Tuesday 17 January 2012


Located only 20 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD, Rippon Lea Estate is one of the last of Australia’s grand suburban estates. It is a grand property that is National Heritage listed and a visit there is like peeking through a window that allows you to travel back in time and offers a unique glimpse into the lifestyles of the wealthiest Australians of the Victorian era.

Rippon Lea Estate consists of a lavish urban mansion, a large garden, orchard and associated outbuildings (including the stable complex, the lodge, the conservatory and glasshouses, the fernery, the porte-cochere, the 1930s swimming pool, and the 1930s ballroom). The property has integrity as an uncommonly large and intact suburban estate, which survived subdivision and encroachment by suburbia.

In 1868, Marian and Frederick Sargood bought 11.3 hectares (23 acres) of scrub land at Elsternwick, naming it after Frederick’s mother Emma Rippon (Lea is an old English word for meadow). Frederick had arrived in the colony as a 15 year old, first working for the Public Works Department and then joining his father’s expanding clothing and drapery importing firm which supplied soft goods to the diggers. Like many of the merchants active during the gold rush, Sargood made his fortune and Rippon Lea was the result of his newfound prosperity.

Sargood was knighted in 1890 and when he died in 1903, Lady Sargood sold the property to the Premier of Victoria, Sir Thomas Bent, who was intent on subdividing the property - fortunately, he died before his plan became reality.  Rippon Lea’s next owner, Benjamin Nathan moved into Rippon Lea with his family in 1910. His daughter, Mrs Louisa Jones inherited the property in 1935.  Louisa and her family loved entertaining and Rippon Lea, after its redecoration in 1938, became the scene of lavish balls, parties, family weddings, and musical performances.  During the 1960s and early 1970s Louisa, with her children’s support, fought a compulsory acquisition order to give four acres of Rippon Lea’s pleasure grounds to the adjoining Australian Broadcasting Commission. The fight was won and upon her death in 1972, Rippon Lea passed to the care of the National Trust.

The main drive leading up to the mansion. Extensive gardens and significant tree plantings flank the driveway.

Designed by architects Reed and Barnes in 1868 in the Lombardic Romanesque style , Rippon Lea joins a list of well known public buildings commissioned from this respected Melbourne architectural firm.  

The Mansion is imposing from all angles and provides wonderful opportunities for the photographer.

A view of the conservatory/orchid house, which is also accessible from the Drawing Room, inside the house.

In late nineteenth century, Sargood and his second wife Julia began updating the estate – the house was extended and the interiors re-decorated. A porte cochére was installed to create a commanding entrance and provide shelter to guests arriving in their carriages.

Ornamental stained glass, elaborate embossed wallpapers and ceiling papers contributed to the refurbishment. Much of Rippon Lea’s architectural decoration consists of garden motifs, possibly chosen because Sargood’s love of the garden. Here is the view of the main entrance from the Entrance Hall.

The mansion was ‘modernised’ in the early twentieth century by its last owner Mrs. Louisa Jones, who updated many of the nineteenth century features, ‘jazzed up’ the house in 1938.  Incorporating the latest interior design fashions from Europe, in particular the work of Syrie Maugham, a neo-baroque scheme – known as the Hollywood style - was chosen to grace the interiors. This is seen to advantage in the grand Drawing Room here.

Two conservatories were added to building – these could be accessed from the interior rooms and brought the garden and Sargood’s passion for orchids, indoors. 

The Entrance Hall, looking towards the Dining Room. To the left is the Drawing Room and to the right the more modest lounge, which also communicates with the Dining Room.

The Lounge Room, perfect for pre-dinner drinks, some music-making or some relaxation.

An elaborate drinks cabinet catering to the cocktail-swigging crowds of the 1930s.

The Argus , published in Melbourne from 1846-1957, was the quality newspaper of record in the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century. Here is the January 1st, 1938 issue. 

The Dining Room also shows the extravagance of the glamorous Hollywood style so beloved of Louisa Jones.

A grand staircase leads to the bedrooms of the first floor.

A beautiful stained glass window in the stairwell, showing more examples of Sargood's botanical motifs.

The upper floor corridor, leading to the bedrooms and bathrooms to the left and the balcony straight ahead. A magnificent Victorian bookcase full of period volumes. Ripplea Bear, peeking from behind the bookcase, has lived at Rippon Lea House & Gardens for over 140 years – Clara Sargood and all her brothers and sisters were his first friends.  They used to play hopscotch in the Fernery, row boats around the lake and cuddle in front of the fire. Today, Ripplea still loves to play around the Estate –children visiting love to go looking for him in every room of the house!  

The main bedroom, redecorated to Julia Jones Hollywood taste...

As Sargood ensured that the estate was equipped with the most advanced technology, the house was one of the first in Melbourne to install electricity. The basement kitchens, plumbing and bathroom facilities were updated. The suite of servants rooms in the extended kitchens have survived to this day in their 1880s configuration.  

Original photograph of Frederick and Marian Sargood taken around the time of their wedding, ca. 1858.

A small but functional home office shows state of the art technology for the 1930s...

The back lawn of the Mansion with the Ballroom to the left.

The swimming pool in front of the Ballroom.

Louisa Jones' Hollywood Ballroom. The addition of the swimming pool and ballroom allowed Louisa and her husband Timothy, to throw extravagant parties.

The windmill of the garden is functional as well as decorative. Beautiful beds of a great variety of dahlia cultivars are in the foreground.

The fernery is a large, impressive shade house created by Sargood in 1884 to replace a smaller pre-existing structure. Built to provide protection from scorching sun and hot, dry winds, the fernery provides an environment that allows the collection of about 200 species of ferns and related plants to flourish. It is arranged in an imitation of a fern gully, such as may be seen in the Dandenongs.

Originally developed in 1868 in the Gardenesque style with geometric beds and paths, the garden was re-designed for the Sargood family by William Sangster in 1882. The Picturesque garden layout, with its irregular design and rustic devices such as the lake bridges, asks the viewer to see the garden vistas as a picture. This Romantic notion, part of the Picturesque aesthetic, encourages the visitor to use associations and ideas when viewing the garden.  To establish and support his exotic European style garden, Sargood constructed a stormwater harvesting, collection, storage and recycling system, which pumped water from the surrounding suburbs into the lake and then, throughout the garden. The National Trust is in the final stages of reinstating this system and intends to return the gardens to being a self-sufficient user of water.

The boat shed where the pleasure boats were lodged when not used for leisure activities on the lake.

A duck revels in the lake, the surface of which is covered with duckweed (Wolffia microscopica). Although it is unsightly, the plant is used as food by many aquatic animals and birds.

A garden folly or rotunda, sitting on top of a small mound provides a shady, cool place to rest in or to admire sweeping views of the garden and house.

A lovely view of the garden, lake and one of the ornamental bridges.

A lawn maze with the mansion in the background. In August 2006, Rippon Lea became the 33rd site to be included on the prestigious National Heritage List. The listing was announced by the then Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell.Rippon Lea is important as a surviving example of a large intact late nineteenth century private suburban estate consisting of an urban mansion, large garden and outbuildings.The house is an outstanding example of the Victorian Italianate style, which was a popular expression in Victoria's gold boom period. Rippon Lea is one of the finest polychrome buildings in Victoria and established a fashion.The extensive garden, originally in the Gardenesque style by the owner Sargood was later redeveloped by him in a more naturalistic style. The estate is intact and has not been significantly reduced by subdivision. The watering system at Rippon Lea is one of the earliest, most complex and relatively intact examples of nineteenth century underground engineering works found in Australia to maintain a private garden.Rippon Lea has a strong association with the National Trust community which has undertaken major conservation works and re-established historic cultivars in the garden. It is important for its association with the Melbourne community and has been publicly accessible for over 30 years. It has been selected as a setting for films and documentaries because of the high degree of integrity of the historic buildings and garden.


  1. What an amazing, gorgeous place!

  2. Great photos! Rippon Lea is right near my home and I have been to a few weddings there, over the years. But I most certainly never saw all the rooms and gardens you got into. Well done :)

    Were Reed and Barnes let loose to make their own design decisions way back in 1868? I assume the Sargoods loved the polychrome Lombardic Romanesque style, at a time when it was probably not well known in Victoria. Perhaps they had a specific house in mind (in Britain?) that acted as a role model for their new Melbourne home.

  3. It's very beautiful! And you are right photographers do love this place no doubt about it. My kind of place to hang out the whole day. ^_^


  4. Nice photos, I like this place and the house is stunning, incredibly beautiful, great catch.

  5. This is a tour of houses described in all those Novels of Victorian era. thanks a lot. This place sure is palatial.

  6. Wow, that's a gorgeous building! Great photo series.

  7. Excellent photos Nick - I didn't realise that Ripponlea is so beautiful, I must visit with my camera soon.

  8. What a beautiful place! The exterior, the interior, the grounds--everything is lovely. I would love to tour that mansion!!!! Mickie :)

  9. What a wonderful post!
    Your pictures and commentary do justice to this lovely old mansion. I enjoy the craftsmanship in these old mansions.

  10. fantastic photos of this wonderful place, thanks :)

  11. Sensational presentation of this wonderful spot.

  12. I don't seem to be able to get to the end of my comment before the box vanishes.

  13. email didn't work either.

    excellent photography, not sure about the house, love the fernery.

  14. Wow..you've documented this place extensively with beautiful photos, and information! I couldn't fathom how expensive it would be to run such a mansion.

  15. I have never seen such a rich and beautiful home...
    Well done...Thank you!

  16. I don't know if that comment went through or got eaten somehow. I was just saying, wow, what feast for the senses! Those Victorians did some things exactly right. Thanks so much for recording this!

  17. Wow! What a magnificient house!
    Thanks for sharing your fabulous shots. And thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment;o)

  18. What an interesting place I enjoyed the virtual tour.

    I have dropped by to answer your questions on my last News From Italy post. Unfortunately you have your email set as no reply and I do not reply on the blog.
    What an interesting place I enjoyed the virtual tour.

    It is indeed very sad that the trees were removed, but I am sure that it will indeed look as lovely as it did previously again one day, for future generations to enjoy, if as we hope new trees are planted.
    They were unsafe so it was nothing to do with spoiling the view and the shade was appreciated.

  19. I reckon I could live there, Nick :-)
    What a great walk through that magnificent place. Reminiscent of the style of Osbourne, Prince Albert's creation on the Isle of Wight.

  20. Hi Nick, with work and play (photography) you still have time to manage quite a number of your blogs, I salute!

    Very nice photos and a lovely place to visit!

    The lawn maze reminds me of many things!

  21. Fabulous Nick, you have really shown us in such a detailed way just how grand this old estate is. I can just imagine the parties they had here in the 1930's, the pool, that huge dining room, yup my imagination is working overtime. Excellent post.

  22. Looks like the Conservatory has had some work done to it since I was last there a few years ago. I'll have to drop by for another visit.