Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Rouse Hill Estate

CC BY-SA 2.0
Cite this

Rouse Hill Estate

The buildings and gardens of Rouse Hill Estate provide a unique testament to the lives of six generations of the co-related Rouse and Terry families who lived there from 1813 until the late twentieth century. It is a story of endeavour, extravagant lifestyles, bankruptcy, family conflict, and even murder.

Rouse Hill is located approximately 40 kilometres northwest of the Sydney central business district in the shire of Baulkham Hills. The Dharug were the original inhabitants of this open woodland area of grey box, forest red gum, and ironbark, all watered by a freshwater stream full of shellfish.

Vinegar Hill becomes Rouse Hill

This region achieved notoriety and its name in March 1804 when an uprising of escaped Irish convicts was brutally suppressed by government troops. The event was known as the Battle of Vinegar Hill after a similar clash in Ireland in 1798.

The name was changed to Rouse Hill when a grant of 450 acres (182 hectares), later extended to 1,200 acres (486 hectares), was given to Richard Rouse in October 1816. Rouse and his wife Elizabeth, née Adams, arrived in Sydney as free settlers in 1801 and he rose to become Superintendent of Public Works at Parramatta. He sited his two-storey solid Georgian house on a prominent ridge overlooking the Windsor Road as he extended his pastoral and agricultural holdings in inland New South Wales.

A privileged life

When Richard Rouse died in 1852, the house and extensive holdings passed to his second son Edwin Rouse and Edwin's wife Hannah (née Hipkins), who had been managing the family property at Guntawang, west of the mountains. They updated the house with fashionable Louis Revival furniture, adding a canopied verandah, a two-storeyed service wing, and marble chimney pieces. Their son Edwin Stephen Rouse was 12 when he inherited the property. He married heiress Bessie Buchanan and they refurbished the house in Art Decoration style, laid out a pleasure garden, and, in 1876, commissioned architect John Horbury Hunt to build brick stables. Two daughters were born – Nina in 1875 and Kathleen in 1878 – and the family enjoyed the privileged life of the squattocracy with house parties, picnic races, and the Sydney season, until the economic depression of the 1890s threatened their lifestyle.

Bankruptcy, murder and family discord

In 1895, Nina Rouse married wealthy George Terry of nearby Box Hill House, where they brought up six sons. When they returned to Rouse Hill after Bessie's death in 1924, they had squandered their joint fortunes and were bankrupt. Nina's sister Kathleen resented her spendthrift brother-in-law and intended to sell Rouse Hill, but was shocked to learn in 1931 that she was not the sole heir. She followed a Latvian lover to Manchuria and was murdered in mysterious circumstances in Harbin in 1932, after excluding her sister and nephews from her will.

Until her death at 93 in 1968, Nina Terry lived on at Rouse Hill. Further family discord led to her replacement as sole trustee in 1955 by three of her sons. Subdivision began in 1951 and the property was reduced to 106 acres by 1968. Only 20 acres (13 hectares) of the homestead block remained when her sons Gerald and Roderick Terry became tenants-in-common in 1969, and even this was reduced to 8.15 hectares in a 1974 subdivision.

Gerald Terry, Roderick Terry, Roderick's daughter Miriam and her husband Ian Hamilton occupied the house as co-tenants until Roderick's death in 1980. Foreseeing problems with 'multiple ownership', Gerald persuaded the New South Wales government to resume the property in March 1978. The Hamiltons appealed against their eviction in 1983 but left their half share of the contents in situ.

A unique house museum

In 1986, the real estate and the government's half share of the collection (acquired from Gerald Terry) were transferred to the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. The Hamiltons' collection was leased from 1987 and purchased in 1994. The family link was finally broken in 1993 when Gerald Terry moved to an aged care facility, where he died on 10 February 1999.

Under the management of the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, detailed conservation work on the 22-room sandstone house and its contents, service wing, reconstructed summer house, woolshed, outbuildings and farm machinery was undertaken, and the priceless collection of domestic technology and nineteenth-century material culture was catalogued.

In 1999, Rouse Hill House and Farm on Guntawang Road was opened to the public, although its fragile nature means access is limited to small guided tours. The garden and orchard laid out by Richard Rouse may be Australia's oldest surviving colonial garden. The property is unique for its survival, despite several threats, as a largely intact estate with an unbroken chain of occupancy in a district undergoing rapid urbanisation.


James Broadbent, Rouse Hill Estate, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, Sydney, 1999

Alan Croker, 'Filling in the blanks: the role of new work in interpretation', Historic Environment, vol 18, no 3, 2005, pp 43–47

VLV Haigh, 'Richard Rouse of Rouse Hill, An Early Pioneer', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 12, 1927, p 353

Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, Unique Locations, the trust, Sydney, 2001

Caroline Rouse Thornton, Rouse Hill Estate: Richard Rouse of Rouse Hill 1774–1852, Historic House Trust, Sydney, 2004

Caroline Rouse Thornton, Rouse Hill Estate: Gerald Terry of Rouse Hill House 1904–1999, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, Sydney, 2000