The Australian Colonial House

Architecture and Society in New South Wales 1788 – 1842

by James Broadbent

The Australian Colonial House is the first comprehensive history of domestic architecture in New South Wales during its first fifty years. It looks at the houses that were built, and the influences on their building – not only the stylistic influences of contemporary British architecture and the influences of climate and distance, but also the social influences which motivated their builders.

As an architectural history it explores and charts the changes in house forms and styles during the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, and identifies the way in which stylistic traits were introduced to the colony and how they evolved or were transformed by amateurs and professional architects – talented, informed, dull or eccentric.

As a social history it relates these houses and fashions to the people who built them and explores how the taste, social or artistic aspirations, philistinism or vulgarity of the builders is evident in their houses.

With an impressive erudition and an intimacy with early nineteenth-century Australia, James Broadbent describes the colony’s picturesque cottages, spreading bungalows, Gothic villas and Grecian mansions, and the emancipists merchants, ‘pure marinos’, military officers and civil servants who built and lived in them. These early houses are read as manuscripts, revealing the motives, and follies, of their builders, from Governor Macquarie’s deliberate flouting of the Secretary of State’s instruction in order to satisfy his and his wife’s architectural ambitions, to the vainglorious attempts by Sir Thomas Mitchell to recreate Old England in the antipodean bush.

Contemporary paintings, rare nineteenth-century photographs and intriguing house plans, – many of which have never before been published – inform almost every page, guiding the reader through the development of Australia’s domestic architecture from the late- eighteenth century to the disastrous depression of the 1840s.

Source: The inside cover of the book.


James Broadbent is well-known as an historian and conservationist. His study has been the history of New South Wales’ colonial houses, their furnishings and gardens, and the society that built and lived in them. Through his work as a museum and exhibition curator, as a lecturer – and as an author – he has promoted the significance of these houses and campaigned for their conservation.

Dr Broadbent graduated in Architecture from the University of Sydney, then studied Fine Arts at the same university before reading for his Doctorate of Philosophy in the Department of History at the Australian National University.

Dr Broadbent has expanded the field of colonial studies with his writings and exhibitions and has defined the role of the house museum in Australia, notably with his establishment of the museums at:
Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney;
Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta;
Rouse Hill House, Rouse Hill; and
Dundullimal, Dubbo.

His publications, often complementing exhibitions of the same theme and title, include co-authorship of:

– Gothic taste in the colony of New South Wales The Golden Decade of Australian Architecture; The Work of John Verge,

– Restoring Old Australian Homes and Buidings and The Age of Macquarie.

He has written and lectured widely on nineteenth-century houses and gardens, conservation philosophy and practice, early colonial society and taste, and early colonial trade, decorative arts and furnishings. Through articles, lectures and seminars, he has established a reputation for his erudition and incisive wit.

James Broadbent lives at The Cottage, Mulgoa (c1810), an important early bungalow which he has savd from dereliction

First published in 1997
in an edition of 2000 copies by
Hordern House Rare Books Pty Ltd
77 Victoria Street
Potts Point NSW 2011 Australia

Copyright © James Broadbent

ISBN 1875567186