Of theatricals, weddings and funnyosities

Ticket for a theatrical performance in the arcade at Rouse Hill

Ticket for a theatrical performance held in the arcade at Rouse Hill House. Sydney Living Museums R86/67-128

For visitors at Rouse Hill House today the rear arcade is a quiet space, yet it was once the lively hub of both the house’s and local district’s social life, and the scene for plays, concerts, tableaux vivants, weddings and lunches.

Concert advertisement from The Windsor and Richmond Gazette Saturday 10th February 1906

Fundraising concert advertisement from The Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday 10th February, 1906

Named for its curved, arching roof (an ‘arcade’ is usually named for a row of arches down one side, as at Government House, Sydney), the arcade at Rouse Hill House was created to cover the space between the house’s two rear service wings. In this view the single-storeyed east laundry wing is obscured:

View over the arcade at Rouse Hill House

View over the curved arcade roof with the west service wing rising behind, at Rouse Hill House. Photo Scott Hill © Sydney Living Museums

In the late 1800s, as the house continued to develop into a social hub for the area, the arcade became an obvious location for large social gatherings hosted by the sociable local ‘squire’ Edwin Stephen and Bessie Rouse. By the 1890s it was often used for theatricals and concerts held as fundraisers for local institutions and charities. Newspaper reports publicised and described the events:

Benefit for school hall at Christ Church:

For some time past the good people of Rouse Hill have been making special efforts to build a school hall in connection with their Church. The laudable work has been taken up by Mr and Mrs E. S. Rouse and Mr and Mrs G. A. Terry, and for some time, we understand, a small sum of money has been in hand. Mr Rouse and Mr Terry conceived the idea of holding a concert to further augment the fund, and the Squire of Rouse Hill readily placed the spacious arcade at his stately and historic home at Mr Terry’s disposal, and that gentleman soon arranged a programme, and the concert took place on Monday night last. A stage had been erected in the arcade, and the place was adorned with a fine lot of pot plants. The entertainment was liberally patronised by the people of Rouse Hill and neighbourhood, while a number of people drove from Windsor, Riverstone and Vineyard to show their practical sympathy in the good cause. The audience numbered about 150, and all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday 16 December 1905

The report goes on to detail who performed what, from recitals to songs and musical items, including “Mr Sid Shipway [who] put the audience beside themselves with his funnyosities.” Another jolly account is from the following year:

ROUSE HILL: Another Good Concert. On Friday night last the spacious Arcade at Rouse Hill House … was filled to overflowing, and the entertainment proved an excellent one, quite as good as some of the best concerts held in Windsor … Mr Eric Terry, a good comedian, caused heaps of fun with his “sneezing song”…

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 17 February, 1906

Tally ho and to the table!

In 1895 the Sydney Hunt Club, of which the Rouse’s and Terrys were part, held a meet at Rouse Hill.  The Club members later assembled at the side of the house for a group photograph – standing to the right of center, with his hand across his chest, is poet ‘Banjo’ Patterson:

A group after the hunt, Rouse Hill, 18 July 1895.

A group after the hunt, Rouse Hill, 18 July 1895. Bessie Rouse, seen in profile, is seated at centre with her daughters Nina (to her right) and Kathleen (left). Behind them, Nina’s husband George Terry holds his hat. To his right is the poet Andrew Barton (‘Banjo’) Patterson, a family friend and who immortalised the Rouse’s ‘crooked R’ brand in his work ‘A bushman’s song’. Sydney Living Museums R85/13

They also sat down to lunch, the arcade being pressed into service as a dining hall. Furniture including the dining room chairs from the house were brought out and trestle tables in a T-shape assembled with extra benches.  The decoration is elaborate, from bunting and flags to potted plants and branches arranged to obscure the water pump and trough at right.  The table is covered with foliage, folded napkins, small vases and ornaments, and you can even make out the elaborate epergne from the dining room at centre (you can see it up close in this previous post).

Hunt lunch set out in the arcade at Rouse Hill

Hunt lunch set out in the decorated arcade at Rouse Hill, 18 July 1895. Sydney Living Museums R74/227

A ‘wreck of tongues’

Perhaps the most important event held in the arcade was the wedding breakfast held to celebrate the marriage of Edwin and Bessie’s daughter Nina to their neighbour George Terry in April 1895. The wedding was held at nearby Christ Church, after which:

…the folk from miles around made two lines, between which Mr and Mrs Terry had to pass to their carriage amid showers of floral tributes and rice: On reaching the home gate, the horses were taken from the carriage by the stalwart men from the bride’s own village, and she and her husband were drawn in state to the house, amid cheers as loud and prolonged as they were heart felt and sincere. Over the entrance-gate was an elaborate arch erected by Mr Faviel from his own design, with the initials of both done in Roman characters, and also in signalling flags. Mr and Mrs G A Terry received the congratulations of their friends in the drawing-room, after which everyone sat down to a wedding breakfast set out in the Arcade at Rouse Hill House, which had been elaborately decorated. [1]

The ‘signalling flags’ can also be seen hanging in the Hunt Lunch view, taken 3 months later.  While we don’t know what was served at the Breakfast – we can make educated guesses and no doubt the Rouse’s cook Kate Joyce had her work cut out for her – we have a clearer idea about the hearty refreshments served at another party held that night, the ‘Tenant’s Ball’:

In the evening fully a couple of hundred residents of the locality assembled at Mr Whitling’s store, where a substantial repast was laid, and this was partaken of heartily, the carvers at each table being kept busy. When the wreck of tounges, rounds of beef etc, had been cleared away, dancing was commenced and indulged in til an early hour on Thursday morning. During the evening Mr and Mrs Rouse and a number of guests from Rouse and Box Hill visited the room, and had a dance with the rest. [1]

Mr Whitlings ‘new’ general store – it seems he also owned a shop  at Parramatta – opened in the Rouse Hill village in 1890, and was large enough to be used for local social gatherings. His wife seems to have been the caterer, an 1896 note recording “…while the catering was in the hands of Mrs Whitling, which is a sufficient guarantee that it was first class.” [2] There was a close connection between the Whitlings and Rouses:  from 1878 George Whitling was employed as the coachman at Rouse Hill, and his family lived in the since demolished cottage that stood behind the stables. His daughter Katie was a childhood playmate of Nina and Kathleen [3]. Until he finished working for the Rouses his shop was worked by his son Arthur, who then opened his own store at Castle Hill – which included an ice works. In 1898 George bought another notable local house, Aberdoon, [4] where he died in 1912 aged 63.

A small world, and often centered on the arcade at Rouse Hill House.


Read more about Rouse Hill House, including recent news and visiting hours, here.

[1] Fashionable Wedding at Rouse Hill. Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday 27 April 1895. The phrase ‘Tenants’ Ball’ was used in the same paper on April 6th when anticipating the wedding festivities.
[2] Social, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday 30 May 1896
[3] See Caroline Thornton, Rouse Hill House and the Rouses (1988), pp185-6.
[4] See ‘Stories behind the headstones [of Castle Hill cemetery]’, http://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/external/hillsvoices/castlehillstories.htm