We had heard about Abercrombie House as we travelled. It was said to be a ‘must see.’ We arrived a little early and waited for the gates to open. It gave us a chance to read all the information boards set at the front of the driveway. Mr Morgan finally came to open up apologising and telling us it was his wife’s fault he was late as she made him vacuum the entire house before he could open the gates. We laughed.
A land grant was given to William Stewart in 1827 of 3,000 acres. He later purchased an adjoining 12,000 acres. He started to build the house in 1870 and with its gothic battlements and Scottish Highland architecture it took 8 years to complete the 52 room mansion. William gradually developed the farm with the help of convict labour and the house was self-sufficient. The house and land was a going concern until the late 20’s when the time of grand manors filled with servants started to fade out. In 1927 the house was closed and the contents sold off. In 1937 Athol Stewart (descendent from William) placed the house and 50 acres in the hands of the Government for wartime use. He was paid £1 a week in rent. For the first 3 years of the war the house stood empty. It didn’t come to life until the Women’s Land Army came to Bathurst to harvest asparagus. The ‘land girls’ (up to ninety at a time) moved in and made it home for two summers. Sadly after the land girls left the house remained vacant for eight years. Vandalism and damage from neglect took its toll on the house and the outbuildings. By 1951 the house had passed to James Stewart. He began a period of renovation by adding power and running water. The house became a retreat for postgraduate students, as James was a Senior Lecturer at the Sydney University. After James died his widow continued to living in the 52 room mansion but eventually it was decided the house need ‘a lifetime of work’ to keep it going. The house was sold to Rex Morgan. The Morgan family began gradually to restore the house. A project that continues today after more than forty years. Mr Morgan started to open the house for regular public tours in 1969 and changed the name from Mount Pleasant Estate to Abercrombie House. Now along with the self-guided tours of the house, it can be hired for events of all types.
When we arrived, Mrs Morgan was encouraging peacocks to get out of the main hall. She apologised saying once the door was opened the birds would race inside and the only way to get them to stay outside was to feed them. Smart birds, they know how to get fed.
We walked into the hall and Mr Morgan was on his hands and knees cleaning up the mess of one of the peacocks. I then started to look around me. I didn’t say amazing. I was so stunned I don’t have words to describe the room but it was amazing.
In each room there is a photo of how the room looked before the Morgan’s started to restore the house.
We walked from one room into another. Everything about the rooms from the lovely rugs to the ornate ceilings was amazing. I am sure I walked around with my mouth opened in surprise for most of my tour.
There is a magnificent ballroom, which comes with an orchestra gallery at the end of the house. It was built in 1890 and originally the space was a courtyard. (When we were there the room was set up for a dinner to be held that night.) The ceiling is 8.6 m high and is an early form of pressed metal. When the Morgan family renovated this room they spent close to 3 months painting and applying 6,800 one inch squares of gold leaf to the ceiling.
I guess what makes everything so special is the Morgan family live in the house. Some of the rooms are closed to the public but others have been opened with restrictions. Family photos hang on the walls and you can see some personal items throughout the house.
Everywhere there were little gems just waiting for you to discover. On one of the walls hung a flower taken from a bunch placed on Lord Louis Mountbatten’s grave by Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. In another room there is the Royal Certificate awarded to Rex Morgan.
In a cabinet upstairs is a crucifixion nail, thought to be about 2,000 years old and found at a Roman site near Bethlehem. In the same cabinet is a glass ball with an intricate painting inside it. The artist used a tiny brush under a magnifier to paint the picture through a small hole in the bottom of the glass ball. The ball was painted for Rex when he visited Beijing in 1993.
There were several works of art by Norman Lindsay hiding away in a corner. Then there is the Grandfather clock, which stands in the main hall. It once belonged to King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. He gave the clock to Lillie Langtree and it stood in her house in Bournemouth. (One of her descendants brought it to Bathurst.)
Like I said everything was amazing. If you think you would like to take some of the items home with you then you can. We found several items throughout the house with price tags on.
You are not finished with the house there are the gardens as well to see. The estate offers accommodation and there is a little chapel for the family. We took a walk around and had a look at everything. Can you tell I was very impressed with the house? It is defiantly a heritage treasure and I hate to use the phrase but ‘it is a must see’ if you are ever in Bathurst.