Bellevue Hill

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Bellevue Hill

Bellevue Hill is one of Sydney's wealthiest suburbs, and stands on what were once the traditional lands of the Cadigal people. They occupied the South Head peninsula, managing the vegetation, and fishing and collecting shellfish from the surrounding rock platforms and waters. When Europeans arrived in 1788, South Head was the site of a number of meetings between groups of the old inhabitants and the new arrivals, and more sustained interaction took place after the establishment of the signal station at Signal Hill in 1790. [1]

Vinegar Hill

The first European name by which the area was known was 'Vinegar Hill', mainly by the Irish-Australian convicts. Governor Lachlan Macquarie thought this name was both vulgar and inappropriate, since it referred to the Battle of Vinegar Hill, an uprising against the British in Ireland in 1798. He officially named the area 'Belle Vue' (beautiful view), referring to the view available from the peak, later Bellevue Park.

Macquarie was also responsible for the upgrading in 1811 of the rough track from Sydney Town to the strategic South Head, making it wide and smooth enough to accommodate wheeled vehicles. The South Head Road also became the access road to some of Sydney's salubrious villas built by the colony's emerging plutocracy. [2]

Bellevue Hill itself was part of the estate of Daniel Cooper, an emancipist who had built a financial empire, based initially on general merchandise and public houses, and then on flour milling, general merchandising, and in 1822 banking. On his death in 1853, the major part of his estate passed to his nephew of the same name. Pockets of land along the ridges of Bellevue Hill were released in piecemeal fashion by the Cooper Estate from the mid-nineteenth century, providing the sites of the few early houses. These leaseholds typically amounted to between five and ten acres (two to four hectares), including Richard Holdsworth’s Aston (lease established 1857) and John Fairfax’s Ginahgulla (lease established 1858). One exception, Edwin Tooth’s Cranbrook (lease established 1856), was 40 acres (16.1 hectares). [3] After Tooth’s death in 1858, his brother Robert Tooth built the house Cranbrook on the estate he inherited.

The first release of the Bellevue Hill Estate was in March 1883, and it offered freehold sites for sale on the high point of the hill between Victoria and Bellevue roads. Sales were slow. Bellevue Hill’s poor public transport links meant that these sites were aimed at those who did not need such services, but did have an appreciation of the scenic advantages of the location. [4] And the vistas from Bellevue Hill, either north towards the harbour entrance or west back to the growing city, were regularly sketched, painted, photographed and engraved over the nineteenth century. Accordingly, the estate was characterised by generously sized allotments.

Land for sale

The early years of the twentieth century saw further land releases along the heights and on the western side of the hill, such as the Preston Estate on the slopes overlooking Double Bay, which was offered for sale in 1888. The later releases of the Bellevue Estate – covering the area west of Bellevue Road – saw the release of successively smaller allotments between 1905 and 1913, no doubt in part because of improvements in public transport. When a tram line to Bellevue Hill opened in 1909, the area began to open up to more suburban development.

The mass suburban development of Bellevue Hill did not get underway until the second decade of the twentieth century, helped particularly by the extension of the tram line to Bondi Beach in 1914. [5] But the sandy soil and difficult contours of the north-eastern slopes demanded careful engineering to ensure stability and good drainage. When Woollahra Council was finally convinced that these measures had been taken to its satisfaction, large sections of Cooper’s land on the north-eastern side of the hill were offered for sale in a series of subdivisions – some of which involved the release of over 200 building blocks at a time. The subdivision of Cooper’s Bondi-Bellevue Hill estate, released in three stages between 1912 and 1919, saw the break-up of the last large portion of unalienated land in the vicinity – and, indeed, in the Point Piper (Cooper) Estate.

Once established, the housing in Bellevue Hill was largely owner-occupied, with relatively stable occupation and long-term ownership. Much of the housing stock in this part of the of suburb dates from between 1910 and 1930 – or from subsequent redevelopment, which has been particularly intensive during the 1990s. [6]

Most property with a Bellevue Hill address falls within the boundaries of the Bellevue Rose Bay Ward of Council, with property south-west of Bellevue Road covered by the Piper Ward between 1862 and 1888, and subsequently by the Edgecliff Ward.

Bellevue Hill also has several historic houses that are on the Register of the National Estate, many of them in Ginahgulla Road. These include Caerleon, one of the first Queen Anne houses in Australia, Rona, Trahlee and Fairfax House (formerly Ginahgulla, and now part of Scots College private school). Cranbrook House, used as Government House and home to three governors and their families from 1901 to 1917, is now part of Cranbrook School. [7]


Rosemary Broomham, The Coopers of Woollahra: land dealings on the Cooper Estate, Woollahra Library, Sydney, 2001

Rosemary Broomham, The Urban Garden: Double Bay and Rose Bay between the wars, Woollahra Council, Sydney, 2002


[1] South Head Stage 1 Draft Conservation Management Plan – Volume 1, online at, viewed 22 November 2012

[2] Clive Faro, Street Seen: a history of Oxford Street, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, 2000

[3] Woollahra Library Local History fast facts,, viewed 22 November 2012

[4] Woollahra Library Local History, 'A brief history of Woollahra',, viewed 22 November 2012

[5] David R Keenan, The Eastern Lines (of the Sydney Tramway System), Transit Press, Sydney, 1989

[6] Woollahra Library Local History, 'A brief history of Woollahra',, viewed 22 November 2012

[7] Woollahra Library Local History fast facts,, viewed 22 November 2012