Stylised letter 'D' for Darlinghurst
Stylised letter 'D' for Darlinghurst
Part 2

Theatre, bonnets and washing days

Painting of Sydney Harbour

[Sydney Harbour looking West, 1848]

Oil painting by Jacob Janssen showing Sydney in the distance and Henrietta Villa at Point Piper (middleground, left), State Library of NSW, [ML 45]

Caroline Husband’s diary details a relatively exciting life for a young woman in the 1850s. Her time was occupied by harbourside outings with her sisters and friends, marriage proposals from the city’s most eligible bachelors and shopping for a new bonnet. And everyday tasks included helping with lessons for her younger sisters, sewing, ‘washing days’ and worship at St James’ Anglican Church, Sydney.

Her accounts also feature frequent clashes with her father, who she called ’the Bear’ or in one entry, ’the great tyrant of a father which we unfortunately have’:

June 8th [1853] Wednesday: A very uncomfortable day. Papa dreadfully cross and in the evening drank a quantity of rum then he struck Cordy [her sister, Cordelia] and swore in the most awful manner. Mr D [Jeremiah Downes] came and after a long time got him to bed after he had stormed like a madman.1

Illustration of Orwell House Potts Point

Orwell House, Potts Point, c1870

Pencil drawing by Samuel T Gill of the residence of the Milford family, State Library of NSW, [PX*D 109]

Other key personalities in Sydney society feature in her accounts including Mr Husband’s ‘very esteemed friend’, the solicitor and politician, George Wigram Allen, who later became the family’s landlord in Darlinghurst.

Caroline also welcomed the ultimately fruitless attentions from James Mort, the younger brother of the very wealthy auctioneer and wool merchant, Thomas Sutcliffe Mort:

September 3rd [1853] Saturday: …after tea Mr James Mort came and though the room was dreadfully untidy I was delighted to see him, he paid me the greatest possible attention which I took very coolly for I didn’t know if he is trying to flirt with me or not. How degrading if he is!2

Another one of her suitors, Herman Milford, was the son of Justice Samuel Frederick Milford, who owned Orwell House nearby at Potts Point. Caroline recorded visits to Orwell House and befriending Miss May Milford, sometimes staying at the villa for a few days and enjoying the family’s outings and social gatherings. She also frequently described long walks ‘on the water by moonlight’ which sometimes vexed her parents.

Caroline also enjoyed the society of Mrs Anna Maria Deas Thompson, the wife of the Colonial Secretary, Sir Edward Deas Thompson, making visits to their Darlinghurst home, Barham Villa. The villa, which is the only surviving of the four early colonial villas constructed within the boundaries of Darlinghurst, is now part of the campus of the Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS).3

Painting of Barham Villa

Barham Villa, Darlinghurst, 1845

Oil painting by George E Peacock depicting a villa designed by John Verge for Edward Deas Thomson, State Library of NSW, [DG 355]

Some of Mr Husband’s troubles had followed him from England and in May 1854, Sir Alfred Stephen, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales decided:

It was most important, not only to the profession, but to the public in general, that high character should be made a necessary qualification, and that no person should be admitted on whose character there was a serious stain. The power of an attorney of the Court was very great for evil as well as for good…The conditional admission of Mr Husband, therefore, would not be confirmed, and he must cease to practice….4

The Court allowed Husband 12 months to salvage his good name and renew his application to practice law. Husband collected testimonials and won his appeal to be reinstated in June 1855. In August, he published the testimonials in the Freeman’s Journal newspaper ‘for the satisfaction of those who entrust me with their professional confidence’.5

As a result, the fortunes of the Husband family improved and Caroline started weekly lessons with the prominent singer and teacher of singing and pianoforte, Signor Ernesto Spagnoletti.6 Their life now featured shopping trips to ‘Town’ at ‘Madame Benne’s’ and David Jones, concerts and theatre performances, society balls, and carriage rides to Parramatta.

Then in November 1855, a new life commenced on Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst…

Painting of Sydney Harbour

Riding in Sydney's eastern suburbs, 1848

Detail from an oil painting by Jacob Janssen showing Sydney in the distance and Shark Island (left), State Library of NSW, [ML 45]

Read the next part of the story.

  1. Anne Philp, Caroline’s Diary: A woman’s world in colonial Australia (Spit Junction, NSW: Anchor Books Australia, 2015), 67 and 103. ↩︎

  2. Philp, Caroline’s Diary, 74. ↩︎

  3. Philp, Caroline’s Diary, 89-90, 255 and Mark Dunn, ‘Darlinghurst’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011,↩︎

  4. ‘Law. Supreme Court.—Saturday’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1854, 4,↩︎

  5. ‘Law. Supreme Court.—Saturday’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1855, 5, and ‘To the Editors of the Freeman’s Journal’, Freeman’s Journal, 11 August 1855, 11,↩︎

  6. Philp, Caroline’s Diary, 93-94, Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), “Spagnoletti family”, Australharmony:; Graeme Skinner, ‘Spagnoletti, Ernesto’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008,↩︎

Cite this Site

Nicole Cama, ‘A Genteel Life - Theatre, bonnets and washing days’, Darlinghurst: A digital history project mapping the people and places of Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, 2023, Australian Centre for Public History, University of Technology Sydney,, accessed .