Rich History of ACU's North Sydney campus

Published: Wednesday 3rd June 2015



The historic ACU Vice Chancellery Building in North Sydney was once the home of a celebrated colonial artist in the 1840s, was described as the most “picturesque” house in the northern suburbs and played host to a Papal Delegate in the beginning of the 20th century. 

These interesting snippets were revealed in a Heritage Impact Statement (HIS) that was conducted before renovations took place in the interior of the ground floor of the building formerly known as Rockleigh Grange.

Building works included refurbishment of the entry foyer and toilet, and the removal of walls to create more space in meeting rooms, and the HIS concluded that the works would have no impact on the significance of the site. The improvements were made with the aim of not only upgrading the appearance and functionality of the building, but also to preserve and honour its history. The newly refurbished conference room is now called the Apostolic Delegation Room.

At the core of what is now the Vice Chancellery Building, lies part of a c.1840s stone dwelling built for the celebrated Australian colonial artist Conrad Martens (1801-1878).

Martens and his family occupied Rockleigh, until his death in 1878 and Martens and his daughter, Rebecca, sketched Rockleigh on a number of occasions. The dwelling is revealed as being in the Gothic Style and Marten’s property included the entire area now the Edward Street campus of the ACU.

Another significant owner was solicitor and politician Sir John Hughes, who lived there in 1900, however after Hughes died the property was sold to the Catholic Church to provide a residence to the newly appointed Papal Delegate Archbishop Cerretti in 1915. 

Rockleigh Grange was described by The Sydney Morning Herald in the early 20th century as ‘probably the most picturesque one in the northern suburbs” and the Catholic Press explained the reasons for the purchase:

“Here will be situated the Delegation Apostolic for Australasia, the headquarters of the newly-created authority which has been established by the Holy See in recognition of the rapidly growing importance of the Commonwealth and New Zealand and their dependencies … Rockleigh will be the hub of Australasian Catholicism, and the home of the personal representative of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XV.  There will be transacted all the business which is to keep the Church here in more direct contact with Rome.

“Rockleigh Grange stands on a proud, commanding an extensive view of Sydney and the harbour from beyond Bradley’s Head to the Lane Cove River. It is a commodious vial mansion situated in the midst of over two acres of beautiful garden….

“The gardens are laid out in excellent taste and are resplendent with almost every variety of cultured flower, the rose plots being especially beautiful.  There is a fine tennis lawn….Lawns, flower-beds, trees and walks combined to make the grounds the most beautiful in the neighbourhood….

‘A century ago the Catholic Church in Australasia consisted of a few thousand afflicted soles, without a single priest…But now the episcopate of the fourth Archbishop of Sydney, the faithful number over 205,000; the churches count 194…”