History and antiques mesh at Bishops Palace

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 19th February, 2014

Walking through Bishops Palace in Ballarat, it is almost impossible to separate the historic from the antique.

Yet owners Robert and Vikki Smith have done an excellent job of furnishing the mansion with magnificent items that reflect its late 19th century birthright.

Bishops Palace, at 1444 Sturt Street Ballarat, was purpose built in 1876 as the official residence for the first Bishop of Ballarat, Dr Michael O’Connor.

It was designed by Melbourne architect Joseph Reed, a partner with Reed & Barnes, who also was responsible for the State Library and Ripponlea Estate among his many other landmark Melbourne properties.

Gothic in appearance, the 140-square home on 1.44 hectares is heritage listed as of aesthetic and historical significance to the State of Victoria.

Bishops Palace remained the official residence for the Bishop of Ballarat until the Smiths purchased the property in March 1996.

They immediately set about restoring the home to heritage colours and replacing worn out verandah and balcony rails with replicated original mouldings.

The Smiths also purchased from the church the 18-seat cedar banquet dining table, cedar sideboard, large leather chairs and clerk’s desk – all of which are original major features of the home.

Vikki Smith, who confessed she had been collecting for more than 40 years, has a passion for antiques and art – particularly from the art nouveau and art deco periods as evinced by an art deco figure mounted clock and a marble and alabaster sculptured nude female lamp on a pedestal on prominent display.

Now the home is on the market with a price tag of $4.6 million and auctioneer Phil Caldwell has been asked to sell the furniture and collectible items on site from 11am Sunday February 23.

When it came to furnishing Bishops Palace, Vikki sought the help of a knowledgeable friend in Castlemaine and local Ballarat antiques dealer C.V. Jones, concentrating on French and quality Victorian furniture – along with building a large art collection.

A significant 19th century oil painting The Smithy by J Gambadella is part of this and the auction also contains a rare oil portrait entitled A Lassie Yet painted in 1888 by Emma Minnie Boyd and Albert Namatjira’s Ghost Gums MacDonnell Ranges.

Within a relatively short period, she managed to acquire locally a fine burr walnut wardrobe and also picked up a more than 100-year-old six-seater entrance or lobby settee originally from Victoria’s Government House at an auction on the property Norilum near Shepparton.

Other acquisitions included an art deco bedroom suite comprising wardrobe, dressing and bedside tables.

Several trips to Europe resulted in the purchase of large Royal Dux pieces, Royal Worcester and Royal Doulton – while exploration of local haunts turned up several impressive palace-size Sevres exhibition vases.

“Everything I bought suits the house,” Vikki said – and there is no doubt that each complements the other.

During their years as owners, the Smiths have ensured that Bishops Palace has hosted many splendid social occasions and memorable fundraisers – including once having the entire cast of Oliver appear on the balcony to sing Consider Yourself at Home to assembled guests.

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