Juniper Hall – Australia’s oldest mansion up for auction

by AF

The National Trust are putting Juniper Hall up for auction in September. At just over 187 years old, the Sydney property is believed to be the oldest surviving mansion dating back to the days of Governor Macquarie, and is a reluctant sale by the Trust.

*Update: The house sold at auction for $4.551 million. Read more here.

The 2-storey Georgian house is one of Paddington’s finest early mansions. Robert Cooper, an emancipist (a convict who had been given conditional or absolute pardon) and owner of one of the colony’s first gin distilleries, built the house in 1824 – 1825 for his wife Sarah, promising her the “finest house in Sydney.” Cooper, along with two other partners had received a grant of 100 acres from Governor Brisbane in 1818 and had an agreement to build a distillery and three mansions there. Cooper was the only one to build a mansion and eventually bought out his partners. Its original name was Juniper Hall, but was later renamed Ormond House to distance itself from its gin image.

Mr. Cooper appears to have tried selling the property at auction in 1832, but bids did not meet reserve. The depression in the 1840s resulted in Cooper taking out a mortgage on the property for 1,900 pounds in 1848.

In 1852, the building and land was leased to A.H.H Stephen and James Comrie. It had a variety of other lessee and tenants from 1858 to 1884.

In the first half of 1884, it was leased by the NSW Government as a place to temporarily house children awaiting placement in foster homes, and also to house the offices of the State Children’s Relief Department. The government purchased the property in the following year for 5,800 pounds and maintained ownership for the next forty years. Substantial additions to the property were carried out in 1891 and 1892 (although if the date on the photo below is correct, the additions would have been added sometime afterward). At that time it was called the “Ormond House Orphanage.” Up to 3,000 children passed through the house annually. In their final years of ownership, it was used as a Children’s Court.

Ormond House in 1895 – City of Sydney Archives

In 1920 it was announced the the government planned to sell the property. The Paddington Concil and citizens were determined to stop the sale, however they were not successful. The house was finally sold in 1924 for 8,000 pounds after several auction attempts.

An undated photo of Ormond House from the National Trust. Possibly advertising one of the Government auctions between 1920 and 1924.

The house almost faced demolition when the purchaser, shoe manufacturer Joe Gardiner, planned to demolish it to make way for flats and shops. Gardiner faced strong opposition to his plans and decided to convert the house as it was into flats and built a row of shops in its front garden facing Oxford Street. Gardiner later filed for bankruptcy and the property was acquired by Avrom Investments.

In 1975, the National Trust described Juniper hall as “the earliest extant domestic building east of the city of Sydney. It is unique in that it is still largely in its original form and certainly capable of having its original character revealed. It is also the only early surviving house to predate the subdivision of the Paddington district for terrace houses. Most of the large extant early houses were built by free settlers. As the substantial house of an emancipist it also had great and most unique significance.”

The owners in 1982 – Manawar Pty Ltd and Golenat Pty Ltd – had proposed converting the building to strata title but a Permanent Conservation Order was placed over the property in 1983 which put an end to their development plans.

The front of Juniper Hall in 1983, prior to the restoration by the National Trust. The balconies were built in and the roof of the old shops are visible at the bottom left corner.

In 1984, it was acquired by the National Trust through grants from the NSW Government and other donors. The property was restored and the shop buildings in front were demolished in order to recreate the front garden. Architect Clive Lucas received a RAIA merit award for his conservation work on the building. It has since been used as commercial offices. The Trust posted an operating loss of $2.9 million last year and is selling the property to improve their financial position. The Trust does not receive funding from the government, and instead relies on membership fees, donations, fund raising and sponsorship. After losing a major tenant last year, the Trust attempted to lease the property but to no avail.

The entrance and basement – National Trust

Heritage Listings

The house is listed on the State Heritage Register and the Register of National Estate. It is also listed by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) and forms part of the Paddington Urban Conservation Area.

Owners may make sympathetic changes to the estate, but all modifications must be approved by the heritage office.

Auction Details

The auction is scheduled for September 25 (not the 18th as Property Observer reported) and the sale is based on a 99 year leasehold title.

Agents have declined to put a value on the property at this stage. While neither agent has any property details on their websites yet, they have chosen to list the property on It appears from the blurry and low-quality photos on the listing, that they were not given much notice of the auction.


248 Oxford Street, Paddington, Sydney, Australia

Listing agents: Laing + Simmons and Cushman & Wakefield

“National Trust list problematic Juniper Hall Paddington property for auction” Property Observer, 24 August, 2012.
“Historic Juniper Hall for sale” The Wentworth Courier, 24 August, 2012.
The National Trust of Australia (New South Wales).
The Heritage Council of New South Wales.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 December, 1913.
“Ormond House – Protest against sale” The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January, 1920.