House, completed in 1845, is among the oldest buildings in the eastern
suburbs of Sydney. Designed very much in the picturesque style,
its features include romantic circular and hexagonal corner turrets, deep
bay windows and fanciful pierced wooden tracery on both the eastern and
In its use of Gothic details, asymmetrical forms, rusticated elements
and castellated detail, as on the bargeboard above the front entrance,
Bronte House departs from the simplicity and symmetry of earlier Georgian
building types and hints at the rampant revivalism of the Victorian
Although lacking the elegance, architectural distinction and grandeur
of scale of, say, Elizabeth Bay House, Tusculum, Carrara or the other
great surviving waterfront mansions of Sydney, Bronte House is nevertheless
highly significant as a lively and largely intact example of a cottage
orneé in the 'Gothick' taste, a decorative style much favored
in the last quarter of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries.
Ornamental 'cottages' of this type occur throughout England and Europe,
even in Russia where the English architect Adam Menelaus created one
on the Gulf of Finland for Tsar Nicholas III.
The placement of the house in its landscape is particularly felicitous,
the formal garden merging easily with the natural landscape of Bronte
Gully to make it the embodiment of the romantic villa by the sea.
The house was commenced by Mortimer Lewis, the then Colonial Architect,
and almost certainly designed by him, although his design was probably
amended to accord with the tastes of Robert and Georgiana Lowe who acquired
the foundations of the building and the surrounding land from him in
It is possible that as he had in mind a family home, Lewis designed a
two-storey dwelling similar to Richmond Villa, a house overlooking the
Domain, which he subsequently built for himself and his family. Richmond
Villa was removed from its original location to a new site in Kent St.
and still stands. It too is in the Gothick taste but less exuberant than
Bronte House, although details such as inverted-V glazing bars and the
wide bay windows are identical.
Joan Kerr and James Broadbent in their book Gothick Taste in the Colony
of NSW have described the house thus:
"One of the larger.....of the cottage ornées
of the 1840s is the extant Bronte House at Bronte (c1843), an amusing
design, described in its sale advertisement in 1849 as 'in the Swiss
style'. It is a turreted single storey building picturesquely sited
at the head
of a small valley leading down to Nelson's Bay. The Gothick detailing
of its wide bay windows and timber traceried verandahs is particularly
Kerr and Broadbent suggest that although the Lowes almost certainly followed
Lewiss general plan for the house, the elevation details probably
owed much to Mrs. Lowe's markedly Picturesque Taste.
In his more recent authoritative work The Australian Colonial House, Dr,
Broadbent astutely suggests that the design of Bronte House may have been
inspired by J.J.Ricautis Rustic Architecture published in 1840,
a copy of which Sir Thomas Mitchell loaned to Lewis in 1841.
The name Bronte House is a late 19th Century conceit and implies a much
grander residence than is really the case. Early records refer to the
house simply and more appropriately as Mr. Lowes Cottage
at Cugee. Even the appellation Bronte House is a relatively recent
In 1799, Ferdinand IV, King of the Two Sicilies, created Lord Nelson Duke
of Bronte. In ancient Greek, the word Bronte means Cyclops or Thunder
(Nelson's mistress Lady Hamilton referred to her lover as the Duke of
Thunder) and in 1520, the name was officially applied to a small village
on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. It was this Duchy that was awarded
to Nelson, so Bronte must have seemed an apt choice of name for both the
eponymous house, the beach and the suburb as they are all at what was
(and indeed still is) known as Nelson Bay, a name that survives in all
official maps and is much older than that of Bronte Beach.