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judges house

The Judge's House


Colonial Georgian




1821 - 22

The building known as "The Judge's House" is the sole surviving colonial Georgian house in the inner city area of Sydney. Built in 1821-22, it is believed to be Sydney's second-oldest extant building after Cadman's Cottage, the Rocks, 1815-16.

The Judge's House was built by William Harper. Soon after his arrival, he made the customary application for land grants, including one on which to build a residence. In support of his claim, he declared that his capital amounted to £1,370. The town land he was given was in the Parish St. Andrew, just south-west of the projected St. Andrew's Cathedral. At this time Kent Street existed only from about Margaret Street to the north and as far as Druitt Street to the south. There was no street alignment near William Harper's house until after 1828.


During 1833, William built his house which faced east towards the town. The architect, if there was one, is unknown, but the design shows that he was a gentleman of unpretentious taste. It was a single-storey sort walled rectangle containing six rooms and a hall. A verandah protected the front and sides and incorporated under its scallion roof, two addition rooms, one at each end. Included was a separate kitchen facing the water, a well, and later an abundant garden.

A contemporary newspaper advertisement was to describe the house as 'elegant and modern'. The house represents the ideal Georgian colonial style, the kind of residence most settlers wanted: free-standing, symmetrical, well proportioned and commodious. 

William Harper and his family lived in the house for only five years after which it was left vacant for a few months. It was eventually let in March 1828 to Judge Dowling (later Sir James Dowling, second Chief Justice NSW). The judge rented the cottage for three years while his permanent residence on Woolloomooloo Hill was being constructed. It was during this time that the house became known as "The Judge's House".


In 1835 the property was bought by John Jerry Hughes and was leased to him until it was sold to Thomas and Charlotte Hyndes. Between then and 1868 the house had various tenants including (so it was reported) a vinegar maker, a master mariner, a surgeon and a butcher.  In 1868 a body of prominent Sydney citizens bought the property and rented it to the Sydney Night Refuge for £100 per annum plus taxes. The Sydney Night Refuge purchased the property in May 1879, the cottage then being used as staff premises. This continued until 1945.

In 1945 the Refuge was handed over to the Sydney City Mission. However full ownership was not confirmed until 1969. This followed the sale by The Sydney City Misson to Grosvenor International whose family headed by the Duke of Westminster, has a long history of property ownership, extending over a period of 900 years. The Grosvenor Group began the restoration which was continued by the David family when they purchased the property in 1984.

In 1977 The Judge's House was purchased by Capital Investment Group for its corporate headquarters and remains in its ownership today. That group is continuing the policy of preservation of this unique property, which as included the replacement of the shake timber roof. The more recent extensive works included massive concrete and steel underpinning of the foundations which will ensure the structural integrity of 'The Judge's House' for many more years to come.

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