1-3 Peel Street, Kirribilli (demolished mid-1960s)

‘Clifton’ was a stone house built in the 1840s or 1850s.

If it dated to the earlier decade it was probably built for Merion Moriarty, Harbourmaster for Port Jackson from 1842-1857, who owned the Kirribilli Point site until selling to William Tucker in the 1850s. Although not absolute waterfront, the site would have enjoyed extensive views of the harbour and was, therefore, a very suitable location for the Harbourmaster.

If, however, ‘Clifton’ dates to the 1850s, it was built specifically for Tucker. He certainly owned it in May 1861 when Rachel Henning noted a visit to the house: ‘We went over to the North Shore yesterday to see the William Tuckers and the Stewarts. That north shore is most beautiful, in some places the wild bush goes down the water’s edge, or cliffs or water worn rocks, with clear blue water washing over them, and the houses have such lovely views from all the windows.’ (The Letters of Rachel Henning)

Tucker was born in Exeter, England, in 1816 and arrived as a free immigrant in Sydney in 1835. The city and the colony were shifting from being places of penal servitude to places where commerce and civil society would thrive. Transportation of convicts ended in 1840 and, a year later, free people outnumbered convicts by nearly four to one. Tucker found work in a pastoral station before returning to Sydney and establishing a wine and spirit business, Tucker and Company, in George Street in 1838. The colony's taste for alcohol was one thing that had not changed since early times. William Tucker became extremely wealthy.

By 1853 William and his wife Margaret were leasing ‘Brisbane House’, as many other prominent families did before acquiring north shore property. Possibly their residency above Lavender Bay alerted them to the benefits of life on the north shore, and the availability of property at Kirribilli. Tucker was one of the first directors of the City Bank in Sydney established in the 1860s. In 1868 he was elected as the first mayor of the Borough of East St Leonards. Like other prominent north shore men, Tucker was interested in the ferry business and co-founded the North Shore Steam Ferry Company with Dugald Thomson, who would move into the neighbouring property ‘Sunnyside some years later.

William owned many other properties in North Sydney. He used his wealth to provide security for his four daughters and two sons. The family was apparently a close one for the children were all given houses nearby ‘Clifton’. 'Greenmount' (67 Upper Pitt Street) was Fanny’s house; Alice received 'Budleigh' (Upper Pitt Street, now demolished); 'Linton' (51 Upper Pitt Street, now demolished) went to Emily; ‘Carrabella’ (now part of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Kirribilli) was given to his daughter-in-law Maria. 'Endsleigh', built nearby to ‘Clifton’, went to his son St John. And, after William died in 1888, ‘Clifton’ was passed to his son Walter Clifton Churchill Tucker.

The ‘Clifton’ estate was subdivided in 1904. In 1906 the dwelling became a boarding house and an additional brick storey was added. It was later used as a nursing home and was probably altered considerably. The three decades after World War Two were fraught with regards the fate of old homes. There was pressure to build flats and little regard for heritage concerns. ‘Clifton’ was demolished in 1965-1966 and, in 1967, two blocks of high rise flats were built on the site - one block retains the name ‘Clifton’.

A photograph album, dated ‘1888’, shows ‘Clifton’ as it looked around the time of William Tucker’s death – possibly at the height of its Victorian-era splendour. The exterior was a mix of Gothic with pointed finials, decorated gables and unrendered stone walls and Italianate with rendered bay window front and classical verandah columns.

The Hall, which was the first interior space to impress visitors, was relatively modest compared to the grander dwellings built in the 1880s such as ‘The Towers. A dado, or painted panel, can be seen along the lower half of the wall, separated from the upper wall by a strip of wallpaper. Possibly the upper wall has been painted to resemble marble – a favourite finish for Victorian-era middle and uppper classes. The floor appears to be decorated with tessellated tiles. Two side tables accommodate sprays of flora. The heavy frames probably contain paintings rather than prints.

The dining room features several larger artworks which appear to be portraits – possibly of family members. If so these were evidence for guests of the cultivation and standing of the Tuckers, as were the classical busts which may also be modelled on members of the family or be simply renderings of beauty. The ornate decorative finishes are typical of Victorian interiors; a marble fire surround, floral plaster cornices and ceiling rose from which a ‘gasolier’ - or fitting with several gas lights, hang. The fumes from the lights were probably dissipated up into the rose which also served, therefore, as a vent. The fitting could be raised or lowered to ease lighting and vary the light provided. The gasolier provided another opportunity to introduce ornate design to the room via the bracket and the shades which seem to be patterned glass. Note the matching set of balloon-back chairs which were another typical feature of Victorian dining rooms. The dinner service can be seen on the far wall.

The drawing room was the space into which family and friends might ‘withdraw’ and relax. Conversation and music were enjoyed here; the former stimulated perhaps by the many decorative objects and art works; and the latter facilitated by the grand piano. Note the very ornate wall paper. Upholstered seats provide some relief from the darkened timber surfaces of the other pieces of furniture.

The photographs of Fanny’s ‘sitting room’ and bedroom show the private interior space created by an unmarried woman, still living at home. Fanny was 45 when these photographs were taken. The sitting room is essentially a study with a well-stocked bookshelf and photographs of personal interest on the wall. Some of these appear to be old daguerretype or tin-type portraits. The albums on the table may also be full of photographs. By 1888 dry plate photographic technology had greatly increased the number of professional and amateur photographs available to those interested in views and landscapes near and far.

Note also the washstand near the bed. Piped water from the south side had just arrived in North Sydney at this time but it was usual for many years to come for people to wash in their bedrooms in the morning and evening rather than have daily baths.