The David Roche Foundation House Museum - Rich in History

Melbourne Street

In the heart of Melbourne Street, there’s one building in particular that’s bursting with exceptional history from around the globe. The David Roche Foundation Gallery houses an eclectic collection of antiques, paintings and objects d’art accumulated by the late Mr David Roche AM over his lifetime — and they’re displayed in David’s home, Fermoy House, so you can share in their joy.

With pieces spanning two centuries of European design — from the early rococo of France to Faberge in Russia — it’s one of the greatest decorative arts collections in a private institution in Australia. Museum Director Robert Reason shares the story behind this fascinating place and the man who created it.

“I knew David for about the last 10 years of his life. I used to visit him when I was a curator at Art Gallery of SA and he introduced me to Martyn Cook, one of his major antique dealers and friends. Through these friendships, I got to have a good understanding of David and his interests and his desires for the museum when he passed away. At that point, Martyn was the director and I was the senior curator and I was honoured to be part of developing and opening the museum, which has continued to develop since then and has around 3,000 items in it,” Robert says.

David Roche 2008 David Mariuz photography
photo-icon David Roche 2008 - David Mariuz Photography

For David, it was all about leaving an amazing house and interior and a collection he’d put together over a lifetime.

“One of the unexpected consequences was the interest in him as a person — I think that would probably surprise him. He had a great love for travel and he and Martyn would often travel overseas each year to places like London, Paris and New York. They had a fantastic time, going to antique fairs, all of the top antique shops, big auction houses, like Sotheby’s, and he always had a good chunk of money put aside so he could add new items to his collection,” Robert explains.

“He loved the backstory to each item and he saw collecting as an opportunity to explore history and people’s memories. One of the most exciting parts for him was receiving all the crates in the months afterwards. He just loved unpacking the treasures he’d learned about and he always had a place in mind to display them in his home for when he returned — each room of the house has a very specific feel.

“David lived in the house from 1954 to 2013, which was a long period of time, and he always had a close group of devoted staff who were loyal to him. He even used the building next door as Fermoy Kennels and he, along with his kennel staff, would groom his dogs and prepare them for exhibitions interstate and internationally. He loved dogs — up until around 2000, he had Kerry Blue Terriers and Afghan Hounds, and later in life he had Smooth Coat Fox Terriers,” Robert smiles.

When you visit Fermoy House, you can do a guided tour to learn about David, the house, and the pieces, which all have a story to tell.

Fermoy House1 Randy Larcombe photography
photo-icon Fermoy House - Randy Larcombe Photography

“You can also buy a separate ticket just for the exhibition and take your own time looking through that. There’s always something new to explore, as it changes every few months. At the moment, we have the National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery’s Salon des Refusés 2021 — the alternate Archibald and Wynne prize exhibition. It’s on display in Adelaide for the first time in its 30-year history, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to take it in,” Robert says.

The David Roche Foundation House Museum is open by guided tour Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 am, 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm. Disabled car parking is available and the house and galleries accommodate wheelchair access, although access is limited in some areas of the house, which is a Federation villa. Mobility scooters are not suitable for use in the house, but are fine in the galleries. For more details and to book, head to the website.

David Roche Foundation

241 Melbourne St, North Adelaide SA 5006


Instagram: @tdrfadelaide