Dictionary of Sydney

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Tarmons was the name of a stately manor house situated in Potts Point. It stood on a five-acre (two-hectare) block of land that had been purchased by Sir Maurice O'Connell in 1838. O'Connell named his mansion 'Tarmons' (which means 'sanctuary') after his extended family's home in County Kerry. The house, like many grand villas of the period, was built of Sydney sandstone. Inside, it was panelled with Australian cedar. A 48-foot (14.6-metre) long ballroom stood to the right of the reception hall. A large wooden staircase led from the reception hall to the second storey. A long carriageway, lined with elms and oaks, ran from Macleay Street to the front entrance. From its front windows, Tarmons offered a picturesque view of Port Jackson across to the north shore.

O'Connell and his wife Lady Mary O'Connell (daughter of former Governor William Bligh and widow of Lieutenant John Putland who had died on 4 January 1808) mixed with the cream of Sydney society, hosting many dinners and grand balls at their estate. In 1846 they entertained O'Connell's second-in-command, Deputy Adjutant General Godfrey Mundy, who recorded the occasion in his journal:

I dined this day, 29th June, with my respected chief Sir Maurice O'Connell at his beautiful villa Tarmons…the general appliances of the household, the dress of the guests and servants were entirely as they could have been in London. The family likeness of an Australian and Old Country dinner party became less striking when I found myself sipping doubtfully, then swallowing with relish, a plate of wallabi [sic] tail soup, followed by a slice of boiled schnapper [sic] with oyster sauce [and] a roast of kangaroo venison… [1]

Following the death of Sir Maurice in 1848, Tarmons was sold to Sir Charles Nicholson. He converted the ballroom into a huge library for his many books. In 1855, Nicholson decided to return to England and put Tarmons on the market for £10,000.

Tarmons was purchased by the Sisters of Charity, who needed a convent building and also wanted to establish a hospital for the poor. Their cause had won the support of many of Sydney's leading citizens, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, who came together to help the Sisters raise the money needed to purchase Tarmons. Charles Nicholson himself donated £1,000.

The Sisters moved into Tarmons in March 1856. They named their new convent St Vincent's Convent after St Vincent de Paul. They turned Nicholson's library into a chapel and began to attend to the many repairs and renovations needed before the building could be opened as a hospital. The St Vincent's convent and hospital was blessed by Archbishop Polding in July 1857 and opened a month later to outpatients.

In 1858, the Sisters also decided to open a day-school for poor children of the area. This day-school would eventually become St Vincent's College. Following the construction of the St Vincent's Ladies' College school building on Victoria Street in 1886, Tarmons was used exclusively as the Sisters of Charity's convent.

By the early twentieth century, it was decided that the old Tarmons mansion had deteriorated to a point beyond repair. In 1939 a foundation stone was laid for a new convent, but due to the outbreak of World War II, construction did not commence until 1966. Most of Tarmons was demolished to make way for the new convent, named Tarmons after its predecessor.


Cash Book: Jan 1852-December 1866, Congregational Archives of the Sisters of Charity, H102/12

James A Dowling, 'Potts Point, Darling Point and Neighbourhood', Journal of The Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 13, 1927

Margaret MK O'Sullivan, 'A Cause of Trouble': Irish Nuns and English Clerics, Crossing Press, Sydney, 1995

M Stapleton and J Stackhouse, A Walk Around the Cross, Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1980


[1] Godfrey Mundy, Our Antipodes: Or Residence and Rambles in the Australasian Colonies, with a Glimpse of the Goldfields, Richard Bentley, London, 1852