Susannah Place Museum
Tourism - The Rocks, NSW
A visit to Susannah Place is like opening a family album – the stories inside could belong to anyone, in any part of the world.
Located in the heart of The Rocks, Susannah Place is a terrace of four houses built by Irish immigrants in 1844. For nearly 150 years these small houses with tiny backyards, basement kitchens and outside wash houses were home to more than 100 families. Against a backdrop of the working harbour and growing city, their everyday lives played out. Remarkably, Susannah Place survived largely unchanged through the slum clearances and redevelopments of the past century, and today tells the stories of the people and families who called this place and this neighbourhood home.
Perched on one of the sandstone ledges that gave The Rocks its name, Susannah Place is a typically English ‘two up, two down’ terrace with basement cellar and kitchen transplanted onto Australian soil.
The houses were solidly built, and in accordance with the 1837 Sydney Building Act included party walls that pushed up through the roof to act as a firewall between each house. Number 64, the corner house with two large street-facing windows, was built with a shop that operated from the front room. Owners Edward and Mary Riley, who had built the terrace at a time when housing was in great demand, lived in one house and rented out the other three.
The first tenants of house No 60 were the Cunninghames, an Irish family who came to Australia as assisted immigrants. The museum reflects the lives of this 1840s family in a re-created parlour and bedroom. Official records such as birth, marriage and death certificates and rate and electoral records tell us that the houses continued to be fully tenanted throughout the 19th century. The death of Mary Riley in 1874 brought a change of ownership. Mary’s house and the corner shop (Nos 62 & 64) were left to her granddaughter, Mary Anne Finnigan, while the other two houses (Nos 58 & 60) were left to the Anglican Church.
The ownership of Susannah Place did not change again until 1901, when the state government resumed The Rocks and Millers Point areas following the outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney. The government effectively became the sole landlords.