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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)
Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · England · Farming · Floods · Frontier violence · Georgian · Gothic · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · history · Landscape aesthetics · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · myths · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling

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.

British colonialism · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cultural Heritage · Elizabeth Farm · Farming · Georgian · Gothic · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Macarthur · myths · Place making · Settler colonialism · Victorian

Celebrity author at Camden Museum

 

The Camden Museum hosted celebrity author Michelle Scott Tucker recently at a local book launch. The event attracted an enthusiastic audience of 50 members and guests to an engrossing talk from Tucker, the author of Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World.

Camden Museum MSTucker talking BookLaunch 2018Jun13
Michelle Scott Tucker spoke about her new book Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World at the Camden Museum. She had the large audience sitting on the edge of their seats as she told the story of Elizabeth and her life in colonial New South Wales. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (I Willis, 2018)

 

Michelle delivered an eloquent and gripping lesson on Elizabeth Macarthur to an audience sitting on the edge of their seats. Tucker spoke for 40 minutes without notes and then handled a number of penetrating questions. Earlier in the day she had been interviewed on ABC Sydney Local Radio by James Valentine in wide ranging conversation about Macarthur that clearly impressed him. Tucker is an impressive media performer telling an engrossing story about her hidden subject of Elizabeth.

 

After the Museum talk there was a long line of those who had purchased books to have them signed by the author.  The most excited person in room was Camden Historical Society secretary Lee Stratton who drove into Surry Hills to pick up Michelle and then returned her to the city after the launch. Lee is a devoted fan and was not phased at all by her providing this generous effort.

Camden Museum MichelleScottTucker BookSigning 2018Jun13
Michelle Scott Tucker signing a copy of her new work Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World at the Camden Museum. There was a long queue for book signing from the large audience of members and friends on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (I Willis, 2018)

 

Michelle Scott Tucker writes in an engaging and open style that is easily accessible by anyone interested in colonial Australia, women’s biography or just a great yarn. She takes a fresh look at an old story from a woman’s perspective, from the other side.

 

In the early 19th century the world was divided into the women’s private sphere and the public world inhabited by men.  Michelle Scott Tucker takes a look from the domestic private world of women. It is a form of radical history.

Book Elizabeth Macarthur 2018 Cover TextPub
The cover of Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. The book was launched in Camden at the Camden Museum to a large and enthusiatic crowd of readers on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (Text Publishing)

 

Michelle’s analogy of her approach to the story is looking at the stitching on the back of tapestry, and inspecting the intricate nature of the threads. This gives you an insight into how the whole work is kept together from the hidden and dark shadows of the work. Without the stitching the work would fall apart, and so it was the Macarthur family enterprises in colonial New South Wales. Tucker draws the stitches together to create a story showing the colour and movement of colonial New South Wales.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur, the farmer’s daughter from Devon, married a cantankerous irascible army officer called John Macarthur when she was pregnant with her first child. Tucker draws an parallel with another Georgian story that of the women in the romantic novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. She makes the point that Elizabeth Macarthur, and husband John, were Georgian figures while her family were Victorians.

 

Tucker tells how Elizabeth Macarthur, heavily pregnant and with a small child at her side,  endured probably the worst journey out from England of any convict transport on the Second Fleet in the Scarborough. She nursed her husband back from illness that he suffered at the Cape and lost a child on the voyage out which was buried at sea. She suffered the social ignominy of sharing a cabin space with convict women well below her station in life.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch President Ian Willis with Michelle 2018Jun13 Lee Statton
The president of the Camden Historical Society Dr Ian Willis with Michelle Scott Tucker at the Camden launch of her new book Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (Lee Stratton)

 

Macarthur was not on her own and many colonial women endured the sea voyage from England with few comforts. Their diaries detail the trials and tribulations throughout the early years of the colony. One such figure in the Camden story was Caroline Husband who fell on hard times and fled their Hampstead Hill house near London with debt collectors in pursuit. She married pastoralist Henry Thomas and eventually lives at Wivenhoe, and her descendants grew up at Brownlow Hill.

 

The ever practical Elizabeth managed and developed the family business empire in colonial New South Wales while her husband was dealing with military charges in England. She entertained governors, politicians, businessmen, officers, while managing a large domestic staff, farm workers and convicts on their extensive landholdings. The role and influence of Elizabeth Macarthur as part of the story of settler colonialism in Australia and has been understated along with many other women of her time.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch Harry Warner Michelle and Frances Warner 2018Jun13 Lee Statton
Camden identities Frances and Harry Warner with author Michelle Scott Tucker at the Camden launch of Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. Frances and Harry have lived most of their lives at Camden Park and have been involved in a host of community activities over many years. Frances organised a small card gift for Michelle from Camden Park. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018. (Lee Stratton)

 

Tucker makes the point in an article for Inside Story that the story of Elizabeth Macarthur is not unique and that other colonial women made a significant contribution on their own. There was Esther Abrahams who ran Annandale, and Harriet King who raised a family and ran a property west of Parramatta. In Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) a retail empire was developed by former convict Maria Lord, while Eliza Forlonge ran a pastoral empire.

 

Camden Park was an out-station in the Macarthur family empire and Elizabeth Macarthur never lived there. The mansion house was the home of her sons, William and James. Elizabeth lived at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta all her life and died at their holiday home at Watsons Bay in her 80s.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch John Michelle and Edwina 2018Jun13 Lee Stratton
The owners of Camden Park House John and Edwina Macarthur Stanham with author Michelle Scott Tucker. The event was the Camden launch of Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World held at Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018. (Lee Stratton)

 

Unlike many of her colonial contemporaries who viewed the Australian landscape as a Gothic world Elizabeth had a more sympathetic eye. She drew comparisons with England and in her letters home she stated that her around her home at Parramatta, she wrote:

The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give to it the appearance of a wilderness, or shrubbery commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune’.

Many of her contemporaries contributed to the English-style landscape aesthetic that was identified as early as 1828 by John Hawdon when he arrived in the Cowpastures. The Englishness of the Camden township is still evident and has shaped the landscape since the arrival of the Europeans.

 

Under Elizabeth’s gaze the colonial outpost of Sydney grew from a military garrison to a bustling colonial port in the South Pacific. Macarthur supported her husband, John, throughout his ordeals and never returned to England, despite having the means to do so. Her female descendants regularly traveled between Camden Park, Sydney and London and elsewhere, and benefited from the transnational networks that she and her family established in the early 19th century.

camden-library museum
The venue for the Camden launch of Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World on Wednesday 13 June 2018. Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden  (I Willis, 2016)

 

Elizabeth Macarthur is an important character in the Camden story and there are other Macarthur women in her family who played similar roles such as Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, Sibella Macarthur Onslow and Enid Macarthur Onslow. All intelligent, strong and successful women. They were not alone in the Camden story and others that could be mentioned include Rita Tucker, Zoe Crookston, Clarice Faithful, amongst others.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur produced a family that founded the township of Camden, and created a pastoral and business empire that still endures today. She is celebrated in our local area with the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Elizabeth Macarthur High School and roads and streets named after her and her family.

 

As Michelle Scott Tucker states of Elizabeth Macarthur, she  ‘played a crucial role in Australia’s colonial history. Hers is not a household name — but it ought to be’. Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World certainly goes a long way in this direction.

The book by Michelle Scott Tucker Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World is available at the Camden Museum.

Adaptive Re-use · Aesthetics · Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · Australian Historic Themes · Camden Story · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Elizabeth Farm · Elizabeth Macarthur · England · Families · gardening · Georgian · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · History of a house · House history · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Living History · Local History · Macarthur · Memory · Parramatta · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling · Victorian

Elizabeth Farm, the foundation story of the Macarthur rural empire

Elizabeth Farm

Elizabeth Farm was the home of John and Elizabeth Macarthur and the centre of their mercantile and farming empire for over 35 years.  The homestead is regarded as both the oldest and most historic building in Australia and is an important site in the development of the wool industry.

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

 

Elizabeth Farm was the site of political intrigue around Australia’s only coup d’etat and the personal struggles of John’s incredible mood swings suffering depression. The house is an important centre in the Camden story and many decisions made here that effected the family’s holdings at Camden Park in the Cowpastures district.

The house was lucky not to be demolished and lay derelict for a period.  Once when architect William Swann’s family rescued it in 1904 and again the mid-20th century.  Elizabeth Farm is currently a house museum opened in 1984 and owned by Sydney Living Museums, formerly the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

Elizabeth Macarthur SLNSW

 

Background

Elizabeth Veale, who became the first lady of the colony of New South Wales, married the fractious John Macarthur, an ambitious officer on half-pay, in England in 1788 in the village of Bridgeule in Devonshire. Macarthur joined the 68th Regiment just before his marriage as an ensign and after the birth of his son transferred as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps.[1]

Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur 1785 SLNSW
Elizabeth Macarthur 1785 SLNSW

 

The couple travelled to New South Wales in the Second Fleet on the Neptune, before transferring to the Scarborough arriving in 1790. John’s reputation and ill-temper was a constant source of frustration, which Elizabeth bore with patience and forbearance.

In 1793 John Macarthur was granted 100 acres at Rosehill of some of the best land on the  Parramatta River which he named after his wife. The family with three children moved to Elizabeth Farm in 1793. By 1794 the farm had expanded to 250 acres with 100 under crops, 20 acres of wheat, 80 acres of corn and potatoes. His livestock included horses, cows, goats, and pigs and with additional grants and purchases, the farm expanded to over 500 acres.

Elizabeth Farm J Lycett 1825 SLNSW

 

 Building Elizabeth Farm

The house was constructed in 1793 as a single level building of four rooms with adjoining kitchen and servants quarters built on a low ridge overlooking the Parramatta River. James Broadbent describes the house as a simple late 18th century English vernacular cottage, with a shingle hardwood roof. From this design evolved a characteristic form of the colonial cottage.[2]

JM Freeland describes the house as a simple rectangle. built of hand-made English-size bricks set in clay and shell-lime mortar. The steeply pitched roof was formed of massive balks of pit-sawn timber held together with wooden pegs, sheathed with cedar planks and covered with split swamp-oak shingles.[3]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[3]
Elizabeth Farm northern verandah (2016 I Willis)

 

Sydney Living Museums states:

The cottage… resembled countless farmhouses seen in southern England. The balanced, symmetrical design of paired windows placed to either side of a central doorway was typical of the Georgian style then popular in England.[4]

An extra bedroom was added along with a verandah. James Broadbent maintains that the addition of the verandah was influenced by Colonel Grose’s addition of a verandah on Government House, which Grose had seen while serving during the American War of Independence.[5]

John was exiled from the colony in 1809 for his part in the Rum Rebellion with Governor Bligh. During his absence Elizabeth ran the household and the family’s pastoral interests at Camden and Seven Hill, from Elizabeth Farm. The house was possibly shaded from the north and east by verandahs. Elizabeth had little interest in redesigning the homestead.

Macarthur returned to New South Wales in 1817. The Macarthurs were successful selling wool in London and pressed for another grant at Camden. With good fortunes, John Macarthur sought to build a house appropriate to his wealth. He began home building and planning. Elizabeth Farm was remodeled.   He added new stables, and a new cottage, called Hambledon, and building at Camden under the influence of Sydney architect Henry Kitchen.

From 1821 the house was remodeled under the supervision of stonemason and bricklayer John Norris from a Georgian house to a Regency style that better suited colonial taste. Elizabeth was turned out of the house in 1826 due to renovations when the dining room, drawing rooms, and library bedroom were extended into the verandah area completed by 1827.[6]

Macarthur’s depressed state of mind meant that his building frenzy subsided. He recovered by 1828 and put his time into the Australian Agricultural Company. In 1831 he was again planning building additions, mainly at Camden. In 1832 he was declared insane and confined to Elizabeth Farm. Macarthur’s insanity worsened and he was moved to Camden in 1833, where he died in 1834.

Elizabeth returned to Elizabeth Farm in 1833 and with the assistance of architect John Verge had it habitable with needed repairs. She did not make any further changes to the house.[7]

Elizabeth Farm 2010 Australian Travel

 

Life at Elizabeth Farm

Elizabeth Farm was a mixture of town and country life. The house was about half-a-days travel by boat from Sydney and a short walk from Parramatta.

In 1794 the house was surrounded by a vineyard and garden of three acres, including fruit trees and vegetables. The fruit trees included almonds, apricots, pear and apple trees. There were between 30 and 40 staff at the farm – 13 as stockmen, gardeners or stable hands and female servants in the house.

Elizabeth had nine children, with seven surviving. Elizabeth learned to play the piano in her first days in the colony. The Macarthurs were well-read with books, magazines, and albums from England. Elizabeth was part of the Sydney social set and was on cordial terms with the governor’s wives.

James Broadbent reports that the house was elegantly fitted out with fine china and silver from England. Furnishings were never opulent[8] and the house was never a centre of the colony’s social life.

Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur 1845 SMOMacofCP1912
Elizabeth Macarthur 1845 SMO SomeRecords (1912)

 

After Macarthur’s death, the farm was managed by her sons, while Elizabeth and her daughters lived in a comfortable style. In Elizabeth’s last years she visited her daughter Emmeline and husband Henry at Watson’s Bay.

After Elizabeth died in 1850, aged 83 years, Emmeline and Henry lived at Elizabeth Farm until 1854. Edward Macarthur inherited the house and leased it out. On his death in 1872 the house was inherited by his niece Elizabeth Macarthur, James’ daughter. The house standing on 1000 acres was sold in 1881 for £50,000.[9]

Elizabeth Farm G Marler 1925 Private Collection

 

The table at Elizabeth Farm

John Macarthur was an early riser, usually, 4am and breakfast, served around 10.00am, might have consisted of ham, boiled eggs, bread and butter, and perhaps mutton. The table would have been set symmetrically which was typical of Georgian order and decorum.[10]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[2]
Elizabeth Farm Dining Room (2016 I Willis)

The family would probably have been waited on by the butler, a convict named James Butler, who arrived in 1818 with convictions for forgery and started work at Elizabeth Farm in 1825. In the 1828 Census, the household staff consisted of 13 staff: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, two grooms, a cook, four labourers, two maidservants, and a footman – all convicts.

The cook was Thomas Blake, two maidservants, Jane Mead and Margaret Shepherd, a footman, John Bono, an Indian.  The staff were reported to have been well treated and returned this with loyalty during times of difficulty with John’s incredible mood swings.[11]

Elizabeth Farm 1910 WH Broadhurst

 

Garden at Elizabeth Farm

Scott Hill makes the observation that little remains of the original garden, while paintings and sketches of the period only give an idealised view of things. Conrad Martin’s works were completed after Elizabeth’s death and only give a glimpse of what was present in the garden.[12]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[1]
Elizabeth Farm Garden (2016 I Willis)

There was an ‘extensive’ kitchen garden that was to the east of the house although some hoop pines survive. From Hill’s research, an 1816 letter from Elizabeth states that the kitchen garden had 23 fruit trees, oranges, peaches, pomegranates, loquats, shaddock, and guava.[13]

Parramatta ElizabethFarm CMartin 1859 Pencil SLNSW
Garden Sketch Elizabeth Farm by Conrad Martins 1859 in preparation for his painting of the house in pencil SLNSW

 

Hill notes that the famous ‘waratah’ camelia at Camden Park was first planted at Elizabeth Farm in 1831 and later transplanted to their country property, where it still prospers.

The garden also had roses, foxgloves, aloes, agaves, and bulbs. It is thought the garden had the first olive tree in the country which is described by Thomas Mitchell.[14]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[4]
Elizabeth Farm Garden (2016 I Willis)

Elizabeth fostered a botanical interest in the next generation, particularly William, who managed a successful nursery at Camden Park for many years. She valued the local vegetation of the Parramatta River area and 1795 she wrote home to her friend Miss R Kingdon from Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta:

The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give it the appearance of a wilderness or shrubbery, commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune, filled with a variety of native plants, placed in a wild irregular manner.[15]

On Elizabeth’s carriage trips out and about she noted that in spring:

The native shrubs are also in flower and the whole country gives a grateful perfume.[16]

Recent Ownership

The Historic Houses Trust acquired the property in 1983 and opened it as a house museum in 1984. Before this the house had fallen into disrepair.

The house was purchased in 1968 by the Elizabeth Farm Management Trust from the Swann family, who had previously lived in it The house was placed on a list of historic buildings by 1949 Cumberland County Council.

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[5]

 

Management of the house passed to the State Planning Authority, then the Heritage Council of New South Wales continued restoration.

The HHT was established in 1980, and rebranded as Sydney Living Museums in 2013, and is part of the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment within the state government.

 

Significance

The NSW State Heritage Inventory states that:

The Elizabeth Farm house is part of the oldest surviving construction in Australia and a rare survival of the earliest period of colonial architecture. The house is one of the most evocative houses relating to the earliest period of Australian European history and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing of colonial bungalows.

The garden contains remnants of some of the earliest European plantings in Australia, including the European Olive. Older indigenous species include kurrajong and bunya bunya and hoop pines. [17]

Further reading

Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World. Sydney: Text Publishing, 2018.

Michelle Scott Tucker shines a light on an often-overlooked aspect of Australia’s history in this fascinating story of a remarkable woman.

Kate Grenville, A Room Made of Leaves. (Novel). Sydney: Text Publishing, 2020.

What if Elizabeth Macarthur—wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in the earliest days of Sydney—had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? And what if novelist Kate Grenville had miraculously found and published it? That’s the starting point for A Room Made of Leaves, a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented.

Notes

[1] James Broadbent, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta, A History and a Guide. Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1984, pp. 5-11.

[2] Broadbent, 18-22.

[3] JM Freeland, ‘Elizabeth Farm, New South Wales’, in Historic Homesteads of Australia Vol One, Australian Council of National Trusts Heritage Reprints 1985.

[4] Hill, ‘A Turbulent Past’.

[5] Broadbent, 18-19.

[6] Broadbent, 24-26

[7] Broadbent, 35.

[8] Broadbent, 38-39.

[9] Broadbent, 44-48

[10] Scott Hill, ‘At the Macarthurs’ table’, The Cook and the Curator (Blog), Sydney Living Museums, 10 January 2013. Online @ http://blogs.sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/cook/at-the-macarthurs-table/ Accessed 14 April 2017

[11] Scott Hill, ‘Mr Butler: The Macarthurs’ Butler’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/mr-butler-macarthurs-butler Accessed 14 April 2017.00

[12] Scott Hill, ‘Abundance & Curiosity At Elizabeth Farm’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums, 2014. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/abundance-curiosity-elizabeth-farm Accessed 14 April 2017.

[13] Letter from Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur to Eliza Kingdon, March 1816. State Library of NSW (SLNSW): ML A2908 in Scott Hill, ‘Abundance & Curiosity At Elizabeth Farm’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums, 2014. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/abundance-curiosity-elizabeth-farm Accessed 14 April 2017.

[14] Hill, ‘Abundance and Curiosity’.

[15] S. Macarthur Onslow, Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden (Syd, 1912) Online http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html Viewed 10 February 2017

[16] Letter from Elizabeth to Miss Kingdon, September 1795, Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta in Sibella Macarthur Onslow, Some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1914. Online @ http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html  Accessed 10 Feb 2017

[17] Office of Heritage and Environment, Elizabeth Farm, NSW Government, 2014. Online @ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5051394  Accessed 14 April 2017

Originally posted 14 April 2017. Updated 25 July 2020.

Aesthetics · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Australia · Belonging · British colonialism · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Curtilage · Economy · Elderslie · England · Farming · Frontier violence · Georgian · Gothic · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Narellan · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling · Stuart Park Wollongong

John Hawdon of Elderslie in a settler society

Englishman John Hawdon

John Hawdon
John Hawdon

In 1929 Mrs Madeline Buck the grand-daughter of an Elderslie pioneer James Hawdon published a series of his letters written in 1828 to friends in England. Hawdon had lived in the Elderslie area for five years from 1828.

Hawdon’s letters surfaced in England in 1929 amongst old family papers and have many interesting insights into life in the early days of the colony.

At Elderslie, Hawdon leased the Elderslie estate and supported four convicts, his wife Margaret and baby son. Alan Atkinson maintains that ‘Hawdon apparently tried to keep up an English tone, with the slave-driving Botany Bay element at a minimum. He was a good master and even admired his convicts’. He did not take any convicts for punishment at the Cawdor Bench between 1825 and 1830. (Atkinson, p20)

Hawdon was concerned about freight costs between Sydney and the Cowpastures and according to Atkinson ‘could make a good profit only because his carriers were his own convicts, who cost him next to nothing. The journey to market and back took a week’ using a bullock team. Hawdon grew hay for the Sydney market which was used to fatten cattle for market, and by the 1830s hay was more important than grain for the property owners in the Cowpastures. Hawdon’s convicts took the hay to the Sydney market and sold it for 6s8½d a hundredweight in 1832. He also grew a small amount of tobacco, which according to Atkinson, was ‘very profitable’ for those who knew how to grow it.

Hawdon wrote to England of the Elderslie estate convicts that

‘he had a good many of what he almost always calls “Government men,” and said he always had great satisfaction from them.’

He continued that

‘I allow my men to have as much new milk as they can use. I feed them well, and work ttipm well, by which means I have very little trouble managing them.” (SMH, 26 Oct 1929)

Hawdon was one of many colonists who moved into southern New South Wales after living in the Cowpastures for a period. He was one of the colonists who were at the frontier of the settler society where clashes between Europeans and Aborigines were more common than not.
In 1879 a journalist for the Australian Town and Country Journal described Hawdon as

‘I am only doing justice to a good old colonist, and but expressing the general opinion by stating that Mr. Hawdon is about one of the finest representatives of the true British gentleman in the colony. Honour, hospitality, and generosity are the’ characteristics which have marked his long life’ of usefulness in working and opening out with a few other pioneers this rapidly peopling district.’

‘The gentleman whose portrait we present to our readers this week is one of our oldest colonists, and the record of his career is a typical one of the prosperity that in this country attends upon energy and perseverance.’

In his obituary in 1881 the writer maintained that:

‘With his we believe, passes away that last of the brave men who did so much, to open-up the-pastoral interest of Australia and to give her the name of the finest grazing country in the world.’

At Elderslie, he ran dairying and cheese making and later his property at Bodalla. He contracted to supply provisions to the road gangs making the Great South Road.

Hawdon wrote about his journey out to New South Wales and writing on October 26, 1828, he stated

“Our passage was tedious, but not unpleasant.In the cabin we carried ten people, and in the steerage I believe there were about 32. My cabin was a very comfortable one on deck. We carried on board eight dogs, about 40 sheep, pigs, and poultry In abundance, a cow, a goat with two kids, and a famous noise, I assure you, they made!”

He wrote in his diary

On the arrival of the small family In Sydney, he found the expenses about double what they would be in London, so “I thought it advisable to take a station, till I could get my affairs arranged, and our grant of land fixed upon.” Then follows what would surprise even a hustling American. He rode up to Camden on the 16th September (three days after landing), took Mr. Harrington’s place, Elderslie, rode back to Sydney on the 17th, and within a week they were established In their new home and working away as though they were old settlers.

He wrote further

“The Governor has been pleased at two dinner parties to express his sentiments of approbation on me, saying I had begun like one who is determined to do well, for I had not been eight days in the Colony before I had my ploughs going.”

Hawdon describes Elderslie as being

“a very good and very cheap place, 38 miles from Sydney, consisting of about 1700 acres of land, all fenced and divided Into paddocks, 400 acres being cleared and stumped. The cultivated land is capital, better than any I have seen in any part of the world. It is on the Nepean River. For about three or four miles the river parts Mr MacArthur’s land and mine. His house is on the opposite side of the river to mine. We have an excellent house and garden, and the conveniences of stables, arns, etc., are equal to almost any in England.”

Mrs Buck stated

‘The little railway siding of Elderslie shows the locality in which this old homestead once stood. I understand that the foundations and an underground room of the homestead remain, and that a cottage has been built upon the site, with the materials from the old house.’

Hawdon wrote of the social life at Elderslie and Mrs Buck stated that the social life on the Cowpastures a hundred years ago was not as dull as one might think.

“This is the very country for a young man,” he writes “Take the people as a body, they are pleasant, hospitable, and uncommonly gay. Where we live (about 40 miles from Sydney). It is as populous a neighbourhood as any country place in England. We have a great many neighbours. This part is thought to be the most respectable part of the country and we have been called upon by the gentry. Altogether it is very pleasant. This country has more the appearance of England than any foreign country. They are all English people, have English customs, and everything when I look around is almost the same as at home. Our sitting-room has the same furniture, the same servants wait on us that we have been accustomed to see, and even the climate is much like very fine weather in England. We see quite as much company as we like. A visitor here thinks very little of staying two or three days, which is very agreeable. The gentlemen are all well-bred men; indeed, a great many of the larger settlers have been officers either in the army or navy. We ore a long way from a church. I believe our church is eight or 10 miles off (Cobbitty), but we have not yet been there, as our gig has not come from Sydney. But I make a point of reading the church service and a sermon to my people, who all appear, clean and well dressed, on Sunday forenoons.”

Hawdon’s views on Aborigines in the Elderslie area:

‘As for the natives, they are a most peaceable set of beings, They come to beg sugar and tobacco, of which they are fond. They sometimes come to borrow a gun, and I find powder and shot they give me half of what they kill. They are strictly honest and have excellent memories, for if they see a person once they never fail to remember him again, though many years have elapsed. But they are excessively idle.’

Hawdon was extremely energetic and

‘While still holding Elderslie he took a place called Burra Burn (in Northumberland), or 6500 acres, from Archdeacon Scott for seven years. He says that though it was taken for seven years it was rent free.’

 

John Hawdon, Biography

John Hawdon
John Hawdon

 

John Hawdon, who was born June 29, 1801, Wakefield, Durham and came out to New South Wales in 1828 on the Caroline with his wife and two children. His wife was Margaret Katherine Hawdon (born Potts) and married her in 1827. One child John was born in 1827 and conceived out of wedlock and the second Gilbert was born at sea on the journey to New South Wales. There were two more children while they lived at Elderslie and their 5th child Ernest was born at Narellan. John Hawdon died June 12, 1881, at Moruya, New South Wales, Australia.

Mrs Buck reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Hawdon’s youngest daughter, Mrs Annie Wilson, was still living at Mt Colah north of Sydney in 1929. Hawdon had seven sons.

Hawdon took up a grant of 2560 acres at Kiora in the Moruya area in 1831 and later formed a cattle station at Howlong near Albury. He marketed cattle in Melbourne and sold some of the first cattle in Adelaide from New South Wales. He encouraged his brother Joseph to emigrate and together they took up squatting interest in Victoria and south-western New South Wales, contracted the overland mail run between Yass and Melbourne.

Hawdon was one of the young squatters who founded one of Melbourne’s oldest organisations, the old Melbourne Club, a private social club, in 1838. The club is considered an enduring symbol of Australia’s British heritage and was founded by 23 British ‘gentlemen’. The club is located in a London-style clubhouse designed by Leonard Terry in 1858.
Hawdon owned the station of Kiora, Bergalia, Bodalla, Howlong, and one at Mildura, in New South Wales; and similar properties at Mt. Greenock and Dandenong Creek, in Victoria, besides several smaller places.

Further reading

Image and Text:
Australian Town and Country Journal 18 Jan 1879 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/printArticlePdf/70934477
Letters
The Sydney Morning Herald 26 October 1929 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16596386
The Sydney Morning Herald 2 November 1929 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16598472
The Sydney Morning Herald 9 November 1929 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16600463
Obituary
The Sydney Morning Herald 16 June 1881 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13488341

Updated 21 April 2020

Camden · Colonial Camden · Cowpastures · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Local History · Uncategorized

Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures

Nepean River Cowpastures

The early colonists of the Sydney area viewed the landscape from a number of different perspectives according to historian Grace Karskins in her book The Colony a History of Early Sydney (2009) . This also applied to the Cowpastures.

Landscape has a variety of meanings. The two most common are when landscape refers to all the visible features of an area of land; usually referring to the rural features and its aesthetic appeal of neat paddocks and fields. The other meaning is one applied in an artistic sense and is its pictorial representation of an area of countryside usually in a painting.

There can be different types of landscape, for example, cultural landscapes and physical landscape. Landscape has different meanings in different scholarly disciplines, for example, art (English landscapes of Turner and Constanble), photography (American Ansel Adams) literature (the idealised pastoral scene or bucolic in art, music and literature for example  English poet Milton, William Wordsworth; an early form is the Aboriginal dreamtime stories; William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye was published in 1770, the idea of the picturesque began to influence artists and viewers and British romanticism), architecture (The term landscape architecture was invented by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828 and was first used as a professional title by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1863) , and gardening (Italian influences of an arcadia – The English garden (and later French landscape garden) presented an idealized view of nature.- The work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton and in the Cowpastures, JC Laudon)  These views of landscape are culturally derived and depend of the interpretation of the viewer, which is the essence of landscape and its contribution to the sense of place.

View-of-the-Government-Hut-at-Cowpastures
View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1

Karskins (Karskins:242)  has presented seven principles of interpretation that she maintains were used by the early colonists of Sydney towards to new environment they took possession of the land in 1788. All are evident in the diaries and accounted of the Cowpastures by a host of Europeans who travelled through the area. They are:

  1. Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
  2. Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon
  3. Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
  4. Political and philosophical – evils of the governors and transportation were the true corruptors of the countryside
  5. Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers
  6. ‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside
  7. Emotional response – how the Europeans visor ally  experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing, – and its expression in words and pictures

How these were used in reports and diaries depended often on the audience in England or France for the written work. Often the reports were used to promote a book and sometimes a set of paintings or sketches. Sometimes there were just personal comments in a diary, or reports were the basis of a book to published in England on the persons return home from Sydney.

The reports of the Cowpastures in the colonial period by a host of naval officers, military personal and surveyors have elements of the all these views of the landscape.

Anyone interested in exploring some of the aspects of these types of interpretation see other posts on this blog that mention:

1. the Cowpastures declaration  in  1795

2 the journeys of Governor Lachlan Macquarie  in 1810 , 1815, or 1820

3. the views of immigrant John Hawdon in 1828

Read some of the stories in the Pictorial History of Camden and District (2015)

Read more @

Towns, urbanites and aesthetics

Yearning Longing and the Remaking of Camden’s Identity

Agricultural heritage · Agriculture · Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · Belgenny Farm · British colonialism · Camden Story · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dairying · Dr West · Economy · Elizabeth Farm · Family history · Farming · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Legends · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Modernism · Monuments · myths · Nepean River · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling

John Macarthur the legend

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The Legend

In school textbooks for decades, at least up the 1960s, John Macarthur has been written about as the father of the Australian wool industry. Writers have maintained that his vision for New South Wales was for fine wool to become the staple industry of the state and the country.

Postage Stamps

On the anniversary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 the Commonwealth Government’s Postmaster-General’s Department issued a special commemorative series of postage stamps to celebrate the his centenary of his death and his role, according to the Sydney press, ‘for being responsible for the introduction of the merino breed of sheep into Australia, and the consequent establishment of Australia as the greatest wool-producing country in the world’.

1966 Australian $2 note
1966 Australian $2 note

$2 Note

In 1966 John Macarthur’s image and the merino ram appeared on the first Australian $2 note. More than this he is a character in Eleanor Dark’s semi-fictional Australian classic trilogy ‘The Timeless Land’ (1941). John Macarthur also features in American writer Naomi Novik’s fantasy novel Tongues of Serpents (2010). In 1949 the Federal electoral Division of Macarthur, taking in Camden, was named in honour of John and Elizabeth Macarthur.

Festivals

In Camden the town celebrated the legacy of the John Macarthur in 1960 with the 4-day Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October). The festivities celebrated the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia.

While John Macarthur was important in the importation of Spanish merino sheep from South Africa and the early development of the Australian wool industry, he was not alone in this story. There are a host of other individuals in the story including his wife, Elizabeth, and other wool producers like Reverend Samuel Marsden and William Cox and folk like Governor Hunter, and Captains Waterhouse and Kent. Although for many, particularly in the early 20th century, John Macarthur single-handedly was responsible for the foundation of the wool industry at Camden Park.

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)
John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

The anniversary of the death of John Macarthur in 1934 was a time of reflection on his contribution to the story of farming in Australia. The country was looking for heroes and pioneer figures who conquered the colonial frontier and John Macarthur fitted the bill. The enormous wealth generated by the wool industry in the 1920s and 1930s contributed the feeding frenzy around the legend of John Macarthur.

Wool’s enormous wealth

The wool industry during the interwar period was of immense importance to Australia. By the mid-1920s the United Kingdom purchased about 50% of Australia’s total wool exports, and wool exports accounted for about three-quarters of all pastoral export income. By the late 1920s Australia’s 103 million sheep were 17% of the world’s sheep numbers and Australia produced half of the world’s merino wool. In the 1930s wool exports were 30% of the total value of the Australia’s exports. (ABS)

Commemorative anniversary

In 1934 the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate claimed under a headline ‘Australia supplies most of the World Wool’ with a sub-heading ‘John Macarthur’s Work’. It went on the John MacArthur (sic) ‘laid the foundation of the merino wool industry at Elizabeth Farm, at Rose Hill, near Sydney in 1796’. In a second article on ‘John Macarthur, Father of the Wool Industry’, the author wrote that ‘there were no band playing, no celebrations’ and ‘perhaps that is how he would have wished it. His great monument stands in the record wool return that has come to Australia this year; a record that has turned the tide of depression, a record that may yet come in the flood of prosperity fully restored’. The newspaper felt ‘it seems strange that a man who did so much to make the wealth of the country should be so little honoured’. The author felt that there had been ‘ a hundred years in silence – now a few stamps – how typical of the casual Australian’.

The Braidwood Review and District Advocate ran a headline ‘The Golden Fleece, Late John Macarthur’s Vision’. Parramatta’s Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate in 1934 felt confident is stating that ‘Australia lives on the sheep’s back’. RAHS historian James Jervis wrote an article for the Argus called ‘John Macarthur – An Appreciation’ and said his memory ‘to all good Australians’.

Various members of the rural press reported on an address given by James Walker the president of the NSW Graziers’ Association which traced the history of the wool industry in Australia and Dr Roland Wilson, the economist of the Commonwealth Statistician Department, who dealt with the importance of the wool industry to Australia and the legacy of John Macarthur.

Father of the colony

Earlier in 1931 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article written by WRS called ‘John Macarthur, the Father of the Colony’ claiming he came from ‘a warrior ancestry’ and should be remembered ‘in the respectful admirations of Australians from the beginning of the drama of civilisation here’.

Even from the early 20th century there was a recognition by some of the reality of Macarthur’s contribution. JHM Abbott acknowledged in The World’s News in Sydney in 1926 that Macarthur was the first to realise the potential of wool production in the colony and he backed his opinion with his financial resources. Abbott states that ‘it is often erroneously stated that Macarthur introduced sheep to Australia, but that is not the case’.

While John Macarthur’s role made an contribution to the foundation of the Australian wool industry today we have a nuanced understanding of the important contribution made by many people to the story and Camden’s role in that story.

Read more

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 12 October 1934, page 12 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17119037
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate @ The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW : 1894 – 1954), Saturday 27 October 1934, page 10 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131580256 &
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW : 1894 – 1954), Saturday 28 April 1934, page 9 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131582903
The Braidwood Review and District Advocate (NSW : 1915 – 1954), Tuesday 24 April 1934, page 5 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119333871
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Monday 9 April 1934, page @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104578328
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Thursday 3 May 1934, @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104577152
The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), Saturday 11 December 1926, page 10 @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131461348
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 20 June 1931, page 9 @ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16787537