- Hunt, A.L.
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Members will have read that along with a number of Defence properties across the country the Sydney Naval Residence, Tresco, is to be sold. The Society has considered it appropriate to record something of the history of this property.
The 19th Century
Tresco was built by the architect Thomas Rowe (1829-1899) in 1868. The land on which the house was established was originally part of a property of 54 acres granted in 1831 to the first resident Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, Alexander Macleay (1767-1848). The Macleay residence, Elizabeth Bay House, remains a significant national landmark.
Alexander Macleay and his wife Elizabeth had a substantial family. One grandson, A. A. W. Onslow, Captain RN (1833-82) married Elizabeth Macarthur, the heiress of Camden Park. A great-grandson was Rear Admiral John Saumarez Dumaresq CB, CVO (18731922) who was born at Rose Bay and subsequently became the first Australian born Commander of the Australian Squadron (1919 – 1922). As a Captain he had commanded HMAS Sydney I in the Atlantic (191719) and during that time he conceived the design and successfully trialed the first deck launching of an aircraft from a cruiser.
The Macleay sons subdivided the Macleay Point end of the Elizabeth Bay property in 1865 and a series of substantial houses were built over the next five years. The builder Thomas Rowe descended from a family who had governed by lease the Scilly Islands off the Lizard, one of which is the Island of Tresco. Rowe went on to design and construct many notable buildings in the city and his work is commemorated in a small street named for him on the eastern side of Pitt Street, next to the Commonwealth Bank Building and leading to backstage of the modern Theatre Royal.
Photographs of Macleay Point in 1875 show the original Tresco of thirteen rooms, coach house and stable before significant alterations and additions of the 1880s. The grounds had been cleared of trees and terraced with retaining walls. A small boat harbour was constructed on the sea frontage.
In January 1880 George C. Westgarth bought the leasehold to the property and commenced, with the architect Carl Weber, design of a number of significant alterations and additions. The original bill of sale signed by George Westgarth on 22 January, 1880, remains in the Naval Historical Collection. The Westgarth family had taken up residence by 1884 by which time there was a substantial east wing to the house, an additional floor to the kitchen wing and a number of out buildings. From 1891 various tenants occupied the house including Lieut. Col. James William Macarthur-Onslow, descendant and heir to the Macleay family.
The Royal Navy
We must recollect that at the turn of the century the significant Defence presence in Sydney was that of the Royal Navy, with the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Station residing at Admiralty House next door to Kirribilli House on the north shore of the harbour. In 1900 the then Captain-in-Charge of Naval Establishments in Sydney (Captain Royle RN) asked for a residence to be erected on Garden Island. The Admiralty agreed to the principle of providing such a residence but suggested the house should be on the mainland, preferably in sight of the island.
In 1902 several residences were inspected. The leading story on 22 October 1902 for the Sydney evening newspaper, the Australian Star, was:
“The State government has just completed a transaction calculated to go a long way towards ensuring that Port Jackson will remain the Headquarters of the Australian Naval Squadron. Sir John See states that he, as head of the Government, has just concluded a purchase of a residence for the officer in charge of Garden Island. The place secured is an ideal one for the purpose; and, to use the Premier’s own words, could not be better if it had been built to order. The residence is ‘Tresco’, Elizabeth Bay, with a frontage to the Harbour and extensive grounds commanding a magnificent view. It is directly opposite Garden Island, and is therefore, convenient to the naval works”.
The Premier is reported to have said that the State Government had acquired the property at about `half its actual value’. On the 23rd of October the Daily Telegraph commented; “The residence has been purchased at a price very satisfactory to the Government”. In fact G. C. Westgarth was paid 8,000 pounds for the unexpired portion of his lease and in November 1902 James Macarthur-Onslow conveyed leasehold of the water frontage to the NSW Government. On 14 January 1903 the State took possession of Tresco and handed it over to the Navy as the official residence of Captain-in-Charge, Sydney. Captain J. G. M. Field RN was the first occupant. On 10 July 1903 the Title Deeds of Tresco were handed to the Commander-in-Chief from the Governor.