Ripponlea – Melbourne Gold Boom Mansion and National Jewel

Interior Portico Ripponlea Estate, National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

In Australia our rich blending today of so many different people, cultures and styles happened against a background of a natural environment the indigenous inhabitants had never disturbed.

Melbourne like Brisbane was first a town of NSW and blessed with farsighted founders. In 1835 they envisioned a great city with an abundance of parks, wide roads and boulevards just like the French had developed at Paris.

In 1851, the state of Victoria was created with the City of Melbourne as its capital. People flooded into the state between 1851 and 1860 when the gold output was greater than in any other country, with the exception of bigger fields in California.

The grand facade and glorious roofline of Ripponlea, Victoria

The discovery of gold and resultant flood of fortune seekers sent the Australian colonial economy into boom. 1856 was the best year.

Classically columned Greek influenced houses gave way to Italianate style villas, heralding the birth of the boom years and as great fortunes were made great city estates were established.

Ripponlea in Melbourne, which is on the National Heritage List, survives and the design of the original house by Reed and Barnes, which was later extended, epitomized the extravagance of the boom mansion era in Victoria. In the gardens of such homes it was not uncommon to find Venus, Napoleon, or Captain Cook lurking gloriously in the bushes.

Among all the other cultural influences that abound in its design, the roofline has ‘French influence’, evidence of very powerful connection that has existed between France and Australia from the days when Victoria was originally named Terre Napoléon

Built in 1860 and completed in 1887, Ripponlea is a 33-room mansion surrounded with elaborately landscaped gardens spread over seventeen hectares.

The property retains one of the earliest, most complex examples of nineteenth century underground engineering works in Australia. Just recently a new system was installed in parallel and the original one made operational.

It was upgraded along with solar panels on the roof, transporting the house into the 21st century and saving the National Trust a fortune on water costs. “Ensuring all our properties are environmentally friendly is a key focus for the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) over the next three years,” Martin Purslow, CEO commented.

“The works undertaken at Ripponlea are pioneering a new direction for the Trust, and we are striving to ensure we implement as many sustainable and innovative initiatives as possible to bring our properties completely into the 21st century.”

Ripponlea like other grand Australian houses that evolved over time, did so to accommodate the growing family of its original owners Frederick and Marian Sargood, who created a commanding entrance with a porte cochere providing shelter to guests arriving in their carriages.’

As in Europe in Australia a grand country estate represented the pinnacle of material and social achievement.

Fences offered security and most importantly, imparted a sense of order and regularity’, they were the frames within which individual buildings were placed into a landscape setting.

The first Australian Horticultural Society had been an active body since 1826, influencing the tastes of Melbourne’s fashionable society.

They held popular social events in elaborate marquees to shade the floral splendours and newly imported plants were studied and horticultural improvements discussed.

The restored grand ballroom at Ripponlea

The original interiors of Ripponlea were spacious, although much of the original decoration and furniture were replaced when Mrs. Louisa Jones modernized it during the early twentieth century.

The mansion was again ‘jazzed up’ in 1938 and today when I visit it still makes me feel as if I am returning and am always reminded of the opening lines of a book that have become immortal.

Manderley was a fictional house whose name became a world-wide hit when the book written by English author Daphne du Maurier was published in 1938. The opening paragraph has become legendary and always reminds me of arriving at Ripponlea

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again… I came upon it suddenly; the approach masked by the unnatural growth of a vast shrub that spread in all directions… There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.

View over Lake at Ripponlea and its Impressionist style garden

Today many grand houses in Melbourne have traces of French influence in their design and style, including the National Trust house Labassa, which was inspired by stylistic changes during the French Renaissance.

To remind us of the life that has been The National Trust of Australia and its many chapters in each state, preserve our considerable heritage in architectural style.

They also offer all Australians an opportunity to enjoy a rare insight into the lives of our ancestors past, helping us in our inexorable movement forward.

Grand examples of Victorian opulence in Australia were mansions with palace like facades, surmounted by loggia-topped towers that overlooked terraces and flights of steps complete with cast cement balustrading, urns and statuary.

Tiled colonnades, columned pergolas and balustrade terraces linked house to garden and the cult of the picturesque as espoused in John Claudius Loudon’s The Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm, Villa Architecture (1834) encouraged every point of the garden to have some ornament or architectural feature.

To aid scientific experimentation wealthier owners of such houses as Ripponlea often built grand glazed conservatories. Here while the one attached to the house is much smaller, it’s nevertheless charming and useful.

Much of the charm of Ripponlea lies in the sensitivity shown for the garden and its historic origins.

Its picturesque and relaxed informality and richness is today appreciated fully by those lovingly caring and conserving these symbols of our countries nationalism.

Water subtly pervades much of the garden at Ripponlea , and the white trunk of the lemon scented gum, Eucalyptus citriodora, is reflected on its rippling surface.

A riot of colour went hand in hand with carpet bedding and a pursuit of botanical triumphs during its days as a family home.

The outbuildings are all useful too and there is an extensive heritage orchard and kitchen garden, which you will never tire walking around.

Plantations of palms, with rockery’s planted with cacti, other succulents and rustic ornaments and bark covered branches formed unique summer houses and at Ripponlea the giant palms and ferns are planted within great glasshouses at the rear of the property.

Supported by its members and a network of over five hundred dedicated volunteers, the National Trust Australia (Victoria) is dependent largely on membership fees, donations and philanthropic gifts as well as opening up their houses for personal or professional event bookings to support its many endeavours.

This includes the upkeep of the wonderful Ripponlea estate, a national jewel in trust for the nation.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

Ripponlea House and Garden Estate

192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick

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