music. In May 1822 the Sydney Gazette had the unfortunate duty to inform Sydney society of a regrettable occurrence, "which will be experienced in many classes of our colonial community, and by none more sensibly than our poorer orders. Captain PIPER, with his family, has withdrawn to the sweet and enviable retirement of Point Piper, where this universally respected Gentleman intends residing for the future". Retirement notwithstanding, the Sydney Gazette was able to inform its readers in October 1824 that Piper had presided over a lavishly organised celebration to launch a barge. Christened The Lady of The Lake, it was over twelve metres long and was pulled by ten oars. Up to thirty people could be carried aboard and the Gazette contended that it should have been called The Australian Yacht. On 5 July 1825 Piper gavea most sumptuous and splendid Dinner to his EXCELLENCY, the GOVERNOR, and the COMMANDER and OFFICERS of the French National Ship, at which were present nearly the whole of the principal Civil, Military and Naval officers of the Colony-at least those that happened to be in Town.

The illustrious Partie did not retire from Point Piper till rather a late hour, so highly delighted were they at the almost unparalleled munificence of the liberal Host and Hostess. Piper's parties were renowned. Journals kept by many of the leading figures in New South Wales contain references to the festivities conducted with almost monotonous regularity at Henrietta Villa. Mrs Jane Cox, wife of Edward Cox of Fernhill, Mulgoa, told of the villa and the diners she remembered. On one occasion she was surprised when the wife of a judge expressed the view that the estate was too good for New South Wales. Henrietta Villa, Mrs Cox considered, "was setting a good example to others". Despite this slur on the colony, she joined the assembled party, which included Commander Count Bougainville, in enjoying "an excellent Well Cooked Dinner" accompanied by "good French wines". Jane Piper, who was born in 1832 at Alloway Bank, Piper's later property near Bathurst, provided a few insights into the life of her extrovert father in reminiscences published in Old Times in July 1903.

She remembered being told a story of a dinner Piper attended at Government House, at a time when there wasa scarcity of flour in the colony. Guests were requested to bring their own bread. Piper, it seemed, entered the dining hall holding aloft a bread roll skewered on the point of his sword. In common with many of the published accounts of the man, it attests to John Piper's flamboyant personality and ready sense of the absurd.At the height of his influence, Piper owned a town allotment on George Street, 192 hectares at Vaucluse, 457 hectares around Woollahra and Rose Bay, 119 hectares at Petersham, 283 hectares at Neutral Bay, 32 hectares at Botany Bay, 2.5 hectares at Parramatta, a town allotment at Liverpool, 259 hectares at Story Creek, 121 hectares in Van Diemen's Land and numerous smaller holdings. When the first land grants were made west of the Great Dividing Range, 809 hectares at Alloway Bank near Bathurst became Piper's.

The Vaucluse holdings included The Retreat, sub-leased from Henry Browne Hayes in 1814, which was later sold to William Charles Wentworth. Piper's star was in the ascendancy for only a few short years and his fall has been well documented. He had proved lax in his duties as naval officer, and as the chairman of the Bank of New South Wales had influenced a number of ill-advised loans. Piper's honesty was beyond question but the newly installed administration of Governor Darling, most probably advised by W. C. Wentworth, held him responsible for every penny. He was suspended from his position as naval officer and retired from the board of the bank. Before the scandal became public, a rumour circulated that Piper was considering a return to England and that he had sold all his property to the merchants Cooper and Levey for £100,000.

The Sydney Gazette carried this item on 15 March 1826, but the reality was much worse. Piper had obtained a mortgage from Cooper and Levey for £20,000 and as Darling demanded the customs deficiency be made good, Piper followed the only possible course. His property and belongings were brought to auction. The Gazette carried a report of the auction, held at the Sydney Hotel in May1826. The auctioneer was John Paul and a large number of the colony's gentlemen attended. John Piper was reported to have taken a great interest. And so he should have. Depressed property values resulted in an unusually low return and it was only through his many influential friends that Piper's debts were paid and he was able to re-establish himself at Alloway Bank. Piper and his family suffered further in the recession of the late 1830s and by the time he died in 1851, the Prince of New South Wales was a forgotten man. The colony had changed radically in thirty years and the memory of his eminence had greatly dimmed. Henrietta Villa remained, but it would never again be the focus of the colony's social life. It passed to Daniel Cooper and the lush harbourside setting eventually became the location of Woollahra House, built by Cooper's descendants.

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