Kirribilli House

The eastern side of Kirribilli House, as seen from a commuter ferry.
Sydney Harbour from the air, showing Kirribilli House on the point on the left.

Kirribilli House is the secondary official residence of the Prime Minister of Australia. Located in Sydney, New South Wales, the house is located at the far eastern end of Kirribilli Avenue in the harbourside suburb of Kirribilli. It is one of two official Prime Ministerial residences, the primary official residence being The Lodge in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.


In 1854, merchant Adolphus Frederic Feez purchased a 1-acre (0.40 ha) parcel of land at the tip of Kirribilli Point for £200. (The land had been sliced off the grounds of adjacent Wotonga House, which now forms part of Admiralty House, but was then in private ownership.) Feez built the picturesque Gothic-style structure now known as Kirribilli House – a twin-gabled dwelling or cottage ornée – on the land's highest spot. The house features steeply pitched roofs, fretwork, bargeboards and bay windows. It passed through many private hands until it was purchased in 1919 for £10,000 by Arthur Wigram Allen. Allen planned to subdivide the land but after much public agitation the then Prime Minister of Australia, Billy Hughes, resumed the property for government purposes in 1920.

The property was used by the staff of the Governor-General of Australia (who occupied neighbouring Admiralty House) until 1930, when it was leased to tenants. In 1956 Kirribilli House was set aside as a residence for the use of Australia's Prime Ministers, when they need to perform public duties and extend official hospitality on behalf of the government during stays in Sydney. The official Prime Ministerial residence is The Lodge, Canberra. Kirribilli House is situated on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour, in the suburb of Kirribilli. It commands impressive views across to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House and has been visited over the years by many important international dignitaries.

During the term (1996–2007) of John Howard, a Sydney resident, Kirribilli House was the primary residence of the Prime Minister.

On 29 March 2013 Tony Abbott announced he was going to make Kirribilli his home, citing pressure from security advisers.

Kirribilli House is open to the public on one day a year, courtesy of The Australiana Fund.[1]


Adolphus Frederic Feez

Adolphus Frederic Feez who built Kirribilli house in 1855 was born in Germany in 1826.[2] He went first to London in 1849 and is listed on the Certificate of Arrival as being a merchant and an architect. In 1851 he immigrated to Sydney on the ship Envelope. He established himself as a successful merchant and was a partner in the trading company called Rabone, Feez and Co. His brother was Albrecht Feez,[3] who later became a prominent citizen in Rockhampton.

Feez lived in Kirribilli House for several years which was then called Sophienberg.[4] He then moved to Balmain.[5] He married Frederica and had two children while living in Sydney.[6] While on a business trip to Fiji he died in 1869 at the age of only 43.[7] Frederica returned with her children to live in Germany.

The Lawry Family

Kirribilli House in 1920 just before it was resumed by the Government.
Map of Kirribilli Point 1909.
Advertisement for sale of Kirribilli House 1919.

The next residents of Kirribilli House from about 1858 were Thomas and Esther Lawry. Thomas Lawry was born in 1821. He was employed by the Ordnance Department in Sydney at a young age.[8] and remained there for the rest of his life. He was also appointed as a magistrate by the Governor.[9] He married Esther Hughes in 1858 and the couple had two children. In 1859 the birth of a daughter at Sophienberg[10] was recorded in the newspaper so it appears that the house continued to be called by this name after the Lawrys purchased it.

Esther Lawry’s maiden name was Esther Matilda Hosking Hughes and she was the step granddaughter of Samuel Terry the very wealthy convict entrepreneur. In 1858 Esther inherited a considerable amount of money from her grandmother Rosetta Terry.[11]

In 1865 Thomas Lawry died at the age of 44.[12] The death notice records that the name of the house was still Sophienberg. Two years later in 1867 Esther married James Taylor.[13] who was the Commissary-General of Ordnance. This couple then lived in the House with Esther’s two children one of whom was Thomas Terry Trewyn Lawry. In 1891 James Taylor died.[14] By this time the house had been named “Kirribilli” and was located in Campbell Street as the map on the left shows. In 1900 Esther died.[15] and the house was left to her son Thomas Terry Trewyn Lawry.

Thomas Terry Trewyn Lawry was born in 1864. He seemed to have rather poor health and did not marry. In 1907 at the age of only 42 he died of heart failure.[16] As he had no children he left his property to relatives and others. He made a very complex will leaving Kirribilli house to several people one of whom was Laura Lamotte.[17] Laura married William Donald McCrea in 1909. Laura and William lived in the House for some time[18] but she then wanted to sell the property. There was some disagreement about the sale with the other beneficiaries and the matter was taken to the Equity Court.[19] The Court resolved that the property should be sold and it was put on the market in 1919. The advertisement is shown on the left. The House was bought by Arthur Wigram Allen who planned to subdivide the land. In 1920 he produced a brochure with a photo of the house and the planned subdivision. The photograph of Kirribilli House in this brochure is shown on the right.

There was public outcry about the sale of the house and the Government under the then Prime Minister Billy Hughes decided to resume it. The property has remained in Government ownership since then.

Prime Minister Howard's occupancy

Although Kirribilli was never intended to be the Australian Prime Minister's official primary place of residence, John Howard attracted much adverse comment when he announced at the beginning of his Prime Ministership in 1996 that he would use Kirribilli House as his primary place of residence. Howard would use The Lodge as a residence when in Canberra for parliamentary or government business, though lived primarily at Kirribilli House. Howard is a lifelong Sydney resident, and represented the Sydney-area seat of Bennelong in Parliament. He said at the time he commenced his Prime Ministership that he had made this decision so that his family could remain together while his three children lived at home and one son attended high school in Sydney.

Kirribilli House was renovated to enable a family of five to live there on a permanent basis. Howard's decision raised ire particularly in Melbourne, since the main reason Canberra was established as seat of government was to avoid giving that status to either of Australia's two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Howard's explanation left open the possibility that once his children had left home, he would then take up residence in Canberra at The Lodge. However, after his children had all left home, Howard chose to remain at Kirribilli House. He sometimes said that The Lodge was effectively his main residence due to his work requiring him to be in Canberra more often than in Sydney, but he has never retreated from his decision in principle to base himself at Kirribilli House whenever he was not needed in Canberra. Kirribilli House is less than 10 kilometres from John Howard's former Division of Bennelong electorate.

Following the defeat of the Liberal-National coalition government at the 2007 federal election, John Howard, who was Australia's second longest-serving prime minister, and his family vacated Kirribilli House. Kirribilli House returned to being the Prime Minister's Sydney residence, as Howard's successor, Kevin Rudd, indicated that he would make The Lodge his main and primary residence.[20]

Kirribilli House and Admiralty House in 1930. Early construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge can be seen in the background.


  1. Open House at Admiralty & Kirribilli Houses
  2. New South Wales Certificate of Naturalisation, No. 39 1854
  3. Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser (Qld), 20 November 1869 , p. 3. Online reference|||l-year=1869
  4. An advertisement for the sale of the adjoining property Wotonga (now called Admiralty House) states that the neighbouring house owned by Mr Feez was called Sophienberg. Empire (Sydney), 27 September 1856 , p. 7. Online reference sophienberg&searchLimits=
  5. Sands Directory
  6. New South Wales Birth Certificates 1867/ 2760 and 1870/2940
  7. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1881, page 31.
  8. The Sydney Herald, 25 May 1842, p. 2. Online reference ordnance&searchLimits=
  9. The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October, p. 4. Online reference kirribilli&searchLimits=
  10. The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 1859, p. 1. Online reference ordnance&searchLimits=
  11. The Will of Rosetta Terry 1858. Online reference
  12. The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1865 p. 1. Online reference lawry&searchLimits=
  13. The Sydney Morning Herald , 23 March 1867 p. 7. Online reference kirribilli&searchLimits=
  14. The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 January 1891, p. 1. Online reference"james taylor" kirribilli&searchLimits=
  15. The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1900, p. 1. Online reference"james taylor" kirribilli&searchLimits=
  16. The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 1907, p. 6. Online reference kirribilli&searchLimits=
  17. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954)(about) Previous issue Tuesday 1 October 1907. Online reference kirribilli&searchLimits=
  18. The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 March 1912, p. 6. Online reference kirribilli&searchLimits=
  19. The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 December 1918, p. 5."kirribilli house"&searchLimits=l-decade=191
  20. "Heritage expert rejects calls for new Lodge". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 November 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2007.
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Coordinates: 33°51′05″S 151°13′09″E / 33.851286°S 151.21915°E / -33.851286; 151.21915

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