Watts’ Cottage – “Ilfracombe”

This limestone wattle and daub cottage built from 1869 to 1870, now classified by the National Trust, is a fine example of homes built by the first settlers in the area using local materials.

Watts' Cottage

Watts’ Cottage

The cottage was originally located on an acre of land fronting Holyrood Avenue, Sorrento and was the home of John Francis and Jenny (Jane) Watts, two local pioneers and forebears of many of Sorrento’s present-day citizens.

John Watts, a sailor from Ashford by Barnstaple in Devon, came to Australia in 1860. Ilfracombe was a seaside village on the Bristol Channel close to his home so the name was chosen for their cottage after he and Jenny Skelton married in 1865. She had been born in 1847 to Edward and Harriet Skelton, two of Sorrento’s early settlers. At the time John Watts was a lime-burner in the area. In subsequent years he worked variously as a fisherman, bullock-driver and as Ocean Foreshore Ranger. They had nine children born between 1865 and 1885, seven of them whilst living at Ilfracombe.

The Watts operated a small farm on the land where the cottage originally stood. Here they grew vegetables, fruit and flowers and kept bees, cows, pigs and horses.


The original cottage had two rooms as it is now, but with an earth floor. It was built for the Watts by a Mr Lowther at a cost of £12, There was an extra fee to the stonemason for the fireplace. The roofing frame was made from ti-tree brought from Rye, the location of the nearest stand of ti-tree to Sorrento. The shingles were cut from large eucalypts at Arthurs Seat. The window and door frames were made from Kauri washed ashore from the wreck of the Hurricane, (details HERE) which sank off Arthur’s Seat in 1869. The walls were of wattle and daub construction using local wattle and lime, a regularly used wall treatment in those days. The existing lining boards were probably added at the turn of the 19th Century.

Over the years as the family grew additional weatherboard rooms were added so that the shape of the house changed and the original cottage was hidden as in the photo above. These additions were dismantled when the heart of the home was being restored.

Descendants of the Watts lived in the cottage and its extensions until 1966.

Watts' Cottage Interior

Watts’ Cottage Interior

In 1967 the combined initiative of a concerned public and the Nepean Historical Society saved the building from demolition by developers. An appeal was launched to cover restoration and removal and the community contributed. The State Government  made a grant of $3800. Eventually in 1988 the renovation and relocation of the cottage was completed by members of the Sorrento Rotary as a Bicentennial Project under the guidance of their past president John Clark, a builder, who is a Watts’ descendant.

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