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Camden’s carpenters

A local traditional trade

Carpentry was an essential craft in all communities and has been practised for centuries. In the Camden area, the traditional trade of carpentry as it was practised had a variety of forms.  Traditional trades were part of the process of settler colonialism on the colonial frontier in the Cowpastures.

In pre-settlement times, the first form of bush carpentry was practised by the Aborigines. They stripped bark from trees and used it for shelters that kept them from the natural elements and made weapons.

At the time of European settlement, many on the frontier had no formal trades skills and learnt bush carpentry from watching the Aboriginal people or experimenting themselves. The bush carpenter was a practical make-do pioneer who innovated with naturally occurring products from their local environment. They practised sustainability in a period when it was a necessity for their very survival and relied on their ingenuity, adaptability and wit.

A rudimentary vernacular domestic style architecture typical of frontier settlement constructed from available local materials. The farmhouse Illustrated here is the home of V Kill and his family in the Burragorang Valley in 1917 with some intrepid bushwalkers. The cottage is slab construction with a dirt floor and no electricity. The cottage is surrounded by the vegetable garden which is carefully tended by the family. (Camden Images)

Some of the bush carpenter’s spirit and tradition arrived with the early European settlers and owed some of its origins to the English tradition of green woodworking. This traditional practice dates back to the Middle Ages and is linked with coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management.  The craftsmen led a solitary existence in the woods and made a host of items from unseasoned green timber, including furniture, tools, fencing, kitchenware and other things.

The bush carpenters were amongst the first in the Camden area to erect building structures. Like other rural areas of Australia, the Camden area’s landscape has been defined by the bush carpenter’s huts and sheds. One example was illustrated in Peter Mylrea’s Camden District (2002), the so-called Government Hut erected at the Cowpastures in 1804.

This view of the Government Hut in the Cowpastures at the Nepean River crossing illustrates the rudimentary form of construction on the colonial frontier in 1804. (State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1)

The early settlers who built these basic shelters did so without the manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution. Either through cost or just a make-do attitude, they built rudimentary vernacular buildings that lasted for decades. In later times settlers’ structures were improved with the introduction of galvanised iron after the 1820s.

There were many examples of huts and farm sheds being erected in other parts of the Camden district, remote from major centres, like the Burragorang Valley. Post-and-rail fencing and a host of other structures put a defining character on the rural landscape. There is still evidence of bush carpentry in and around Camden.

The former farm shed c1900-1910 apply renamed the barn is popular with weddings and other activities at the Camden Community Garden. This farm shed illustrates the rudimentary type of construction practiced as a form of bush carpentry in the local area. (I Willis, 2018)

The bush carpenter’s tool kit usually did not have specialised tools and would have included saws, axes, adze, chisels, augers, hammers, wedges, spade, and other items. Their kit was meant to cope with all the contingencies of the rural frontier that were typical of the remote parts of the Camden district.

The formal trade of carpentry and joinery has a long history going back centuries centred on the guilds. Guilds appeared in England in the Middle Ages, and according to the website London Lives 1690-1800, their purpose was to

 defend the interests of the trade, regulate the quality of workmanship and the training of new members, and provide support and welfare for their members.

https://www.londonlives.org/static/Guilds.jsp

In London, they were established by charter and regulated by the City authorities. Guilds in London had considerable political power and were one of the largest charitable institutions in the City. Carpenters were organised in the Carpenter’s Company, one of 12 powerful London guilds. Guilds were a mixture of apprentices, journeymen and master craftsmen, with no women.

In the colony of New South Wales, carpenters were formally trained artisans have examples of their work in colonial mansions of the grand estates and the many local towns and villages across the Camden district. These artisans used milled timber and other manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution that were readily available and that their clients could afford.

Camden’s carpenters were a mixture of journeymen and master craftsmen, who had served their apprenticeship in Camden and elsewhere. John Wrigley’s Historic Buildings of Camden (1983) lists 38 carpenters/builders who worked in Camden between the 1840s and 1980s.

The pre-WW2 tradesmen used hand tools and traditional construction methods, which is evident in any of the town’s older buildings and cottages. Take particular notice when you walk around central Camden of the fine quality of artistry that has stood the test of time from some of these traditional tradesmen.

The hand tools used by the Camden carpenter changed little in centuries of development and refinement. The tool kit of the mid-1800s would have included hammers, chisels, planes, irons, clamps, saws, mallet, pincers, augers and a host of other tools. It would be very recognisable by a 21st-century tradesman. Master carpenter, Fred Lawton’s tool kit, is on display at the Camden museum (TDR 19/12/11)

A display of hand tools at the Camden Museum. This display illustrates the range of tools that made up the carpenter’s toolkit for his job. Shown here is a range of saws, hammers, augers, planes, adze, and other tools. (2021 KHolmquist)

Hand tools were utilitarian, and some had decorated handles and stocks, particularly those from Germany and British makers. By the early 19th century, many hand tools were being manufactured in centres like Sheffield, UK, and these would have appeared in the Camden area. Carpenters traditionally supplied their own tools and would mark on their hand tools to clearly identify them. Many of the hand tools became highly specialised, especially for use by cabinet-makers, joiners and wood-turning. 

The Camden carpenters listed in the 1904 New South Wales Post Office Directory were JP Bensley, John Franklin, Joseph Packenham and Thomas Thornton, while at Camden Park, there was Harry ‘Herb’ English.  According to Herb’s nephew Len English, Herb English was one of a number of generations of the English family who were carpenters in the early years of the 20th century in the Camden area. It was a family tradition for the sons to be apprenticed in the trade to their father and work at Camden Park.  This practice followed the training principles of English carpentry guilds under a system of patrimony.

Camden carpenter Herbert English working at Camden Park in the 1920s. This image illustrates the use of hand tools here showing the use of the chisel, mallet, handsaw and square. English is cutting a rebate with the chisel after marking the cut out with his square. He would have supplied his own tools and kept them sharpened at the end of the working day. (Camden Images)

Len English’s grandfather, William John English,e was apprenticed to his father, James, and worked at Camden Park between the 1890s and 1930s. William lived in Luker Street, Elderslie, where he built his house and had his workshop, where Len recalls playing as a lad. William’s son, Jack Edward English, was apprenticed to his father (William) in the family tradition, also worked at Camden Park and later in Camden and Elderslie during the 1930s and 1940s. During this period, Jack and his brother, Sidney, both worked with local Camden builders Mark Jenson and Mel Peat (TDR19/12/11).

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Hope, heritage and a sense of place – an English village in the Cowpastures

Camden Heritage Conservation Area

In 2006 Camden Council designated the Camden town centre as a  Heritage Conservation Area, and later incorporated it in the  2010 Local Environment Plan. A heritage conservation zoning, according to Camden Council, is :

 an area that has historic significance… [and]… in which historical origins and relationships between the various elements create a sense of place that is worth keeping.

Map Camden Town Centre HCA LEP 2010 CRAG
Map of the Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area from 2010 Local Environment Plan. (Taken from 2016 Camden Residents Action Group Submission for State Listing)

 

Historic significance

Several writers have offered observations on Camden’s historical significance.

Historian Ken Cable argued in the 2004 Draft Heritage Report prepared by Sydney Architects Tropman and Tropman that: Camden town is a significant landmark in the LGA.  

In 2006 Sydney architect Hector Abrahams stated that Camden was ‘the best-preserved rural town in the entire Cumberland Plain’ (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Hector Abrahams -best preserved- Camden Advertiser 2006 Jun28
Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

 

Historian Alan Atkinson has argued that Camden is ‘a profoundly important place’, while historian Grace Karskins maintains that ‘Camden is an astonishingly intact survival of early colonial Australia’.  

 

Sense of place

In the early 20th century poets, artists and writers waxed lyrical that the town was like ‘a little England’.

Camden Council documents stress the importance of rural nature of the town for the community’s sense of place and community identity.

Camden Aerial 1940 CIPP
An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

 

This is quite a diverse range of views.

This blog post will look at the historical elements that have contributed to the town’s sense of place, and ultimately its historical significance.

While none of these elements is new, this is the first time they have been presented this way.

 

A private venture of Englishmen James and William Macarthur

The village was a private development of Englishmen James and William Macarthur on the family property of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had their private-venture village of Camden approved in 1835, the street plan drawn up (1836) and the first sale of land in 1841.  All within the limits of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had another private venture village at Taralga on Richlands and Menangle on Camden Park Estate.

Camden James Macarthur Belgenny
James Macarthur (Belgenny Farm)

Creation of a little English village

The notion of an English-style village on the family estate must have been an enticing possibility for the Macarthur brothers.

In the Camden village, James and William Macarthur named streets after themselves and their supporters. They include John Street, Macarthur Road, Elizabeth Street, Edward Street, Broughton Street, Exeter Street, Oxley Street, Mitchell Street. The Macarthur family and funded the construction of St John’s church on the hill and donated the surrounding curtilage.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The Macarthur brothers created vistas from the family’s Georgian hilltop Georgian mansion across the Cowpastures countryside to their Gothic-style village church.

The Englishness of the Camden village entranced many visitors and locals, including artists and writers. On a visit in 1927, the Duchess of York claimed that the area was ‘like England.’

 

Strategic river crossing into the Cowpastures

The village was strategically located at the Nepean River ford where the first Europeans crossed the river. By the 1820s the river crossing was the main entry point to Macarthur brothers’ Camden Park Estate, the largest gentry property in the area.

The situation of the village on the Great South Road re-enforced the Macarthur brothers economic and social authority over the countryside.

The river crossing was one of the two northern entry points to their realm of Camden Park Estate, the other being at the Menangle.  Menangle later became another private estate village.

The Macarthur village of Camden would secure the northern entry to the family’s Camden Park estate where the Great South Road entered their property. By 1826 the river ford was the site of the first toll bridge in the area.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP
Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

 

None of this was new as the river crossing had been the entry into the Cowpastures reserve declared by Governor King in 1803. The site was marked by the police hut in the government reserve at the end of the Cowpasture track from Prospect.

 

English place names, an act of dispossession

The Camden village was part of the British imperial practice of placing English names on the landscape. The name of the village is English as is the gentry estate within which it was located – Camden Park.

English place names were used in the area from 1796 when Governor Hunter names the site the Cow Pastures Plain. The Cowpastures was a common grazing land near a village.

Naming is a political act of possession, or dispossession, and is an active part of settler colonialism.

Camden Signage
The Camden sign on the entry to the town centre at Kirkham Reserve on Camden Valley Way formerly The Great South Road and Hume Highway. (I Willis)

 

The Cowpastures was a meeting ground in between the  Dharawal, the Dharug and the Gundungurra people. The area was variously known as ‘Baragil’ (Baragal)’ or Benkennie (dry land).

Indigenous names were generally suppressed by English placenames until recent decades.

Initially, the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures that escaped from the Sydney colony in 1788 occupied the meadows of the Nepean River floodplain.

The Cowpastures became a contested site on the colonial frontier.

 

Dispossession in the English meadows of the Cowpastures

The foundation of the Macarthur private village venture was part of the British colonial settler project.

The first Europeans were driven by Britain’s imperial ambitions and the settler-colonial project and could see the economic possibilities of the countryside.

Under the aims of the colonial settler project, as outlined by Patrick Wolfe and later LeFevre, the new Europeans sought to replace the original population of the colonised territory with a new group of settlers.

Hunter’s naming of the Cowpastures was the first act of expropriation. Further dispossession occurred with the government reserve, and later Governor Macquarie created the government village of Cawdor in the centre of the Cowpastures.

Art Governor Macquarie SLNSW
Governor Macquarie SLNSW

 

The Europeans seized territory by grant and purchase and imposed more English place names in the countryside, and created a landscape that mirrored the familiarity of England.

The colonial settlers brought Enlightenment notions of progress in their search for some kind of utopia.

 

Cowpasture patriarchs

The Macarthur private venture village was located in a landscape of self-style English gentry, and their estates interspersed with several small villages.

The gentry estates and their homestead and farm complex were English style village communities. One of the earliest was Denbigh (1818).

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

 

The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.

The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.

The Cowpasture colonial elite created a bunyip aristocracy and styled themselves on the English gentry.

On the left bank of the Nepean River were the gentry estates of Camden Park along with Brownlow Hill. On the right bank were the gentry properties of Macquarie Grove, Elderslie, Kirkham and Denbigh and several smallholders.

The ideal society for the colonial gentry included village communities. To foster their view of the world, the Europeans created the small village of Cobbitty around the Hassall family’s private Heber Chapel.

The village of Stonequarry was growing at the southern limits of the Cowpastures at the creek crossing on the Great South Road.  The village was located on the Antil’s Jarvisfield and later renamed Picton in the 1840s.

The picturesque Cowpastures countryside greeted the newly arrived Englishmen John Hawdon from County Durham. In 1828 Hawdon became the first person to put in writing that the Cowpastures area reminded him of the English countryside when he wrote a letter home.

 

The progress and development of the country town

The Enlightenment view of progress influenced the Macarthur’s vision for their Camden village. They sought to create an ideal village community of yeoman farmers and sponsored self-improvement community organisation including the School of Arts.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP
Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP

 

Within the Macarthur fiefdom, former estate workers became townsmen, took up civic duties and ran successful businesses.

The village of Camden prospered, became a thriving market town and the economic hub of a growing district.

The architectural styles of the town centre shine a light on the progress and development of the Macarthur village. The architectural forms include  Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar moderne, Mid-20th century modern, and Post-modern.

The town centre served a host of functions for the community that are indicated by the types of land use in a country town. These include commercial, government, open space, industrial, transport, residential, religious, agricultural, amongst others.

 

The country town idyll and the appearance of heritage

Since the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Appin, Campbelltown and Camden there has been increased interest in the cultural heritage of the town centre. This is the first appearance of the influence of post-modernism in the Camden story.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown Camden Airds 1973
John Wrigley conducted the first heritage study of the Camden town centre in 1985 for the Camden Historical Society.

Urban growth and the loss of rural countryside has encouraged a nostalgic desire for the past. This process had led to the evolution of the Camden, the country town idyll.

The heritage of the town centre is what the community values from the past that exists in the present. It is made up of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The town centre story can is a timeline with many side shoots or a tree with the main stem and many branches.

 

Camden time traveller and the town centre

The living history of the town centre is evident at every turn. At every corner. A visitor can be a time-traveller into the past. A view along the main street is a view into the past.

There are many locations in our local area where a person can be a time-traveller into the past. The traveller can be a participant in the area’s living history, ‘simply by being present’.

One of these sites is the commanding view from the hilltop at St John’s church. Here the traveller can view the Cowpasture countryside that nestles the Camden town centre within its grasp.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)

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Oxley’s anchor away for 34 years

The mystery of the John Oxley memorial anchor.

As visitors approach the Camden town centre along Camden Valley Way at Elderslie they pass Curry Reserve which has a quaint late 19th-Century workman’s cottage and next to it a ship’s anchor. What is not readily known is that the anchor disappeared for 34 years. What happened? How did it become lost for 34 years? How did it end up in a park on Camden Valley Way?

The cottage is known as John Oxley Cottage and is the home of the local tourist information office The anchor is a memorial which was gifted to the Camden community from British naval authorities on the anniversary of the death of noted Englishman and New South Wales colonial identity John Oxley. So who was John Oxley and why is there a memorial anchor?

Portrait John Oxley 1783-1828 SLNSW
A portrait of Englishman and New South Wales colonial identity John Oxley 1783-1828 (SLNSW)

 

This tale could also be viewed as a celebration of European invaders displacing and dispossessing the Indigenous Dharawal people from their country.  Englishman and colonial identity John Oxley was part of the colonial settler society which, according to LeFevre, sought to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers.

Whichever view of the world you want to take this tale is an example of how the past hides many things, sometimes in plain view. This story is one of those hidden mysteries from the past and is also part of the patina of the broader Camden story.

Elderslie John Oxley Cottage Anchor and Cottage 2020 IW lowres
A view of the John Oxley Memorial Anchor, the sculpture silhouette of John Oxley and John Oxley Cottage and the Camden Visitor Information Centre found in Curry Reserve at 46 Camden Valley Way, Elderslie in 2020 (I Willis)

 

John Oxley Memorial Anchor

Next to the anchor in Curry Reserve is the Oxley memorial plaque  which states:

 

In Memorium

Lieutenant John Oxley RN

1783-1829

Pioneer, Explorer and Surveyor General of New South Wales.

This Navel Anchor marks the site of the home and original grant of 1812 to John Oxley RN.

 

Elderslie John Oxley Cottage Plaque Anchor 2020 IW lowres
The plaque was attached to the John Oxley Memorial Anchor in 1963 and originally located in Kirkham Lane, Kirkham.  The 1963 site was located on the original 1812 Kirkham land grant to Oxley adjacent to the Kirkham Stables. In 2020 the plaque located on the plinth attached to the Oxley Memorial Anchor in Curry Reserve Elderslie. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The anchor was relocated to Curry Reserve in Elderslie in 2015 by Camden Council from a privately-owned site in Kirkham Lane adjacent to the Kirkham Stables. The council press release stated that the purpose of the move was to provide

greater access for the community and visitors to enjoy this special piece of the past.

Mayor Symkowiak said:

The anchor represents an important part of our history and [the council] is pleased that the community can now enjoy it in one of Camden’s most popular parks.

We are pleased to work with Camden Historical Society in its relocation to Curry Reserve. The society will provide in-kind support through the provision of a story board depicting the history of the anchor.

 

The anchor had originally been located in Kirkham Lane adjacent to Kirkham Stables in 1963. According to The Australian Surveyor, there had been an official ceremony where a descendant of John Oxley, Mollie Oxley, of Cremorne Point, NSW unveiled the plaque.  The report states that there were around 20 direct descendants of John Oxley present at the ceremony organised by the Camden Historical Society.

British naval authorities had originally handed over the anchor to the Camden community in 1929. So what had happened between 1929 and 1963?

The answer to this mystery is explained in the 60th-anniversary address given by the 2017 Camden Historical Society president Dr Ian Willis.  He stated that shortly after the society was founded in 1957 Camden Council was lobbied to do something with the anchor that

[had] languished in the council yard all but forgotten.

In 1929 the British Admiralty had presented the anchor to the Camden community to commemorate the centenary of the death of Englishman and New South Wales colonial identity John Oxley.

The British Admiralty actually had presented three commemorative anchors to Australia to serve as memorials. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

One anchor, from the destroyer Tenacious, is to be sent to Wellington, where Oxley heard of the victory at Waterloo. A second anchor, from the minesweeper Ford, will to Harrington, to mark the spot where Oxley crossed the Manning River. The third anchor is from the destroyer Tomahawk, and will go to Kirkham, near Camden, where the explorer died.

The HMS Tomahawk was one of sixty-seven “S” class destroyers built for the Royal Navy as the Great War was ending. The ship was built in 1918 and reduced to the naval reserve list in 1923.

HMS Tomahawk
HMS Tomahawk 1920-1923 (RN)

 

John Oxley, the man.

The Australian Surveyor noted that Oxley came to New South Wales on the HMS Buffalo in 1802 as a midshipman, returned in England in 1807, gained his lieutenancy and came back to New South Wales in 1809. Oxley returned to England in 1810 and was then appointed as New South Wales Surveyor-General in 1812 and returned to the colony.

Oxley was born in Kirkham Abbey in Yorkshire England and enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1802 aged 16 years old.

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

 

John Oxley was allocated the grants of Kirkham in 1812 (later Camelot) and Elderslie in the Cowpastures district.  He had several convicts assigned to him who worked at the property of Kirkham.

As Surveyor-General Oxley led several expeditions into the New South Wales interior and he was also active in the public affairs of the colony.

John Oxley Reserve

The sculpture of Oxley’s profile had been originally erected in John Oxley Reserve in Macquarie Grove Road at Kirkham in 2012 after lobbying by the Camden Historical Society. The metal cut-out silhouette was commissioned by Camden Council at the instigation of Robert Wheeler of the society. The sculpture commemorated the bi-centennial anniversary of Oxley’s appointment as surveyor-general to the New South Wales colony.

Mayor Greg Warren said:

John Oxley was a major part of Camden’s history. The signage and silhoutte will be a continual reminder of [his] significant contribution to the Camden area. (Camden Narellan Advertiser 20 June 2012)

 

John Oxley Cottage

The John Oxley Cottage is only remaining building from a row of workman’s cottages built in the 1890s along what was the Great South Road, later the Hume Highway (1928) and now the Camden Valley Way.

 

Elderslie John Oxley Cottage 2020 IW lowres
A view of John Oxley Cottage which is the home of the Camden Visitors Information Centre at 46 Camden Valley Way Elderslie. The late 19th-century Victorian workman’s cottage in what is now located in Curry Reserve. The site is part of the original 1812 Elderslie land grant to John Oxley. The silhouette was moved to this location from John Oxley Reserve on Macquarie Grove Road at Kirkham. (I Willis, 2020)

 

The Visitor Information Centre was opened in 1989 after the cottage, and its surrounding curtilage was purchased by Camden Council in 1988 and added to Curry Reserve. The cottage was originally owned by the Curry family and had been occupied until the late 1970s, then became derelict.

The four-room cottage had a shingle roof that was later covered in corrugated iron. There were several outbuildings including a bathroom and toilet, alongside a well.

Curry Reserve is named after early settler Patrick Curry who was the Camden waterman in the 1840s. He delivered water he drew from the Nepean River to townsfolk for 2/- a load that he transported in a wooden barrel on a horse-drawn cart.

John Oxley is remembered in lots of places

There is Oxley Street in the Camden Town Centre which was named after Oxley at the foundation of the Camden township in 1840.

An obelisk has been erected by the residents of Redcliffe that commemorates the landing of Surveyor-General Lieutenant John Oxley. In 1823, John Oxley, on instructions from Governor Brisbane, was sent to find a suitable place for a northern convict outpost.

There are more monuments to the 1824 landing of John Oxley and his discovery of freshwater at North Quay and Milton in the Brisbane area.

An anchor commemorates the route taken by John Oxley in his exploration of New South Wales in 1818 and marks the spot where Oxley crossed the Peel River in 1818 outside  Tamworth.  In 2017 the anchor was targeted as a symbol of settler colonialism and the European invasion of the lands of the Wiradjuri people. The anchor was obtained from the Australian Commonwealth Naval Department and came off the British survey ship HMS Sealark.

A monument,  the anchor from the HMS Ford from British naval authorities, was erected at Harrington NSW in honor of explorer John Oxley who explored the area from Bathurst to Port Macquarie. Oxley and his 15 men crossed the Manning River on 22 October 1818 having stayed here from 19 October in the lands of the Biripi people.

There is John Oxley Park in Wellington NSW on the Macquarie River on the land of the Wiradjuri people. Wellington was named by the explorer John Oxley who, according to the popular story, unable to cross the Lachlan River because of dense reeds, climbed Mount Arthur in 1817 and named the entire landscape below him Wellington Valley, after the Duke of Wellington who, only two years earlier, had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

Wellington Oxley Historical Museum once the Bank of New South Wales 1883 (WHS)
The Oxley Historical Museum located in Wellington NSW. The museum is housed in the former 1883 Bank of New South Wales. The site of the town was named after the Englishman the Duke of Wellington by John Oxley on one of his expeditions to the interior of New South Wales. The town is located on the land of the Wiradjuri people. (OHM)

 

The Oxley Historical Museum is housed in the old Bank of New South Wales, on the corner of Warne and Percy Streets, in a glorious 1883 Victorian-era two-story brick building designed by architect J. J. Hilly. Wellington’s Oxley anchor memorial is today found in the grounds of the Wellington Public School.

Updated 4 July 2020; original posted 27 March 2020

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A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5

 

In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.

These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.

Tompson-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-Cover_lowres
Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson. ‘The  Cow-Pastures, Camden Park’ William McLeod. c1886.

 

Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.

Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.

Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.

A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).

Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)

Tompson Book Back Cover Camden sketch 1857-lowres
Back Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes Charles Tompson. Sketch of Camden, HG Lloyd, 1857 (SLNSW)

 

The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)

The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.

The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.

Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were  not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture.  Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)

TompsonCharles-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-lowres

 

The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)

The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).

Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.

Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)

The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)

Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)

The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)

Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.

Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.

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A lost Gothic fantasy

The Burragorang Valley

The Burragorang Valley is one of those lost places that people fondly remember from the past. A place of the imagination and dreaming where former residents fondly re-tell stories from their youth. These places create powerful memories and nostalgia for many  people and continue to be places of interest. They are localities of myths and legends and imminent danger yet at the same time places of incredible beauty.

One of these people is artist Robyn Collier who tells her story this way:

The Burragorang Valley is the picturesque valley that was flooded in the 1950s to make way for a permanent  water supply for the growing city of Sydney. What was once a thriving valley of guest houses, farms and other small industries no longer exists. Residents were forced to leave their precious valley, livelihoods were lost, people dispossessed with only a small  compensation. The homes and buildings were demoloshed the land stripped of vegetation. That Valley  is now called Lake Burragorang. I have been fortunate enough to have had a very long history with what is left of  this beautiful area  – a history I thought I had left behind 30 years ago.

Robyn Collier was taken on a journey back to the valley in recent years and this prompted to create a number of works of arts. She writes that it is a

 It has been a journey I never thought I would ever make again – and yet, here it is.

Robyn created an exhibition of her works in 2018 and her memories of the valley.

Art Burragorang Valley Robyn Collier 2019
Lake Burragorang behind Warragamba Dam still has some a hint of the Gothic elements of the pre-flooded valley of the 1950s (R Collier)

 

In 2006 Radio National examined the loss of the valley to the Europeans who had settled there over the decades. The notes that support the radio programme state:

In the 1930s and 40s, NSW was experiencing a bad drought, and during the war years planning began in earnest for the building of Warragamba Dam. The site of the dam meant that the 170 residents who called the Burragorang Valley their home would need to leave, either because their properties would be submerged by the dam’s waters or because they would be cut off from road access.

Although protest meetings, petitions and deputations to local members of parliament called for the dam to be stopped, it went ahead regardless. Throughout the 1950s, the Sydney Water Board bought up properties in the area or resumed land that was needed for the catchment area. Houses were pulled down and the valley cleared of trees and vegetation in preparation for the completion of the dam in 1960.

The Burragorang was also a popular holiday spot and was renowned for its guesthouses, where Sydneysiders could come for a weekend to go horse-riding and bushwalking and attend the many dances that were on offer. However, by the 1940s, city planners were already talking about one of the most pressing issues facing Sydney – the provision of a secure water supply – and the Burragorang Valley was earmarked as the site for a new dam.

burragorang-valley Sydney Water
Burragorang Valley (Sydneywater)

 

The Gothic nature of the Burragorang Valley

Gothic is a term that has been applied to many things from art to landscape to architecture. The Gothic novel is one expression of this genre and Lauren Corona has written that

The Gothic novel was the first emergence of Gothic literature, and was sometimes referred to as the Gothic romance. These kinds of novels were characterized by elements of horror, suspense and mystery. Gothic novels attempted to find understanding through exploring the darker side of life. They often contained ruined old buildings, wild landscapes, good and handsome heroes, terrified heroines and, of course, an evil character. Arguably the most famous Gothic novel is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’

The American Gothic novel was characterized by murder, mystery, horror and hauntings.

Gothic architecture usually refers to the large medieval cathedrals that were build across Europe between 12th and 16th centuries. These imposing and grand buildings have special religious and spiritual meaning to the history of Christianity. Gothic architecture usually includes abbeys, churches, castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and smaller buildings. The style appeals to the emotions and the powerful grandeur of these buildings.

Gothic places possess a duality of beauty and grandeur combined with evil and danger. That is their attraction. Mountain areas are typical of this with their soaring grandeur and risk of imminent death.

It is these characteristics that can be drawn out in the wild grandeur of the Burragorang Valley with its soaring cliffs and breath-taking vistas that create a magnificent natural landscape. There is also the sense of danger from frequent floods, secret gorges, isolation and difficulty of access.

The Burragorang Valley has captured the hearts of many folk over the years and stories have been told about the area from the Dreamtime.

Some of the early photographs of the Valley hint at the Gothic nature of the area. Here one image that expresses some of these characteristic of the Gothic – the picturesque and the dangerous:

Burragorang V Wollondilly River SLV
The Burragorang Valley and the Wollondilly River (SLV)

 

The many visitors to the Valley were attracted by the Gothic elements within the landscape. One example from 1941:

Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers 1941
Burragorang Valley Bushwalkers standing in the Wollondilly River in 1941

 

It is these characteristics that made the area a popular tourist destination during the Interwar years of the 20th century. Many of the Europeans settlers built guesthouses and accommodation for visitors from Sydney and beyond.

The Oaks Historical Society has captured some of these stories in its recently published newsletter.

The Oaks Newsletter Cover 2019Sept
The story of the Burragorang Valley on the cover The Oaks Historical Society Newsletter September 2019

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Living history in southern Queensland

Out and about in southern Queensland

The CHN blogger was out and about in southern Queensland recently and investigated some of the local aspects of living history.

The CHN blogger was drawn to southern Queensland by the Australian Historical Association Conference held at Toowoomba in early July. The conference was stimulating and challenging and the hosts provided a great venue at the Empire Theatre complex.

Toowoomba

The Toowoomba area provided a number of  examples of living history starting with the Cobb & Co Museum complex. Apart from the displays there is training in traditional trades for the more than curious and there are a number of special days during the year. The blogger was there during the school holidays and there was a motza of stuff for the littlies to do – all hands on. The kids seemed to be having lots of fun, followed around their Mums and Dads. The coffee was not bad either.

Toowoomba Cobb&Co Museum Windmills 2019
These windmills are outside the Cobb & Co Museum in Toowoomba. The museum has one of the best collections of carriages and horse transport in the country. (IWillis 2019)

 

The generous conference hosts organised some activities for conference goers. I tagged along on a town tour one evening led by the president of the local historical society – very informative. ‘Town by night’ was a great way to see the sights of the city centre from a new perspective.

Toowoomb Empire Theatre 2019 IW
Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre is one of Australia’s best examples of an art-deco style theatre in a regional area. (IWillis 2019)

 

The Toowoomba Visitor Information Centre publishes a number of self-guided walking tours around historic precincts of the town area. This history nut would particularly recommend the Empire Theatre complex, the railway station, Masonic temple, court housepolice stationpost office precinct, and Harris House.

Harris House

One property that particularly took the fancy of this blogger was the Federation Queen Anne style Harris House. The cottages was bequeathed to the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) in 2017. The 1912 Edwardian villa residence demonstrates the development of Toowoomba in the early 20th century and the place wealthy members of the local society within it.

Toowoomba Harris House 2109
Harris House is an Edwardian Queen-Anne style villa town residence that was owned by some of Toowoomba’s wealthy social elite. (I Willis, 2019)

 

The single storey red brick dwelling has a Marseilles tiled roof and wide verandahs with bay windows. The concrete ornamentation contrasts with the face red brick and the hipped-roof has decorative finials and ridge capping. The house is in a visually prominent position on a corner block and is described by the Queensland Heritage Register as ‘a grand, Federation-era suburban villa residence’. It is quite an asset to the area.

The Woolshed

After the conference this nerdy blogger found himself at The Woolshed at Jondaryan. Originally built in 1859 the woolshed is one of the largest in Australia and today is an example of an extensive living history attraction. The European history of the woolshed illustrates the frontier story of the settler society of southern Queensland and the Darling Downs.

Toowoomba Jondaryan Woolshed 2019
The Jondaryan Woolshed complex is a good example of an extensive living history attraction. The woolshed was one of the largest in Australia and was an important part of story of 1890s shearers strikes and the conflict with pastoralists. (I Willis 2019)

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Richlands, an outpost of a colonial farming empire

A farming outpost of empire

Richlands Georgian style homestead built in the 1840s  on the 2016 open day (I Willis)

The Richlands estate, north of Goulburn in the NSW Southern Tablelands, was an important part of the Macarthur family pastoral empire for nearly 100 years.  The Richlands estate acted as an outstation about one days ride west of Camden Park estate. The property  reached its hiatus in the 1840s when its extent reached around 38,000 acres including the private village of Taralga.

James Macarthur managed the Richlands estate with his brother William Macarthur from Camden Park. (Belgenny Farm)

James and William Macarthur initially took up adjacent land grants of around 2000 acres between Taralga Creek and Burra Lake in 1822.  The area had been traversed by a party led by Charles Throsby in 1819 looking for an alternative route to Bathurst other than the arduous route across the Blue Mountains. Throsby and company journeyed from the Moss Vale area, crossing the Wollondilly River then the Cookbundoon Ranges near Tarlo, turning north are eventually arriving at Bathurst.

Opening up the Southern Tablelands

Reports of these areas encouraged pastoralists to take up land, one of the first was Hannibal Macarthur, John Macartur’s nephew, at Arthursleigh on the Wollondilly. In a speculative venture in 1822 James Macarthur and partners Lachlan MacAlister and John Hillas, overseer with William Macarthur, moved a mob of cattle over the Cookbundoons and left them in charge an assigned convict Thomas Taylor at Tarlo. Hillas and MacAlister also took up a grants adjacent to the Macarthur holdings.

On the death of John Macarthur in 1834 the Richlands estate passed to Edward Macarthur, a career British soldier, while managed by James and William Macarthur on his behalf.

Governed by absentee landlords

While the Richlands estate was governed by absentee landlords the real story is of those who formed the microcosm of society on the estate. They  included convicts, managers, tenant farmers, servants and the Burra Burra people, who were dispossessed and displaced from their country.

Fledgling settlement of Taralga

For the twenty years of the Richlands estate it was managed from the fledgling settlement of Taralga on the southern edge of the property. There was a central store and a number of skilled tradesmen,  convicts and their overseers were based in the village from the 1820s.

Taralga village main street 2000s. The initial management of the Richlands estate was conducted from the village in the 1820s until it was shifted to the new hilltop homestead built in the 1840s. The village is one of number of private towns that the Macarthur family established in colonial NSW. ULSC

Rural empire of 38,000 acres

James and William Macarthur acquired land by grant and purchase north and south of the hamlet of Taralga including 600 acres from Thomas Howe of Glenlee in the Cowpastures in 1837. The diary of Emily Macarthur’s, James’ wife, showed that William made six-monthly visits to Richlands from 1840. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Macarthur visited Richlands in 1851 after being posted to Sydney as deputy adjutant general.

Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), who inherited the Richlands estate on the death of his father John Macarthur in 1834. ( Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, c1858)

Strategic hilltop

Work began to move the management of the estate from the village to the hilltop overlooking Burra Lake and Guineacor to the east. Hilltop locations for homesteads were common throughout the Cowpastures and as they were of other Macarthur properties. This practice followed Laudon principles and provided a defendable strategic location on the estate.

Richlands Georgian style homestead on hilltop location built in the 1840s on 2016 open day (I Willis)

William Campbell was appointed superintendent in 1839 and work began on stone offices on the farm hilltop site, along with underground grain silos, convict accommodation and outbuildings. Work was completed by 1844 when Thomas and Martha Denning occupied the house forming a small quadrangle.  Denning was appointed overseer (farm manager).

Georgian-style residence

Work on a new on a Georgian-style residence began in 1845 for new English estate manager George Martyr, who took up the position after his arrival in the colony in 1848 after marrying Alicia in Sydney.

Martyr took an active interest in community affairs serving on Goulburn Council and supervising construction of the Catholic Church in the village. A qualified surveyor from Greenwich, Martyr surveyed the village of Taralga and the Macarthurs offered village lots for sale from 1847. George and Alicia raised six children on Richlands.

Richlands Georgian style homestead built for estate manager George Martr and his family in the 1840s on the 2016 open day (I Willis)

The property was eventually resumed by the New South Wales Government in 1908, broken up for closer settlement and sold in 30 smaller lots in 1910.

Notes

Peter Freeman Pty Ltd, Richlands-Taralga, Conservation Management Plan, Richlands Conservation Management Plan, 1997.

 

 

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Bella Vista Farm, an early part of the Macarthur rural empire

The late Victorian house built Bella Vista by the Pearce family in the late 1800s UTP

Bella Vista Farm was part of the colonial farming empire of the Macarthur family of Elizabeth Farm which they called the Seven Hills Farm. The farm was on the overland route opened up between Rose Hill (Parramatta) and the Hawkesbury settlement around 1791 a road constructed between Toongabbie and Windsor by the NSW corps using convict labour. Intially the route was called the Hawkesbury Road and eventually the Old Windsor Road.

The farm is located on the lands between the clan areas of of the Toogagal Toongabbie and the Bidjigal of the Castle Hill area of the Darug people. Bella Vista is located on a hilltop and would have been a lookout site.

John Macarthur purchased the property in 1801 for £2000 with 1250 sheep from Major Joseph Foveaux. In 1799 John Foveaux and Charles Grimes, the Deputy Surveyor of Crown Lands,  were granted 980 acres in the Crestwood area, and within months Grimes sold his share of the grant to Foveaux a month later.

Combined with a further grant of 190 acres in 1799, and 600 acres in 1800 was called by Foveaux, Stock Farm. This made him the largest landholder in the colony of 2020 acres, together with his flock of 1027 sheep the largest stock-owner in the colony.

Major Joseph Foveaux the owner of Stock Farm which he sold to the Macarthur family (AP)

Foveaux sold his property,  which he called  ‘Stock Farm’, to the Macarthurs in 1801 after he was appointed Acting Lieutenant Governor on Norfold Island.

John Macarthur was absent from New South Wales from 1801 1805. Macarthur was always an argumentative character and had a disagreement with Colonel Paterson his commanding officer, fought a duel, and Paterson was wounded. Governor King had Macarthur arrested and sent for trial in England in 1801.

In John’s absence the family’s pastoral interests were managed by Elizabeth from her home at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta. She called Stock Farm her Seven Hills Farm and was ably assisted by her farm manager, or overseer, initially with Richard Fitzgerald, followed by William Joyce, John Hindle and Thomas Herbert.

Elizabeth Macarthur SLNSW

Under Elizabeth’s management the Macarthur’s flock of sheep increased from 2000 to 1801, to 3000 in 1803 and 5920 by 1805. A substantial number of this sheep flock was held at the Seven Hills Farm.

Sheep in pen at Bella Vista Farm Park 2016 IWillis

Elizabeth subsequently purchased land a neighboring property from Richard Fitzgerald. This purchase was made up of two part, one a 1799 160 acre to Richard Richardson, and a 270 acre grant to William Goodhall. Fitzgerald  sold his holding to Elizabeth and worked for the Macarthurs as a steward, manager and record keeper.

John was again absent from New South Wales between 1809 to 1817  over his part in the only coup d’etat  in Australian history, the  arrest of Governor Bligh in a tin pot take over called the Rum Rebellion.

John asked Elizabeth to negotiate to exchange the Seven Hills estate for land in the Cowpastures in 1809. There was a devastating drought between 1813 and 1815 and the sheep flock was moved elsewhere.

By 1821 the farm was known as Seven Hills Farm and covered 2270 acres. The Macarthurs exchanged the farm for Crown land in the Cowpastures. It was on the Seven Hills Farm that Elizabeth bred some of the earliest Spanish merino sheep.

Aerial view of Bella Vista Farm Park with house and outbuildings dating from the late Victorian period of the Pearce family. BVFP

Subsequent owners of Bella Vista and support groups

1821 James Robertson

1838 Isabella Acres

1842 William Pearce

1865 Edward Pearce, inherited from father

1912 Edward WCS Pearce, inherited from father

1933 leased by Edwards wife after Edward’s death

1950 North Sydney Brick and Tile Company

1952 house leased

1974 Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board for water storage

1979 Interim Heritage order

1980 Formation of the Elizabeth Macarthur Seven Hills Farm Assocation

1997 Permanent Heritage order

1997 Department of Planning, NSW Government

1997 Baulkham Hills Shire Council

2006 Formation of The Friends of Bella Vista Farm

From Gate of Bella Vista Farm Park 2016 BVFP

Significance

The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states that Bella Vista Farm is significant because of the:

Evidence of the documentary record, of the agricultural activities of the Macarthur family, managed by Elizabeth Macarthur from Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta (SHR item # 1), and locally by her stewards. These records indicate early experiments at grazing sheep by Grimes, Foveaux and the Macarthurs that failed due to insect plagues, low stock per acre ratios, droughts and the unsuitability of hoofed animals to Australian conditions. Indicating also the monopoly held by, and extensive grants given to certain officers, including John Macarthur.

The Farm is a rare example of an intact rural cultural landscape on the Cumberland Plain, continuously used for grazing since the 1790s. The Farm is one of the most intact and best examples on the Cumberland Plain of the summit model of homestead siting, where the house and plantings are sited high on a prominent hill in contrast with open fields around. The farm is an increasingly rare example, on the Cumberland Plain, of a rural property, where the evidence of the staged development of the homestead survives from slab cottage to villa.[1]

Bella Vista Farm market day open to the general public and used to raise funds for the management of the site with the Bunya Pines at the rear planted in the 1840s 2016 IWillis

Notes

[1] Office of Heritage and Environment, ‘Bella Vista’, NSW Government, Sydney. Online @ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5045705 Accessed 16 April 2017

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Convicts in the Cowpastures, an untold story

The convict story in the Cowpastures

The story of European settlement in the Cowpastures is intimately connected to the story of the convicts and their masters. This story has not been told and there is little understanding of the role of the convicts in the Cowpastures district before 1840.  Who were they? What did they do? Did they stay in the district?

View near Woolwich in Kent shewing [sic] the employment of the convicts from the hulks, c. 1800 (State Library of NSW)
View near Woolwich in Kent shewing [sic] the employment of the convicts from the hulks, c. 1800 (State Library of NSW)
 

Part of a global story

The convicts were a form of forced labour, with a global history that goes back to Roman times. Amongst those who were landed were human souls who were part of the dark story of banishment and exile. The story of convicts and banishment is an integral part of the European colonialism from the 16th century and the rise of labour camps. The story parallels that of slavery. Convicts came to New South Wales after the British lost the American colonies in the revolutionary wars in the 1780s.

Convicts in the Australian colonies

The convicts that ended up the in Cowpastures district were part of the 160,000 who were transported to the Australian colonies from England, Wales, Ireland, and the British colonies. Convicts were usually employed in several ways by the colonial authorities: assignment; government work gangs; Tickets of Leave; Conditional Pardon; and an Absolute Pardon with complete freedom to do as they wished including returning to Britain.

Generally speaking, most convict women could be classified as domestic servants, while male convicts had a host of skills with town trades dominating over rural workers.  The literacy rates and skills of convicts were the same or better than the English and Irish working classes.

Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932
This is a map of the Cowpastures published in the Interwar period when then was an increased increase in the story of the cattle, John Macarthur and Camden Park Estate. Map of Cowpastures (SMH 13 August 1932)

 

The Cowpastures district

The Cowpastures district was an ill-defined area that included Governor Hunter’s government reserve from 1795.   The reserve covered an area that generally south of the Nepean River between Stonequarry Creek (Picton), The Oaks and Menangle to the east. By 1840 the Cowpastures district had become a general locality name that extended north of the Nepean River to include Narellan and Bringelly.

View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett

Stories of Convicts

The best short reference of the convicts in the Cowpastures is Ken Williams’ 1824 Cawdor Bench of Magistrates Population, Land and Stock Book (2011), where he lists the names and masters. Williams indicates that in the Cowpasture in 1824 there were 430 convicts and of them, 15 were women, who were listed as domestic servants.[1]  Elizabeth Villy indicates that the stock books indicate 29 landholders, who were mostly absentee landlords.[2]

The best account to date of the activities of the convicts in the Cowpastures is Elizabeth Villy’s The Old Razorback Road (2011). She states that in the 1820s in the last days of the Cowpastures Government Reserve there were around 550 convicts assigned to settlers including around 100 at Camden Park Estate. These men were employed as shepherds and labourers, who were clearing land, and preparing the ground for ploughing and growing pasture.[3]

Convicts and civil works in the Cowpastures

The Great South Road was one of the major civil engineering projects in the Cowpastures district that employed convicts. A major bridge (Cowpasture Bridge) was constructed by convicts across the Nepean River mid-way between the river crossings at the Home Farm at Belgenny and the Hassall’s at Macquarie Grove.  Villy details how the bridge was built by a team of convicts between 1824 and 1826. The construction was supervised by convict Samuel Wainwright, a Cheshire carpenter, who arrived on the Neptune in 1818. Villy lists 24 convicts who worked on the bridge construction between 1827 and 1829.[4]

The other major project was The Great South Road itself and in the Cowpastures section Villy estimates that around 400 men worked on the road. Her research indicates that they left no surviving records and many just ‘melted into society after their sentences’ (p.67).  The ethnography of the convicts up to 1828 was mainly English, with smaller numbers of Welsh and Scots. From this time as more Irish were sent out the ratio English to Irish was around half and half. If the convicts misbehaved they were punished by whipping and the Cawdor Bench imposed punishments up to 50 lashes. Mostly they involved insolence, absconding, drunkenness, and laziness. On the Camden-Stonequarry road section, there were no portable stockades or vans. Villy provides interesting accounts of the activities of individual convicts, their punishments and the convict lifestyle of the road gangs. [5]

John Hawdon Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), Saturday 18 January 1879, page 17
John Hawdon arrived in New South Wales with his family and servants in 1828. He took a six-year lease on John Oxley’s former grant of Elderslie and became a colonial identity. He later took up a grant in the Moruya area of the New South Wales South Coast and built Kiora homestead in 1836  (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1870 – 1907), Saturday 18 January 1879, page 17)

 

Elderslie

Convicts were part of the John Oxley’s Elderslie enterprise and when John Hawdon leased it in 1828 off Francis Irvine he was impressed with the range of trades amongst the 30 ‘government men’ who worked on Elderslie. He was not deterred by dark Gothic notions of the penal settlement and expressed his frustration with the attitude of his countrymen in a letter home.[6] Hawdon felt that the dark stories and fear about the colony were over-rated. He wrote:

‘I am aware of the feeling you all have at home about us having so many convicts around us. Your fears, I can assure you are most unfounded’.[7]

Elderslie according to Alan Atkinson supported 9 convicts when Oxley sold the grant to Francis Irvine in 1827.[8] At Macquarie Grove under Samual Hassall, there were 30 convicts with 3 families of children.[9]

Denbigh

Reverend Thomas Hassall who purchased Denbigh in 1826 on the death of Charles Hook had 20 convicts, according to his son James Hassall in his In Old Australia, Records, and Reminiscences from 1794. The worked from six in the morning in summer and from eight in winter until sundown. The convicts were managed by a Scottish overseer and they carried out the farming activities on the property. The rations included tea, sugar, meat, flour or when which they ground for themselves on a small steel mill.[10]

Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis
Denbigh Homestead is an important colonial farm complex in the Cowpastures. The original grant of 1812 was to Charles Hook and he built a single story dwelling on the site. The property was purchased by Thomas Hassall in 1827 and added a bedroom story to the house. The farm is significant because it contains a rare and remarkable group of the homestead and early farm buildings from colonial New South Wales. (Open Day 2015 I Willis)

 

Kirkham

At the time of the 1828 Census at ‘Kirkham’, which had 54 people including 44 convicts. (SRNSW NRS 1273 1828 Census).

Birling

Birling’ was a 1000 acre granted to Robert Lowe in 1812. According to the 1814 muster, Robert Lowe employed seven assigned convicts which had increased to 21 by the 1822 muster, while by 1828 this had dropped to 12 convicts. (SRNSW)

The Cowpastures Convict and Settler Database

Some members of the Camden Historical Society drew together a database of names of convicts and settlers in the Cowpastures in the early part of the 19th century in the 1990s. The data was drawn from a variety of sources including convict musters. On extracting the names of convicts the following information is now available for several gentry properties in the Cowpastures District before 1840 and include: Brownlow Hill  – 44 convicts between 1823 and 1828. In 1823 there were 11 convicts assigned to Peter Murdoch who had the Glendaural grant, which later became part of Brownlow Hill; Denbigh – 8 convicts in 1828; Kirkham – 103 convicts between 1814 and 1830 with a mix of skill including ploughman, shepherds, millers, and general labourers; Macquarie Grove – 28 convicts in 1828 with skills including ploughman, wheelwright, labourer, and house servants; Matavai (Cobbitty) – 14 convicts in 1828 who included blacksmith, sawyer, labourers and house servants; Wivenhoe – 6 convicts in 1828 who included a cooper and shoemaker. The database is located at the Camden Museum.

Notes

[1] Ken Williams, 1824 Cawdor Bench of Magistrates Population, Land and Stock Book, A Biographical Register of the Inhabitants residing in the Cowpastures, Picton & District Historical and Family History Society, Picton, 2011.

[2] Elizabeth Villy, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg, Dural, 2011. p. 35.

[3] Villy, The Old Razorback Road, pp. 34-35.

[4] Villy, The Old Razorback Road.pp. 62-65

[5] Villy, The Old Razorback Road.pp. 66-90.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 26 October 1929, p 13.

[7] The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 26 October 1929, p 13.

[8] Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales, OUP, Melb, 1988, p.20. Peter Mylrea, Camden District, A History to the 1840s, Camden Historical Society, 2002, p.34.

[9]  Atkinson, Camden,  p.20

[10] James S Hassall, In Old Australia Records and Reminiscences from 1794, RS Hews,  Brisbane, 1902 (BiblioBazaar, 2015), pp. 4-5

The Cowpasture Project

More information about the Cowpastures can be found on the Cowpastures project blog page. Click here

Appin · Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · British colonialism · Campbelltown · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Communications · community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Curtilage · Dairying · Farming · Frontier violence · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Monuments · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Town planning · Transport · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism · Victorian

Beulah and Sydney’s Urban Sprawl

Beulah is an historic farm property on Sydney south-west rural-urban fringe. Beulah has a frontage to Sydney’s notorious Appin Road and is an area of Sydney’s ever increasing urban sprawl. The property is caught in a pincer movement between two new land releases at Appin and Mount Gilead. These developments  threaten to strangle the life out of Beulah is a vast sea of homogenised suburbia by swallowing up local farmland.

 

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Beulah Appin Road Campbelltown CDFHS

In 2015 NSW Planning Minister Stokes declared that Sydney’s  ‘urban sprawl is over’ with the land release for 35,000 new homes at Mount Gilead, Wilton and Menangle Park.  On the other hand planning Professor Peter Phibbs, from the University of Sydney, stated that the land release meant that there was ‘urban sprawl plus’. [1] Needless to say these sentiments are not new and were expressed in the Macarthur region in 1973, meanwhile urban sprawl continues.

Beulah

Beulah is a heritage gem and possesses stories about local identities and events that add to a sense of place and construction of a local identity. Beulah was purchased by the Sydney Living Museums in 2010 as part of its endangered houses fund project.

The Beulah estate is located on the eastern edge of the clay soils of the Cumberland Plain abutting the Sydney sandstone of the Georges River catchment.  The property contains an 1830s stone farm cottage with a number of out-buildings, a stone bridge and 60 hectares of critically endangered woodland.

Beulah’s sense of place is constructed around stories associated with the Campbelltown’s pioneering Hume family best known for Hamilton Hume and his overland journey to the Port Phillip area in 1824-1825 with William Hovell. Hamilton Hume was granted 300 acres at Appin for this work, which he named ‘Brookdale’, and in 1824 the Hume and Hovell expedition to Port Phillip left from this property on the Appin Road north of the village, near where the Hume and Hovell Monument now stands. The Hume Monument was erected in 1924 by the Royal Australian Historical Society to commemorate Hume’s 1824 expedition.

 

hume-mon-appin-rd-2016
Hume Monument Appin Road Appin 2016 (I Willis)

The earliest European occupation of the Beulah site, according to Megan Martin from Sydney Living Museums, were emancipated Irish convict Connor Bland who constructed the farm cottage around 1835-1836.

Boland put the property up for sale in 1836 and called it Summerhill. The Hume family purchased the property in 1846 and then leased it out. In 1884 the property was renamed Beulah and members of the Hume family lived there until 1936 when it was left to the RSPCA while Hume family associates were given  occupancy rights and  lived in the house until the 1960s.

According to the State Heritage Inventory

Ellen Hume and Beulah were featured in “The Australian Home Beautiful” in 1934 in an article by Nora Cooper, photographs by Harold Cazneaux and descriptions of Hume family furniture. The forest which Miss Hume treated as a private sanctuary The Hume Sanctuary received special attention. It was Ellen’s wish that her trees be left to the nation….

 

beulah-cottage-2016
Beulah Cottage 2016 (I Willis)

The Beulah estate was purchased by developers in the 1970s who anticipated land re-zoning  linked with the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Campbelltown, Appin and Camden. The state government released  the New Cities Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Region Outline Plan. The plan was based on the utopian dream of British New Towns like Milton Keynes and plans for the development of Canberra.

Some of the new Campbelltown suburbs that appeared in the 1970s followed the Radburn model developed in the United States, which had houses facing a shared green space with no back fences. They turned out to be a disaster and the state government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars reversing these houses so they face the street in suburbs like Macquarie Fields, Minto and Ambarvale.

The original New Cities Plan turned into a developers dream and created the notion of ‘Ugly Campbelltown’ in the Sydney press by the end of the 1970s around public housing . Camden and Appin escaped the worst of the housing releases of the 1970s. Sydney’s urban sprawl reached the Camden LGA in the 1980s at Mount Annan and Currans Hill, while Appin has only seen extensive land releases in recent years.  The 1973 Macarthur Growth Centre failed to materialise in its planned form and in the process cannibalised Campbelltown’s main street and left it a shell of its former country town self.

 

Beulah Appin 2016 (I Willis)
Beulah Appin 2016 (I Willis)

In 1973 the State Planning Authority, according to the State Heritage Inventory, conducted a survey of significant 19th buildings in 1973 and identified Beulah and Humewood as significant. The National Trust of Australia (NSW) did a study on the property and classified it in 1980.

In 1983 Campbelltown City Council proposed an interim conservation order and a permanent conservation order was placed on the 19th century cottage in 1987. The owners were ordered to make repairs to the property in the early 2000s, and the in 2010 the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment acquired the property as part of the state government’s Biodiversity Offset program.

 

biobank-signage-beulah

The  State Heritage Inventory considers the estate to an important example of early conservation planning that resulted in the retention of an ‘entire cultural landscape’ containing a homestead group, stone bridge and garden layout.  Sydney Living Museums have undertaken considerable conservation and restoration work on the farmhouse and the stone bridge on the access road to the farm house.

 

beulah-convict-bridge-2016
Convict constructed bridge at Beulah Farm Estate 2016 (I Willis)

New land releases around Beulah

Beulah and its heritage curtilage is potentially threatened by Sydney’s urban sprawl with new land releases in 2013 at Appin to the south along the Appin Road, while to the north there is the Mount Gilead land release adjacent to Campbelltown’s southern suburbs. Both of these land releases are a repeat of the 1973 housing releases. They are low density horizontal developments that add to urban sprawl. They are problematic and fail to add to the existing identity of the area and take decades to develop their own sense of place.

 

mount-gilead-farmland-2016
Mount Gilead Farmland at Campbelltown 2016 (I Willis)

 

The urban sprawl that is encroaching on Beulah from the south is part of the NSW State Governments 2013 The  Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031.  A structure plan developed for the Appin area states that there will 18,300 housing lots release over a 25 year period from around 17,000 hectares. Walker Corporation stated that there is a strong demand for new housing releases in the Appin area and in 2013 26 lots were sold within 2 days of the June land release.[2] There low density houses were similar to in nature to the planned housing developments of 1973 that failed to eventuate.

 

appin-walker-dev-2016
Land Release Walker Corporation Appin 2015 (I Willis)

On the northern approaches to Beulah are the Mount Gilead land releases on a property formerly owned by Lady Dorothy Macarthur Onslow who died in 2013.  Mount Gilead is proposed to have  1700 housing lots from 210 hectares which Campbelltown City Council endorsed in 2012.[3] The property contains the historic tower-mill believed the last one in New South Wales along with a homestead, stone stable, and granary dating from the early 19th century.

Appin Road a deadly lifeline

The issue of urban sprawl is complicated by the inadequate road access. Beulah and the Appin and Mount Gilead land releases all front the Appin Road one of Sydney’s most dangerous stretches of road. A major unresolved issue in the area around Beulah and land releases at Appin and Mount Gilead is the upgrading of the Appin Road.

The Sydney Morning Herald stated in early 2016 that the Appin Road was Sydney’s deadliest road. Between 2015 and 2000 23 people were killed on the Appin Road with the latest fatality in January 2016. While the state government has plans for road improvements this will take a number of years meanwhile there is increased traffic generated by new land releases and general population growth of the Campbelltown area.

The Appin Road has always been an important access route between the Illawarra and the Campbelltown area. Before the  South Coast railway was extended to Wollongong in 1887 the Appin Road was used as the main access route  to the Main Southern Railway at Campbelltown, which opened in 1858. There was a daily coaching service running between Campbelltown Railway Station and Wollongong. There is still is daily coach service between Campbelltown and the Illawarra via Appin, although tese days it mainly caters to university students.

The poor state of the Appin Road is just one of the issues created by Sydney’s urban sprawl.   Other issues include fire risks, urban runoff and food security, public transport, waste, water supply, loss of prime farm land, community facilities, pollution, energy, social cohesion, and equity challenges. Beulah is part of story of the Sydney’s rural urban fringe which has been a landscape of hope and loss for new arrivals and local alike. It will be interesting to see the part this important heritage asset plays in this narrative and how the construction of sense will effect new residents surrounding it.

In 2019 Sydney historian Stephen Gapps has written about the defensive structures in buildings in the Appin area including Beulah. These buildings were part of the colonial frontier of New South Wales where there were violent clashes between Europeans and Indigenous people. There is evidence that rifle slits and gun loops were were of the colonial architecture at Beulah and the Vines near Appin.

Further reading

Alan Gilpin, An Inquiry pursuant to Section 41 of the Heritage Act 1977 into objections to the making of a permanent conservation order in respect of the buildings and site known as “Beulah”, Appin Road, Appin. Sydney : Office of the Commissioners of Inquiry for Environment and Planning, 1987.

Notes

[1] Melanie Kembrey, ‘Planning Minister Rob Stokes unveils plans to create three new communities south of Campbelltown’. The Sydney Morning Herald 22 September 2015. Online @ http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/planning-minister-rob-stokes-unveils-plans-to-create-three-new-communities-south-of-campbelltown-20150922-gjs8ev.html (accessed 28 November 2016)

[2] Walker Corporation, Submission to the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney 2031, An Appin Urban Release Area (Sydney: Walker Corporation, 2013), p22

[3] Kimberley Kaines, ‘Call for more details on Mt Gilead development’, Macarthur Chronicle, 19 February 2015.