Once upon a time in a Ballarat palace…

Fancy a night or two in a 142-year-old Gothic bluestone mansion?

Bishop’s Palace is one of Ballarat’s most unique accommodation offerings, giving visitors the chance to stay in a heritage-listed property that was designed by the same man behind Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building.

We spoke to owners Craig Willian and Janine De Jong about why they decided to purchase the grand palace and open its doors to the public.

What’s the story behind Bishop’s Palace?

“Bishop’s Palace is one of the most imposing houses in Ballarat. It owes its existence to the fact that, in 1873, the Roman Catholic Church created the Ballarat diocese and a palace was needed for the first bishop, Bishop O’Connor, as well as space for diocesan headquarters. A contract was signed in 1875 for a grand new palace, designed by Reed and Barnes, to cost £6000. It was built by George Broom and the internal plaster work was by William Taylor. It was completed in 1877 and was on a scale in keeping with the importance of Ballarat as a gold mining centre at the time. It was set amid a large garden on 11 acres (nearly five hectares) sloping down towards Lake Wendouree.”

“A two-storey Gothic bluestone mansion of an unusual design, it is a heritage-listed property of architectural, aesthetic and historical significance to the state of Victoria.”

What inspired you to purchase a 19th century mansion?

“Purchasing Bishop’s Palace presented the opportunity of a lifetime.  To be granted the custodianship of such a significant and beautiful property could not be passed up.  As the property was originally built to house and entertain guests, we realised the opportunity to continue this time-honoured tradition. We decided to open the palace to the public by way of open homes/garden events, accommodation and various other functions whilst still remaining our home.”

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Run us through the layout of Bishop’s Palace…

“Grand entrance gates open to a winding driveway which leads through a formally landscaped area with mature trees and shrubs to the house. Bishop’s Palace has six large bedrooms, a dining room and parlour, a billiard room/library, a spa pavilion, kitchen/laundry and TV room. The ceilings within the palace are 18-feet high and ornately decorated with original ceiling roses and cornices. The front entry and staircase walls contain the original decorative gold leaf stencilled paintwork which is heritage-listed and replicated within Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, which was also designed by Reed. Many of the bedrooms and formal living areas contain beautiful marble fireplaces.”

Do you have a favourite room?

“All of the rooms have their own unique attributes and it is hard to single one from the others, whether it’s entertaining family and friends in the enormous dining room, playing pool in the billiard room, reading a book in the library, relaxing at the end of the day with a wine in the spa pavilion, having the best night’s sleep in the luxurious grand bedrooms, or playing music in the parlour. It is also lovely to sit on the expansive verandas overlooking Lake Wendouree, the beautiful city of Ballarat and the gardens surrounding the palace. Spring and summer offers the opportunity to entertain in the barbecue area, accessed via the original archway previously located at the Ballarat Town Hall.”

Tell us about the property’s heritage-listed gardens…

“Bishop’s Palace is aesthetically significant for its particularly large, impressive and intact garden, which forms an appropriate setting for the house. The survival of such a large garden in an urban context is unique in the state. The gardens were originally set on 11 acres and contained the entire block from Sturt Street at the front of the property to Wendouree Parade at the back. Thirteen of the well-established trees within the grounds are included on the Victorian Heritage Register.”

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How many people does Bishop’s Palace accommodate?

“Bishop’s Palace has six large bedrooms all with ensuites and each containing an eclectic mix of antique and reproduction period furniture. Ideally, the palace accommodation suits 12 people, however we can reconfigure to create additional accommodation. All of the rooms have a different theme and feel to them, from the romantic master suite (a favourite for newlyweds) to the gothic-inspired Red Room. We have accommodated 21 guests for a themed dinner party event, however it is best to enjoy the six bedrooms as they are.”

“The palace can be booked entirely for any occasion, usually weddings or family/friend get-togethers, or the rooms can be booked individually, with the shared common areas offering the opportunity for guests to meet and mingle.”

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What kind of events have you hosted to date?

“Bishop’s Palace is proving to be a very popular wedding venue due to its convenient location in the centre of Ballarat, where the bride and groom can create their own bespoke wedding and have use of the property exclusively for the ceremony, reception and accommodation.  We have held the Mates4Mates charity fundraising event, a fabulous day with eight bands and 800 people picnicking on the lawn and enjoying the music. We have held many other fundraising events and have opened up the palace gardens during Heritage Week on several occasions. There have been music videos filmed here and it is a very popular venue for holding a Murder Mystery night, as it is like playing real-life Cluedo.” 

Bishop’s Palace
1444 Sturt Street, Ballarat