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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.
The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.
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 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.
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
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’.
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 been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.
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 educated by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Reverend 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 various 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 provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of Camden village from his position at the local courthouse.
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 description 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 the mills in the area. (p.23)
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 and their links to each location are detailed for the reader. 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 Camden village in the 1840s.
Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had, in the last few years, ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of a 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)
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 thunderstorm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33), as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could cause bushfires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Bushfires were 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 of 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 a 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 today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days, reaching its peak 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 hunting activity appeared in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’. 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.
Updated 29 April 2023. Originally posted on 23 September 2019.
There has been a chorus of objection from some in the Camden community over the potential sale. Community angst has been expressed at public meetings, protests, placards, and in articles in the press.
The principal actors (stakeholders) have taken up positions around the issue include: churchgoers, non-churchgoers (residents, outsiders, ex-Camdenites, neighbours), the parish, local government, state government, and the Macarthur family.
The former horse paddock looks like an unassuming vacant block of land in central Camden. So why has there been so much community angst about is possible sale?
The simple answer is that the community ascribes representations of a church beyond the building being a place of worship. Yet this raises a paradox for the owners of these religious sites. Generally speaking different faiths put worship and the spiritual interests of their followers ahead of their property portfolio.
This paradox has created angst in some communities when the owners of religious buildings and sites want to sell them, for example, in Tasmania in 2018 or other examples discussed by Graeme Davison.
The Hawdon allegory was present when the town was established by the Macarthur family as a private venture on Camden Park Estate in 1840. The construction and foundation of St John’s church was part of the process of the building of the new town.
an enduring image within the socially constructed concept of Camden’s rurality has been the unparalleled vista of the Camden village from the Macarthur’s hilltop Georgian mansion. (Image below) The romantic image portrayed an idyllic English pastoral scene of an ordered farming landscape, a hive of industrious activity in a tamed wilderness which stressed the scientific and the poetic.
‘citadel on the hill’ at the centre of the ‘village’. It acts as a metaphor for order, stability, conservatism and a continuity of values of Camden’s Anglophile past. The Nepean River floodplain keeps Sydney’s rural-urban fringe at bay by being the ‘moat around the village’ which occasionally was the site of a torrent of floodwater.
The hilltop location has spiritual significance with Biblical references to love, peace and righteousness.
A sense of place
St John’s church has had a central role in the construction of place and community identity in the town.
The church and its hilltop location is an enduring colonial legacy and a representation of the power of the colonial gentry, particularly the position of Camden Park Estate and the Macarthur family within the narrative of the Camden story.
Many Camden folk feel a sense of belonging to the church expressed by memory, nostalgia, customs, commemorations, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs and lifestyles.
The community feel that the church belongs to them as much as it belongs to the churchgoers within the church community.
Belonging is central to placeness. It is home and a site where there is a sense of acceptance, safety and security. Home as a place is an important source of stability.
makes it plain that the feelings engendered by the loss of place can be equated with those experienced in the loss of a close relative, friend or partner. This straightforward analogy helps to make visible the symbolic role of place in enabling human beings to confront issues of mortality.
The church buildings and precinct are a shrine to a lost past and considered by many to be sacred land. The sale of the former horse paddock has caused a degree community grief over the potential loss of sacred land.
St John’s church is an important architectural statement in the town centre and is one Australia’s earliest Gothic style churches.
So what does all this mean?
The place of St John’s church in the Camden community is a complex one. The story has many layers and means different things to different people, both churchgoers and non-churchgoers.
The church is a much loved place and the threatened loss of part of the church precinct generates feeling of grief and loss by many in community.
The legacy of the English landscape identity from the early 19th century and the establishment of the Cowpastures is very real and still has a strong presence in the community’s identity and sense of place. The English style Gothic church is a metaphor for the Hawdon’s ‘Little England’ allegory.
The Cowpastures was the fourth location of European settlement in Australia and the local area still has a strong Anglo-demographic profile. These contribute to re-enforce the iconic imagery projected by St John’s church combined with the story of a settler society and its legacy.
Check out this publication to read more about the Camden district.
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.
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.
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.
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 novelPride 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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
The Cowpastures project is a community based collaborative research enterprise which is co-ordinated by UOW historian Dr Ian Willis.
It is a long term venture which aims to reveal the intricacies of the Cowpastures district from 1795 to 1850.
The Dharawal people occupied the area for centuries.
The district was part of the Australian colonial settler society project driven by British colonialism.
There was the creation of the government reserve for the wild cattle between 1795 and 1823. After this period the Cowpastures became a regional locality that was in common usage well into the 19th century.
The British aimed to create an English-style landscape from their arrival in the area from 1790s. The earliest written acknowledgement of this by Englishman John Hawdon in 1828.
Learn more about the Cowpastures from these blog posts and other resources:
This blog post is a review of Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr) (2019). 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. In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) for the first time.
This blog post examine community concerns around the sale of glebe land attached to St John’s Anglican Church in Camden and highlights community sensitivities to sale of church sites. This church was largely funded by the Macarthur family and has since its foundation in 1847 has received considerable endowments from the family.
Mummel is a rural locality about 20 kilometres northwest of Goulburn NSW on the eastern side of the Wollondilly River. Mummel is part of the story of the settler society in colonial New South Wales on the Goulburn Plains in the early 1820s.
The story of the local Indigenous people has a similar tone to other areas of colonial European settlement. Jim Smith in notes
In Goulburn NSW, the plains and Wollondilly River provided native game and fish for a number of the traditional aboriginal peoples including: Mulwaree, Tarlo, Burra Burra, Wollondilly, Wiradjuri, Gundungurra, Dharrook, Tharawal, Lachlan, Pajong, Parramarragoo, Cookmal and Gnunawal. The Goulburn region was known as a meeting place for all these groups, it wasn’t inhabited by just one group of people.
Great epidemics of disease largely wiped out the indigenous population in the 19th century and sadly, few of the original inhabitants remained by the turn of the 20th.
Records dating back to the 1830s indicate the river flats at Bungonia Road, on the outskirts of Goulburn city, was once the corroboree site of the Gandangara, who were virtually wiped out by an influenza epidemic in 1846-47.
Mummel was granted to Cowpastures oligarch John Dickson of Sussex Street in Sydney who also held the grant of Nonorrah on The Northern Road at Bringelly. Dickson owned a number of properties in the County of Cumberland which were part of the Cowpastures district and they were: Netherbyres, Orielton, Moorfield and Eastwood. Together together formed a line from Bringelly Road in the north to beyond Cobbitty Road in the south. At the 1828 Census Dickson listed his properties at 17,000 acres in the Counties of Cumberland and Argyle of which 15,000 was cleared and 150 acres under cultivation. On these properties he had 3000 cattle and 2000 sheep. Dickson also held 800 acres in Mummel Parish called Evandale.
While in Sydney he met miller and industrialist Thomas Barker who was one of the trustees of John Dickson’s estate. Dickson left New South Wales in 1834 and later died in London in 1843.
Barker asked Waugh to go to Mummel in the County of Argyle where he took charge of the harvest of 150 acres (61 ha) of hay and 350 acres (142 ha) of wheat. He told his parents, ‘and here I am at present furnishing stores of fifty men, keeping accounts, &c.’ (Waugh, 1838)
Waugh reported that he stayed briefly at Orielton in late 1834 before moving to Mummel in February 1835:
I go for good and all to Mummel, Goulburn Plains, Argyleshire…for the first year,– I am to get £40 and board and washing. The farm is 6,000 acres and has about 4,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle on it. There is another overseer from Ayrshire, with a good salary, – he has been twelve years here. He has, besides, a farm of his own, which he manages with an overseer. (Waugh, 1838)
Sale of Sheep
In 1836 around 5000 sheep were offered for sale by auction from Mummel. The advertisement stated that the flock had been bred with Saxon merinos from WE Riley of Raby, Hannibal Macarthur in the Cowpastures and stock from R Jones. WE Riley, pastoralist and sketcher, was a son of the pioneer pastoralist Alexander Riley of Raby who had come to New South Wales as a free settler in 1804. The Riley Saxon merinos won gold medals awarded by the NSW Agricultural Society between 1827 and 1830.
Hannibal Macarthur lived at The Vineyard at Parramatta, and had extensive landholdings. He was the uncle of famous NSW colonial John Macarthur of Camden Park.
In 1841 the John Dickson held 4185 acres in the Mummel area on the northern side of the Wollondilly River.
In 1854 there was a sub-division in the Mummel estate, which was surveyed by the firm Roberts and Haege Surveyors. Lots were advertised in the Goulburn Herald 11 March 1854. [Roberts & Haege. (1854). Plan of the Mummel Estate near Goulburn [cartographic material] / Roberts & Haege Surveyors. SLNSW]
Parish of Mummel, County of Argyle, NSW. 1932
Mummel Provisional School
In 1868 a provisional school was opened at Mummel, which meant that there were between 15 and 15 pupils attending the school.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and the house was never a centre of the colony’s social life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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.
 James Broadbent, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta, A History and a Guide. Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1984, pp. 5-11.
 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
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?
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.
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.
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. Elizabeth Villy indicates that the stock books indicate 29 landholders, who were mostly absentee landlords.
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.
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.
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. 
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.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’.
Elderslie according to Alan Atkinson supported 9 convicts when Oxley sold the grant to Francis Irvine in 1827. At Macquarie Grove under Samual Hassall, there were 30 convicts with 3 families of children.
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.
At the time of the 1828 Census at ‘Kirkham’, which had 54 people including 44 convicts. (SRNSW NRS 1273 1828 Census).
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.
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