Susannah Place Museum is a historic house museum situated in The Rocks, Sydney. It is a block of four terrace houses that was built in 1844 and had domestic occupants until 1990. It is a documentation of the urban working class community in The Rocks. The terraces in various states of modernity show the evolution of occupation over 150 years.
In 1987, a joint project between the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales and the Sydney Cove Authority was established to conserve the terrace houses. The conservation work focuses on preserving and conserving, rather than recreating, so all restorative work is fully documented and where possible, reversible. The terraces contrast with many other restored houses because it retains old materials rather than recreating them from new ones. Susannah Place aims to ‘preserve the evidence of the building’s use and its adaptation to the changing needs of its occupants over 150 years.’
A conservation management plan places exceptional importance on retaining the character of the building, stating the need to ‘retain overall form, scale and character of the exterior and character of the ground, first floor levels’. One example of creating a museum in the making include leaving the front room on the ground floor of no. 58 ‘as found’, which hadn’t been occupied since 1974 and the only changes were essential repairs.
Susannah Place ‘is very similar to a class on London houses that featured simple pattern of openings and detailing.’ It is made up of four multi level terraces, with a two story façade facing onto Gloucester St and a three storey façade facing onto Cambridge St and Cumberland Place. The building is on a sandstone foundation, with external brick walls in colonial bond and internal walls brick nogged. The roof line is hidden by a sandstone-capped parapet, fashionable for the day.
Each house was originally built with 6 rooms over 3 levels, with the kitchen in the basement and external outhouses. Originally, the rooms of the first floor were the bedrooms, whilst the rooms on the ground floor were used as parlours and dining rooms. Currently, the majority of rooms have been retained to certain eras, based on the information and history known about the families and also the surviving details. The houses are a source of the changes of technology in the area, as seen by the ‘shift from dependence for water upon community pumps in the streets to piped water; and from the used of oil, candles, wood and coal to gas and electricity for light, cooking and heating.’
The history of Susannah Place’s occupancy has been put together through oral histories and contextual research. Some of the families and people that lived in each house are listed below:
Thomas Hughes and his family lived here between 1916 and 1929. Between 1934 and 1974, the house was occupied by John and Adelaide (Ada) Gallagher, then their daughter Mary Anderson with her husband Martin and two sons, the younger son, Ernie, then living in the house until 1974. The house had no more tenants after that.
The first tenants of this house were Ellen and Francis Cunninghame, who arrived in Australia from Glasgow on February 8, 1840 on the ship The Arkwright. Documents from that time indicate that he had been sponsored by A B Smith & Co., and lived here between 1844 to 1845. During this time, Ellen Cunninghame gave birth to two children first a son Francis and then another daughter, Ellen when living in No. 60. In 1848 Francis joined with Edward Hawskley to establish the radical newspaper The People's Advocate and Southern Vindicator. The house was then run as a lodging house in 1865 by William Merchant, with most tenants being of maritime occupations due to the close proximity of Susannah Place to the docks. Dorothea, Arthur and Emmanuel Sarantides lived in this house between 1934 and 1946. Evidence of their occupancy is shown through the kitchen on the ground floor, which was recreated based on Dorothea’s grandchildren’s recollections of visiting their grandmother after school.
House no. 62 was originally occupied by the builders and owners, Edward and Mary Riley. They arrived as Irish immigrants to the colony with Susannah Sterne who was Mary's daughter by her first marriage in Clonigal, Ireland and whom the terraces are named after. The property was purchased for 450pounds, a valuable amount, and was an incredible feat for the Rileys after arriving only four years earlier and dealing with the depression of the 1840s. Another tenant of the no. 62 was Ellen and Dennis Marshall, who lived in the house for 28 years between 1962 and 1990. They remained as unofficial caretakers for many years, as the other terraces were no longer occupied, the last tenants of the other houses moving out by 1976.
A small grocer shop selling food and essential household items was included in this house during the construction and is now the entrance to the museum as well as a working shop. The first tenant was James Munro, who was a ginger beer maker and lived there in 1845. Another tenant of the corner shop was George Hill, who moved there in 1879 and fell into debt 8 years later. He remained there until 1898 after reselling his stock and furniture to repay debts. After being sold to Eliza and Robert Sneddon in 1931, the store was run until 1935 when their departure also meant the end of the shop. Later tenants include Mary Carmichael between 1949 and 1954, and the last tenant, Ronald Smith who arrived in 1965 and left in 1972.
Through oral histories, a current shop has been established in the 1920s era, modelled after recollections of Jim Young. He was the son of Hugo and Clara Youngein, who were the tenants of the shop between 1904 and 1930.