Rippon Lea and REB

by Nicole A
Publish date
14 April 2011
Comments (1)

This guest post comes from Nicole Alley, who works in the Webteam. She is a geek at heart who loves taking photos.

I joined the National Trust this year, and recently visited Rippon Lea House & Gardens in Elsternwick. Rippon Lea is a 19th century suburban estate significant for its mansion, garden and outbuildings. And, as I discovered, it has a few connections to our very own Royal Exhibition Building too.

Rippon Lea Estate mansion and buildings Rippon Lea mansion and the expansive lawn leading to the lake.
Image: Nicole Alley
Source: Nicole Alley

I started my visit with a tour of the mansion, where I noticed a print of the Royal Exhibition Building hanging on a wall. Below it was a black and white print that I also recognised; it's of a painting by Tom Roberts showing the opening of the first Parliament of Australia at the Royal Exhibition Building in 1901.

Photos inside Rippon Lea mansion
Top image: Lithograph by C.Troedel & Co of the Royal Exhibition Building in 1880. Bottom image: A print of Tom Roberts' painting of the opening of the first Parliament of Australia, also known as The Big Picture.
Image: Nicole Alley
Source: Nicole Alley

I asked our guide, Jim, what the connection was. He explained that Sir Frederick Thomas Sargood, who created Rippon Lea, attended the opening of Parliament at the Royal Exhibition Building. Jim pointed to a face in the image: "That's him there." I knew Jim hadn't just picked a random face to liven up his story; Roberts was required to include at least 250 recognisable faces in his painting, including members of the new Commonwealth Parliament, and created a sketch with a key to the names. Sargood was a Senator at the time and is listed at number 121.

What's more, Sargood was the Executive Vice-President of the Commission for the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition, held at the Royal Exhibition Building. He was largely responsible for bringing out the conductor, Sir Frederick Cowen, at great expense, to establish an orchestra for the exhibition. (This Collections Online theme page explains how significant music was at the exhibition, and to Melbourne life in general.)

After the tour I set out to explore the grounds. With wide lawns, shrubberies, flower beds, shady trees, and cool features like an orchard, lake, boathouse, fernery and lookout tower, it was picturesque and adventurous. Growing up here would've been great – just imagine how long a game of hide and seek would've lasted!

Lake at Rippon Lea Estate Part of the lake at Rippon Lea Estate. The water is green because it is covered in duckweed.
Image: Nicole Alley
Source: Nicole Alley

There's a windmill too. When Sargood created Rippon Lea, the site wasn't connected to Melbourne's water supply so he devised a sophisticated rainwater collection, irrigation and drainage/recycling system. The windmill pumped the water through underground storage tanks and pipes and ensured the entire estate was self-sustainable. Rippon Lea was later switched across to the main supply, however the National Trust is now in the process of reinstating Sargood's system.

And that's another connection: in February we completed our World Heritage, World Futures project to reinstate the 1880s garden on the Western Forecourt of the Royal Exhibition Building. Before the garden went in, we installed an underground system of tanks and pipes that will collect and distribute rainwater to Carlton Gardens, including the fountains and ponds, and also to the Forest Gallery and Milarri Garden inside Melbourne Museum.

Back at work, I did some further reading and found a few more interesting pieces of shared history between these two grand 19th century sites:

  • They were established within a decade of each other: Rippon Lea Estate in 1868-69, and the Royal Exhibition building in 1879-80.
  • They were both included in the National Heritage List in 2004. (That same year, the Royal Exhibition Building was also inscribed on the World Heritage List.)
  • Both buildings were designed by Joseph Reed of the architectural firm Reed & Barnes.
  • Rippon Lea's garden was created in the Gardenesque style, as was Carlton Gardens, where the REB is situated.
  • William Sangster designed Carlton Gardens (in conjunction with Joseph Reed); he was also brought in by Sargood to redesign Rippon Lea's garden in 1882.


Rippon Lea House and Gardens

Royal Exhibition Building

Royal Exhibition Building in Collections Online

Comments (1)

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Carol Marley 17 April, 2011 11:09
Airconditioning is another item that is exciting at Ripponlea-tiny fist in bedroom - turn the fist and cooling comes from lake under the house!
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.