House 52 Mount Street
This impressive residence, built in 1892 for Everard Firebrace Darlot and his family, was one of Perth’s first ‘mansions’. Darlot was a successful pastoralist and politician, serving as a member of the Upper Gascoyne Road Board and also member for the Legislative Assembly for Murchison. In 1885, he and Harriet Mills were married and not long after Darlot engaged prominent architect John Talbot Hobbs to design a house for them befitting their stature as a successful, wealthy family. Being close to the main central business district of Perth and also to the Swan River and King’s Park, Mount Street was an ideal location and where many other Western Australian affluent families built their city homes.
The two-storey limestone and brick house at 52 Mount Street is a fine example of the Federation Queen Anne style and the work of Hobbs and, despite the loss of some of its grounds, gardens and associated buildings over time, is still a strong reminder of the peak years in the residential development of central Perth.
In 1910, Ernest (Augustus) and Bridget Lee Steere bought not just the house at 52 Mount Street from Darlot but also all its contents. Similar to the Darlots, the Lee Steeres had also made their money from pastoralism as well as horseracing and were well-known in Perth’s social and political circles. Both Sir Ernest and his son Ernest (Henry) served as Mayors of Perth.
The residence at 52 Mount Street, with its many rooms and substantial landscaped grounds was always a popular location for croquet and tennis parties, dances and receptions as well as family weddings, and was often mentioned in the social pages of the local newspapers. However, although the residence remained in the family until 1975, by the 1920s the Lee Steere family were mainly living in the country and only stayed at Mount Street when business and social events called them to the city. For the rest of the time it was rented out and in 1965 had been converted into a hotel, the “Mount Private Hotel”.
In 1975, the residence was bought by Anglican Church and used for a health and welfare centre which became Anglicare. The Church later subdivided the Lot and carried out many improvements and modifications, including constructing a 12 bay underground carpark, eventually converting it into the residence of the serving Anglican Archbishop of Perth. Today 52 Mount Street is one of the few remaining grand houses still being used as a private residence in central Perth.
This impressive residence, built in 1892 for Everard Firebrace Darlot and his family, was one of Perth’s first ‘mansions’. Being close to the main central business district of Perth and also to the Swan River and King’s Park, this was a premium real estate area for Western Australia’s more affluent families to build their city homes. As well as the Darlots, other well-known identities who lived in Mount Street include the Knight, Forrest, Yeos, Dent, Hardwick, James, Peet, Shenton, Hassell, Wittenoom and Lefroy families.
Originally from Victoria, Everard Darlot was a successful pastoralist in Western Australia, taking up many stations around the State from 1881 particularly in the Mid-West. In 1885, Darlot married Harriet Mills and they originally lived in a house in Irwin Street. In addition to his pastoralist interests, Darlot also had political aspirations. In 1887, he became a member of the Upper Gascoyne Road Board, and from 1890 to 1894 he was member for the Legislative Assembly for Murchison.
John Talbot Hobbs designed the residence very much befitting Mr and Mrs Darlot’s position in local society and Darlot’s stature as a successful pastoralist and politician. It is not surprising that Darlot engaged Hobbs to design his house. English born Hobbs was himself a prominent Western Australian for his contributions to both architecture and the military, and he designed many well-known and significant residential, commercial and public buildings in Perth and around the State most especially prolific during the gold boom years.
The two-storey limestone and brick house at 52 Mount Street is significant for a variety of reasons: it is a fine example of the Federation Queen Anne style and the work of Hobbs, and also as a reminder of the peak years in the residential development of central Perth. It also represents a time when live-in domestic servants were commonly employed by families like the Darlots, and commuting was still by horse and cart.
Typical of the Federation Queen Anne style, the house was designed with an assymetrical or irregular plan form giving it a variety of points of interest, design features and the odd surprising element including: the distinctive octagonal plan of the main house, the pepper pot roof at the south east corner, the tall gabled roof at the south west corner, the balustraded front verandah, the arcaded ground floor, the tower with swags, piers and quoins, tuck-pointed red face brick and random course limestone. Inside, the initials of Darlot can still be seen on the balustrade of the prominent jarrah staircase.
In 1910, newly-weds Ernest Augustus and Bridget Yelverton Lee Steere bought not just the house at 52 Mount Street from Darlot but also all its contents. Similar to the Darlots, the Lee Steeres had also made their money from agriculture as well as horseracing and had stations up north in Meekathara. They were also well-known in Perth circles with Sir Ernest becoming Mayor of Perth, and wife Bridget (called Biddy) the youngest daughter of famous engineer C. Y. O’Connor. The Lee Steere’s home became a popular location for many parties, dances and receptions, as well as family weddings, and was often mentioned in the social pages of the local newspapers reporting on such occasions.
Mrs Ernest Lee Steere entertained a large number of friends at an afternoon tea party yesterday at her home in Mount-street in honour of her sister Mrs. C. Y. Simpson, who arrived from England on Tuesday to spend some months in Perth…It was just a tea and talk party, the daintiest of teas being served on gaily flower-decked tables in the billiard room…
The Darlots and the Hobbs were also often noted as guests at the Lee Steeres gatherings at Mount Street.
Their son, Ernest Henry Lee Steere, was born in the house in 1912 and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming involved in local politics, including also serving as Lord Mayor of Perth, and continued the family’s agricultural concerns up north. Breeding and racing horses also remained a prominent part of the family business.
The substantial grounds that surrounded the grand residence included a sweeping circular driveway fringed with roses, manicured hedges, a croquet lawn, tennis courts, a hay loft, and a coach house with an upstairs residence for the driver and stalls at the back where the horses were kept. It even had a yard for a milking cow. However, the 1920s saw a change that would influence the future of the house at 52 Mount Street, when the Lee Steeres left the city to move to Toodyay to live where Ernest A. had grown up. Although they retained ownership, they only stayed at 52 Mount Street when business and social events called them to the city and for the rest of the time it was often rented out.
In 1960, the property transferred to their son Ernest Henry. Like his parents, Ernest H. retained ownership of his family home but he and his wife Jessica also preferred to live in the country so continued to rent it out. By 1965, 52 Mount Street had been converted into a private hotel, known as the “Mount Private Hotel”, using the river views and garden setting as marketing drawcards.
In 1975, the residence was bought by Anglican Church and converted into a health and welfare centre which later became Anglicare. The Church subdivided the Lot in 1982 in preparation for the main house to be converted into the residence of the serving Anglican Archbishop of Perth. In 1986, the house underwent many improvements and alterations, and a 12 bay underground car park was installed under the gardens to service the many visitors to the place.
Over time, the excision of parts of the site from the original lot have not only reduced the grandeur of the original setting but also inevitably removed early plantings, original garden beds and other elements such as the stables and playing courts and lawns. However, although there have been some internal modifications, the principal rooms and original or early features of the house remain mostly intact such as the grand entrance/piazza and stair hall, the drawing room, morning room, smoking room and dining room and billiard room.
Beyond the house, were the changes experienced in Mount Street. In the Inter-War period some of the larger houses in Mount Street had begun to be divided up and let as flats. Then, during the 1960s and early 1970s, a number of these houses were completely removed and replaced by flats. By the 1980s a small number of blocks appeared with larger apartments and the process of replacement of residences with more intensive development accelerated through the 1990s. Today 52 Mount Street is one of the few remaining grand houses still being used as a private residence in central Perth.
West Australian 12 November 1892 p. 5
West Australian 24 October 1892 p. 7
Daily News 24 June 1892 p. 1
West Australian 16 March 1934 p. 4