Appin · Camden · Colonial Camden · Heritage · history · Local History · Transport

The Percival Wagon

One of the larger items in the collection of the Camden museum is an item that few of the current members are aware of or would know the history. It is the Percival wagon that was located next to Macaria for a number of decades, the former headquarters of Camden Council. In 2012 a group of schoolboys got the opportunity to pull it to bits and put it back together again, and now they have finished with it and the wagon is coming home.

Camden Percival Wagon_0003
The Camden Percival Wagon is probably a Bennett construction and was placed in the forecourt area next to Macaria by the Camden Historical Society in 1977. Where is stayed for a number of decades until 2012. (Camden Historical Society)

The Percival wagon is likely to have been built at the Bennetts Wagon Works at St Marys which   started in 1858 and eventually closed down in 1958. The Western Plains Cultural Centre at Dubbo states:

Bennett coach and Wagon works were operated by brothers James and George T. Bennett. Their tabletop wagons became famous throughout Australia; they were capable of carrying from 10 to 20 tonnes, and were regarded as the best heavy transport wagons to be bought. They were used in both rural and urban areas.

The Bennett wagon works at St Marys employed around 25 men at the end of the 19th century, with its wagons selling for between £150 to £250. The wagons were usually painted green and red, or red and blue and some had nick names, like ‘The Maxina’ (in South Creek Park now), ‘King of the Road’, and ‘The Pioneer’.

st-marys-bennett-wagon-works-1910-penrithcitylibrary-e1499829672934.jpg
George T. Bennett’s Wagon Works, St Marys. The photograph, taken in 1910, shows George Bennett’s wheelwright and blacksmith’s workshop in Queen Street, St Marys which was built in about 1875. The business was on the western side of Queen Street, a short distance north of King Street. George’s brother James joined him in the business but after a disagreement, James built his own workshop closer to the highway. George closed his business in 1920. (Penrith City LIbrary)

 

The Penrith City Regional Library states the Bennett wagons were used by teamsters to haul silver from the Burragorang Valley. In 1904 there were 15 teams of horses and bullocks plying the road between Yerranderie and Camden railhead from the silver field which lasted from around 1900 to 1925. The silver ore was originally forwarded to Germany for smelting, and after the First World War it went to Port Pirie in South Australia and then Newcastle. The story of the teamsters who worked out the Burragorang is celebrated in a monument outside Macaria in John Street, which was installed in 1977 by the Camden Historical Society.

 

The historical society’s wagon was one of the last in the Macarthur area. It was around 70 years old when the society purchased  it from Sydney Percival of Appin in 1977 using a public  fundraising appeal organised by society president Owen Blattman and Dick Nixon for $200. Once the society secured the funds and purchased the wagon it was then  restored by retired Camden carpenter Ern Howlett and painted red and blue.

 

The original wagon owner of the society’s wagon was Sydney’s father Norm Percival who died in 1942 with the wagon passing to his son. Norm lived on the property called Northampton Dale which was part of William Broughton 1000 acre grant of Lachlan Vale.  John Percival purchased Northampton Dale when Broughton’s grant was subdivided 1856 and named it after his home in England. The Percival property was used for horse breeding, then beef cattle and later as a dairy farm. During the First World War the farm was a popular venue with local people for playing tennis. (Anne-Maree Whitaker, Appin, the story of a Macquarie Town)

Campbelltown Percival Wagon_0001

Typical of Bennett wagons the society’s Percival wagon was used to cart wheat at Junee in 1913 while around 1900 it had previously been used to cart chaff from Campbelltown Railway Station to the Cataract Dam construction site. The wagon was also used to cart coal in Wollongong and then around the Percival Appin farm of ‘Northampton Dale’ and the Appin district. The Percival wagon had been restored by the Percivals in 1905 and was fitted with new front wheels, and plied for business around with Appin area. The signage along the side of wagon was ‘EN Percival, Appin’.

 

The Percival wagon was placed adjacent to Macaria in John Street in 1977 and by 1992 was a little the worse for wear. A team of society members took to the task with gusto and contributed over 200 hours to the restoration, with Camden Council contributing $600 to the total cost of $1200.  Another decade passed and the weather and the elements again took their toll on the wagon. Repainting was needed in 2001.

Camden HS Teamsters Wagon
The Percival wagon in Argyle Street Camden driven by Mr Biffin before being located next to Macaria in John Street in 1977 (Camden Museum)

In 2012 the Dean of Students at Macarthur Anglican School Tim Cartwright suggested that the wagon become a restoration project for the school boys. Cartwright, who had retrained as a teacher, had been a master carpenter in Europe before coming to Australia. The wagon was taken out to the school later in that year and is currently still at the school. The wagon is about to return to the custody of the society.

Camden HS Wagon SoS Cover

Camden Museum, Teamsters’ Wagon, Statement of Significance, Item No 1995.423.

Read more about Bennett Wagons

http://www.stmarysstar.com.au/story/2590835/historic-wagons-coming-home/

http://www.penrithcitygazette.com.au/story/3331875/historic-wagons-roll-into-town/

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Camden · Colonial Camden · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · sense of place · Uncategorized

The soul of a country town, St Johns Church, Camden

On the hill overlooking the Camden town centre is a church building that represents the historic, moral and emotional heart of community. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the church represents the soul of the town, which was built below it on the Nepean River floodplain in the mid-19th century.

St Johns Church Camden 2005 IWillis

Metaphor for the order and stability

The church is a metaphor for the order and stability that it represented on the wilds of the colonial frontier. It was at the centre of the original proposal for the English-style village of Camden in the 1830s along with a court house and a gaol.

 

For the Macarthurs of Camden Park estate the church was the centre of their moral and spiritual conservatism. The church, as part of similar early 19th English estate villages, represented stability and order that the Macarthur required of the new community on their estate. More than this the church was a central part of the landscape vistas of the village from Camden Park House.

James Macarthur Belgenny

James Macarthur view of the world

The church, according to Alan Atkinson, was representative of James Macarthur religious view of the world where faith emanated from the ‘joint initiative of all classes’. Macarthur maintained that ‘collective and mutual dependence’ was an essential part of the ‘Christian spirit’ that would  be a ‘symbol off for their reliance on each other’. [i]

 

The church cause was promoted by James and William Macarthur and appealed to neighbours and employees for a fund for the construction of the church. By 1835 the Macarthurs subscribed £500 of a total of £644 from estate workers and neighbours.

 

The building of the church coincided with Governor Bourke’s  Church Act of 1836 which offered a subsidy for the building of churches in the colony of New South Wales. The Macarthur applied for a subsidy of £1000 of the total cost of £2500.[ii]

St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The church was constructed by with local bricks and timbers and was consecrated in 1849. Hector Abrahams states that St Johns church:

In its architectural innovation and picturesque placement in a controlled landscape, it is among the most important parish churches in Australia.[iii]

Camden religious precinct

The church and its grounds are located in a religious precinct that includes the rectory and stables (1859), church hall (1906), and a cemetery. While the church was originally proposed in a ‘classical’ style it was eventually constructed in the Gothic Revival style which became popular in Sydney at the time. Sydney architect Hector Abrahams maintains that St Johns ,was the first Gothic Revival church in the colony of New South Wales’ when finished in 1844.

Gothic revival

Gothic revival looked back to the glory of the medieval period, in contrast to neo-classical styles which were popular at the time. To its supporters Gothic architecture was representative of true Christian values that were being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. Gothic architecture was aligned with the conservatism of the Macarthurs rather than the republicanism of the French and American revolutionary wars and neoclassicism. Its popularity was partly driven in the colony of New South Wales by the re-building of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834 which evoked a romantic age.

St Johns Church at the top of John Street overlooking the village of Camden around 1895 C Kerry (Camden Images)

Camden’s Englishness

Over the subsequent decades St John’s church has become a representation of Camden’s Englishness. Probably the first reference to St John’s church and its Englishness was in the Anglican newspaper the Sydney Guardian when it stated

it’s graceful and really well proportioned spire presents a cheering object to the up country traveller, as it breaks the dull outline of bush hill carrying the mind back to scenes well remembered and deeply loved by all English hearted folk (Sydney Guardian quoted in Clive Lucas Stapleton & Partners, St. John’s Anglican Church Precinct Menangle Road, Camden Conservation Management Plan, 2004, Sydney, p.44)

In 1926 the church was in the forefront of the mind of Eldred Dyer who wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Camden was reminiscent of English parish church towns. He wrote that as he stepped out and walked around the town centre he lifted his:

 eyes to the old church as it stands in beauty on its hill, and In a flash you are transported to some old English church town. In a moment, if you have understanding, you and in a flash you are transported to some old English church town.[iv]

To a travel writer for the  Sydney Mail in 1926 the church was the dominant English-style landscape feature on a road trip through the area:.

the shapely and lofty steeple of its church raising itself above the copse of frees on the hilltop and giving the little township a quaintly European aspect.[v]

 

The church has become central to all representations of the Camden township from its inception, and what it means to be born and bred in the district. The church is the fundamental icon is the community’s sense of place and identity.

Vista of St Johns Church from the Nepean River Floodplain 1910 Postcard (Camden Images)

Church symbolism

The church symbolism is central in tourism literature, business promotions, stories of the town, its history and a host of other representations of the district.

The church continues to dominate the town centre skyline and the minds and hearts of all Camden folk. Here hoping that this continues for another century.

Notes

[i] Atkinson, Alan.  Camden / Alan Atkinson  Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic  2008  http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html  pp.30-32

[ii] Atkinson, Alan.  Camden / Alan Atkinson  Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne, Vic  2008  http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/fy0904/2008431682.html  pp.30-32

[iii] Hector Abrahams, Christian church architecture, Dictionary of Sydney, 2010, http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/christian_church_architecture, viewed 16 March 2017

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 28 August 1926, page 9

[v] Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), Wednesday 11 August 1926, page 46

Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Edwardian · Heritage · history · Interwar · Place making · sense of place · Uncategorized

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

Camden Needs A Residential Heritage Style Guide

There is a crying need for a local Camden Residential Heritage Style Guide. Why do other Local Government Areas in Australia have a Residential Style Guide for their heritage housing styles but Camden does not.

Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district (I Willis)
Federation Camden is a period of growth from the dairy industry across the district represented by sturdy timber cottages (I Willis)

Camden is one of Australia’s most historic localities and yet newcomers and locals have to guess what is an historically accurate guide to residential housing styles.

The new Camden Region Economic Taskforce (CRET) is an opportunity to promote the historic and heritage nature of the local area. The Taskforce promotional material states that Camden LGA has a ‘unique history’ and that the aim of the CRET is to maintain ‘Camden’s unique historic heritage and natural environment’.

This is an opportunity to the see if Camden Council is prepared to back its words with action. One easy way to do this would be to draw up a Residential Heritage Style Guide for the Local Government Area.

Camden heritage is a tourism drawcard to the local area. It creates jobs and business opportunities.

Carinya Cottage c1890 (Camden Historical Society)
Carinya Cottage c1890 was an example of a Federation Edwardian Farm Cottage at Narellan now demolished (Camden Historical Society)

The aim of the CRET is

  1. creation of jobs
  2. attraction of investment and
  3. creating the right environment  to support the growth of business and industry (both existing and future).

Houses are an integral part of our daily lives. We live in them and take them for granted. But they are more than this. A house is an historical statement of its time. As history changes so does the type of housing.

The CRET publicity states that the Camden LGA is a ‘rapidly growing area’ and is subject to change in the form of ‘rapid commercial and industrial development’ and there needs to be an understanding, according to the CRET, of ‘our unique heritage’.

 

There a number of housing styles that have been identified by architects in Australia since colonial times. The major periods of the styles are:
1. Pre-colonial period 30,000 BCE – 1788
2. Old Colonial Period 1788 – c. 1840
3. Victorian Period c. 1840 – c. 1890
4. Federation Period c. 1890 – c. 1915
5. Inter – War Period c. 1915 – c 1940
6. Post – War Period c. 1940 – c. 1960.
7. Late Twentieth Century c. 1960 – c. 2000
8. Twenty –First Century c. 2000 – present.
The Camden Local Government Area has residential buildings from most of these time periods.

 

Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)
Camden has a number of very good examples in town buildings from the Victorian era (I Willis)

The housing style of a particular location in the Camden or Narellan area gives the place a definite character and a certain charm. It is what makes a place special and gives it a sense of its own identity (Inter-war period along Menangle Road). The housing style will give the place its special qualities. The houses are a reflection of the times in which they were built.

 

The style is an indicator of the historical activities that have gone on in that area. It is a statement on changing tastes, lifestyles, social attitudes, cultural mores, and a host of other factors (Inter-war cottages in Elizabeth Street and the use of colour glass in lead-light windows or the appearance of garages for the new motor cars of the day).

Example of modern design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW (I Willis 2010)
Example of modern Ranch style design from the early 1960s at 64 Macarthur Road Elderslie NSW now demolished (I Willis 2010)

The housing style may be complemented by a garden and landscaping that reflected the tastes and lifestyles of the occupants of the building. Even gardens go through fashion trends (English style gardens or native gardens).

 

The housing style says a lot about the occupants. Whether they were landed gentry who owned one of the large estates in the area (Camden Park House, Brownlow Hill, Denbigh) or ordinary farmers who were making a living from a patch of ground (simple Federation weatherboard cottages like Yamba cottage in Narellan or the Duesbury family in Elizabeth Street or Hillview in Lodges Road).

Ben Linden Narellan J Kooyman 1997 (Camden Images)
The cottage known as Ben Linden at Narellan is an excellent example of the Edwardian period in the Camden Local Government Area (J Kooyman, 1997, Camden Images)

Camden has been remote from the urban influences that drove the high forms of these architectural styles. But local people adapted the style to suit their particular purpose (simple Federation brick or timber farm cottages like in the Struggletown complex or Barsden Street). Sometimes they created their own vernacular style that used local materials.

 

Some of these styles have more examples in the Camden area than others. This reflects the economic prosperity in the history of the area. The Inter-war period is one of these times. Between 1915 and 1940 the town grew based on the wealth generated by dairying and later coal. There are quite a number of inter-war buildings in Camden (Californian bungalows in Menangle Road and Murray Street). The post-war period of housing construction in Camden in Macquarie Avenue and along the Old Hume Highway was driven by the economic activities surrounding the mining of coal in the Burragorang Valley.

 

Each housing style illustrates cultural influences from Great Britain in the Victorian style or from the United States in the Inter-war period in the Californian Bungalow and the Ranch style in the post-war period.

Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows of the period (I Willis)
Camden shows the influence of the American west coast during the Inter-war period with Californian bungalows (I Willis)

The local housing stock shows the skills and expertise of local builders, such as Harry Willis or Walter Furner who constructed many of the Inter-war housing stock. Ephraim Cross who supplied brick for some of the Federation style cottages in the area or James English in the 1940s or Ron McMIllan in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Each period represents the modern and progressive ideas of its time. Each housing style is a representation of the hopes and aspirations of those who built the houses. Just as Oran Park housing developments are representative of the late 21th century so Harrington Park and Mt Annan are representative of the late 20th century. They have been driven by the urban expansion of the Sydney area.

 

Within each of the major time periods there are a number of sub-divisions. There are around five major styles within the Inter-war period, such as the Californian bungalow (West coast USA influence) or the Art Deco (European influences). The post-war period has around six style divisions ranging from the austerity (which reflected the lack of availability of building materials and labour following WW2) to ranch style (which illustrated the post-war influences from West coast American and Californian housing styles).

Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 (Camden Images)
Yamba Cottage, KIrkham c. 1913 is an example of an Federation Edwardian farm cottage on Camden Valley Way at Narellan (Camden Images)

Camden needs a Residential Heritage Style Guide to consolidate all these factors and influences in the Local Government Area.

Why is it that other Local Government Areas around Australia can achieve this but Camden cannot?  What is the matter with out local government representatives? Examples from other parts of Australia include

  1. The New South Wales seaside community of Moruya has a wonderful document called the MORUYA RESIDENTIAL STYLE GUIDE.
  2. In South Australia the inner Adelaide City of Unley’ has a document called Appreciating Heritage and Character Dwellings Design Guide 1 .
  3. In Queensland the Toowoomba Region Council has a series of guides for heritage properties covering Victorian, Edwardian and Inter-war houses.

Camden Local Government Area has examples of housing stock that corresponds with each of these housing styles. What is wrong with Camden Council on this matter?

Read more on these matters on this blog:

  1. Edwardian Cottages in Camden
  2. Inter-war Camden
  3. Ben Linden at Narellan
  4. Urban planning in the Camden LGA

 

Camden · Carrington Hospital · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Farming · Floods · history · Local History · Place making · Railway

Camden: Sydney’s best preserved country town

Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)
Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)

The township of Camden on the banks of the Nepean River south-west of Sydney provides a glimpse of life from times gone past. The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park. The charm and character of the town comes from the many 19th century colonial buildings and early 20th century cottages.

Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images
Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images

The heritage of the local area makes Camden, according to some expert sources, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the country. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.

Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.

The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.

For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.

Written by Ian Willis member of Professional Historians Association NSW.

Previously published on Heritage Tourism at Camden: The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW

Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Camden · Carrington Hospital · Colonial Camden · Convalescent Home · Heritage · Local History

A breath of fresh air

Carrington Convalescent Hospital, Camden, NSW. (Valentine)
Carrington Convalescent Hospital, Camden, NSW. Postcard. 1900s.

Fresh air was the order of the day for patients at the newly opened Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents and Incurables at Camden in 1890. The hospital followed the latest methods in medical practice and building architecture from Victorian England based on the writings and approach advocated by Florence Nightingale.

Victorian England hospitals

By the late 19th century Victorian England had over 300 Convalescent hospital. They were one of a variety of specialist hospitals that appeared in Victorian England. They included  consumptive hospitals, fever hospitals, ophthalmic hospitals, lying-in hospitals, venereal disease hospitals, orthopaedic hospitals, lunatic asylums, fistula infirmary, invalid asylums, as well as those catering for different groups of people for instance seamen’s hospitals, German hospital, children’s hospitals and others.

 

British historian Eli Anders states that in  England convalescent homes were built as the seaside or in the countryside away from the dirty polluted cities. They were to be places of rest, nourishment and recuperation where there was plenty of fresh and healthy air. Medical practices dictated that fresh air and exercise were the order of the day.

Camden’s fresh country air

The location of Carrington fitted this model. It was located in the picturesque countryside with views over the Nepean River floodplain on a hill to catch lots of fresh country air. Camden was considered a healthy site away from the pollution and evils of industrial Sydney and the increased public health risks of the urban environment and issues with sanitation.

Florence Nightingale Wikimedia
Florence Nightingale Wikimedia

Florence Nightingale

Carrington Hospital was the first major convalescent facility in New South Wales and followed design principles espoused by Florence Nightingale. Historian Eli Anders states that Nightingale wrote in her Notes on Nursing and Notes on Hospitals that she was an advocate for ventilation and proper site selection. She promoted the ‘healthfulness’ of convalescent hospitals in the countryside and on the edge of towns where they took advantage of fresh country air. Similar advantages could be achieved by a seaside location.

Miasma

At the heart of this idea was miasma theory which stated that some diseases such as cholera, chlamydia  or Black Death were cause by ‘bad air’. The theory stated that epidemics were due to a miasma started from rotting organic matter. The theory originated from the ancients in places like China, India and Europe and was only displaced by germ theory in the 1880s, which stated that germs caused diseases. Despite this popular culture retained a belief in ‘bad air’ and stated the urban areas had to clean up waste and get rid of bad odours. These ideas had encouraged Florence Nightingale’s activities in the Crimean War where she worked to make hospitals sanitary and fresh smelling. These ideas also had a major influence on Sydney and the outbreak of Black Death (bubonic plague) in 1900 after urban renewal process that followed in suburbs like The Rocks and Millers Point.

William H Paling (Camden Museum)
William H Paling (Camden Museum)

WH Paling

Convalescent homes were often built by philanthropists and charitable organisations. Carrington Hospital was built by Sydney philanthropist and businessman WH Paling (1825-1895), who immigrated with his family to Sydney in 1853. Paling ran a music business importing pianofortes and sheet music, and was an entertainment promotor and composer during the heyday of the gold rushes. His business success allowed him to pursue his political and philanthropic interests. Paling was an alderman on Petersham Municipal Council and mayor, a member of the Royal Society and a director the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Company. The Australian Dictionary of Biography states

His far-sighted preoccupation with questions of sanitation, health and hospital accommodation culminated in his presentation to the colony on 23 April 1888 of his 450-acre (182 ha) model farm Grasmere at Camden, valued at £20,000, to be used as a hospital for convalescents and incurables; he also donated £10,000 for the erection of suitable buildings. A public committee led by Sir Henry Parkes raised a further £15,000 for equipment and development at the Carrington Convalescent Hospital on the site.

 

The hospital site was purchased in 1881 from Camden Park by a syndicate of WH Paling, AH McCullock, Benjamin James Jnr and W Stimson containing 5100 acres. It was part of the North Cawdor Farms sale which also included a number of Camden Town blocks. The sale had a number of conditions and was not finalised until 1888. In the meantime Paling developed his Grasmere Estate farms. He established a Deed of Gift in 1888 with Lord Carrington was president of the hospital and chair of the general committees and himself as vice president.

 

The hospital was named after Lord Carrington, Governor of New South Wales (1885-1890), who served from on the centenary of the foundation of the colony.

Carrington Convalescent Hospital Illustrated Sydney News 1889
Carrington Convalescent Hospital Illustrated Sydney News 1889

Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival

The 89 bed hospital (49 male, 40 female) was designed by Sydney architect HC Kent and constructed by building contractor P Graham. The NSW State Heritage Inventory states:

It is representative of a late Victorian institutional building and is also representative of hospital building techniques (including setting) of the time. Main building of late Victorian eclectic style is brick on concrete foundations with cement dressings in the super structure and tower.

 

The main building is considered to be an excellent example of a Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival style. There were also additional buildings which included gardeners cottage, Masonic cottage, morgue, and Grassmere Cottage. There were extensive landscape gardens in a general Victorian layout with a carriage loop and flower bed.

 

In England convalescent facilities were very good and were better than home life conditions for many poor people. The idea with convalescent hospital were that the patients spent weeks recovering away from their home. Rich people who hired their own doctors to treat them during illness or convalescence. They paid to recuperate in a seaside health resort or travel to a spa centre.  Convalescent homes were seen as superior to hospitals because they were different from dreary wards. Supporters advocated their calming and home-like qualities with libraries, games rooms and sitting rooms.

Ventilation and fresh air

The Illustrated Sydney News stated that the Carrington Hospital is located on a hill overlooking Camden to take advantage of ‘fresh air’ with ‘ventilation in the sleeping and living rooms’. The ventilation in the buildings was planned by Sir Alfred Roberts and based on Prince Alfred Hospital. The convalescence patients will be able to ‘sit outside and enjoy the lovely view and balmy health giving air’. The garden had ‘comfortable shady seats, where patients can wander about and rest at will, is of great importance, as also the verandahs where they can obtain exercise in wet weather, and the large sitting or day rooms’. There is the pleasant ‘park-like appearance’ of the countryside around Camden which ‘is very English in its character’. Patients will be able to recuperate for ‘two or three weeks’ rest and proper food that would mean so very much  to them just at this stage…They are free to revel in the country scenes and sounds and rest awhile from the bustle of life’.

 

The Sydney press stated that the aims of the hospital

 are, that persons recovering from acute illness may benefit by a short residence in the healthful climate of Camden, and a plentiful use of the farm products from the estate ; and further, that persons suffering from incurable diseases may have their lives prolonged and their sufferings alleviated by the above-named advantages. (Illust Syd News)

NSW Governor at Carrington Hospital Laying Foundation Stone Illustrated Sydney News 1889
NSW Governor at Carrington Hospital Laying Foundation Stone Illustrated Sydney News 1889

Lord Carrington lays foundation stone

The Governor of New South Wales Lord Carrington laid a foundation stone in February 1889 in front of a crowd of over 2000 people. A special train came from Redfern and was met at Camden Railway Station by well over 1000 people. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Gazette reported that Camden Station was ‘gaily decorated’ with a string of flags. Lord Carrington arrived by train from Moss Vale and he was met at the home by Sydney dignatories who were members of the management committee and trustees. The report noted that hot and cold running water would be laid on throughout the building.

 

Carrington Convalescent Hospital opened on 20 August 1890 and the first matron  was Miss McGahey who resigned in 1891 to take a position as matron at Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. She was followed by Matron Kerr, then Matron Blanche Bricknell in 1897 who served until 1907.

Annual reports

The 1898 7th annual report in the Camden News stated that the hospital had treated 1153 in the previous 12 months with the annual cost of each bed being £35/8/9d. The meeting discussed the reluctance of patients to contribute the cost of their stay. During the year Sister Elenita Williams had been succeeded by Sister Edith Carpendale. Nurses Bertha Davidson and Eva Thomson had been succeeded by Nurses Lily BanfieId and Theresa Richardson. Mr JR Fairfax and Major JW Macarthur Onslow were elected the management committee by subscribers.

Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images
Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images

The 1900 annual report in the Camden News stated that the hospital had treated 1040 patients in the previous year with the average number of patients 75. The average patient stay was 28 days at a cost of £2/10/11d. The hospital shut its emergency section when the Camden Cottage Hospital opened during the year and Camden medical officers acted in an honorary capacity.

First major convalescent hospital

Carrington Hospital was the first major convalescent hospital in New South Wales and its surrounding buildings and gardens are list on the Camden Local Environment Plan Heritage Inventory (Item 118). Carrington Hospital is significance in that it is, along with Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, one of only two remaining functional purpose built late 19th century convalescent hospitals in New South Wales.

 

READ MORE

Read more on types of hospital in Victorian London

Read more on Eli Anders, Locating Convalescence in Victorian England

Read more on William H Paling (ADB)

Read more on the State Heritage Inventory entry for Carrington Hospital

Read more on the Carrington Hospital in the Illustrated Sydney News 24 May 1890

Noel Bell Ridley Smith, Carrington Nursing Home, Heritage Curtilage Assessment, McMahon’s Point, 2006. Online at Pt 1 and Pt 2 

Noel Bell Ridley Smith, Carrington Nursing Home Conservation Management Strategy, McMahon’s Point, 2006.

Carrington Hospital 7th Annual Report Camden News  3 March 1898.

Carrington Hospital 9th Annual Report Camden News 28 June 1900

Appin · Campbelltown · Colonial Camden · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Local History · Settler colonialism · Sydney's rural-urban fringe

On the edge, settler colonialism on the Cumberland Plain

Baragil Lagoon Menangle (I Willis)
Baragil Lagoon Menangle (I Willis)

Walking the Cowpastures and beyond

A personal reflection of a visit to Baragil Lagoon at Menangle and the  ground that Governor Macquarie walked on in 1810.

The historian is advised to walk the ground of their studies and subject matter. When it happens it can be a real eye-opener. It challenged my view of these colonial stories and myths when I visited Baragil Lagoon in 2015 (see Blog post).

The visit to the locality was organised by John and Edwina Stanham to EMAI and Baragil Lagoon for the Camden Park Nursery Group.

I was touched in 2015 by visiting the spot where Governor Macquarie camped above Baragil Lagoon. The camp site is very similar to 1810 on Macquarie’s visit and how he would have found the site.

Governor Macquarie (SLNSW)
Governor Macquarie (SLNSW)

The site is quite scenic. It is open Cumberland Woodland with broken dappled light coming through the tree canopy and bird calls in the background. The site is largely undisturbed and is as described in Macquarie’s journal (see blog). If you shut your eyes you could imagine the scene in 1810 with similar sounds, smells and sensations.

As a I visitor was ‘walking on hallowed ground’ where the mighty and famous had gone before. There was ‘a spiritual experience and awakening’ to what others have written about before on these matters. The experience could be best described with words like ‘challenging’, ‘interesting’, and ‘enlightening’.

So what is the point of this pontificating?

It set me off of on a journey involving my curiosity. It prompted me to ask questions about the colonial period on the Cowpastures and its meaning.

But how to enter the colonial world of the settlers and re-examine the stories and narratives that I had been brought up with.

One attempt at this has been Stokes work. She has attempted to examine the historical and archaeological evidence and looked at the pre-colonial movements of the Dharawal people in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions. She maintains that:

Spatial mapping of these historical observations is informative in its own right. Spatially formatted incorporation of tangible and intangible evidence of associations and connections within Aboriginal communities has been demonstrated to be a particularly valuable and meaningful approach (p4)[1]

Stokes looks further at the concept of cultural landscape, a fundamental concept in the use of heritage in Australia. She states:

Country, for Aboriginal people, is organised and understood by people’s various and particular relationships with, and connections to it. Knowledge of the interrelationship of everything binds environmental, spiritual, aesthetic and economic categories of information and life (Wesson 2005:6). In contrast, European culture, at the time of colonisation at least, divided people, land and activities into discretely bordered classes and categories, organised hierarchically. European knowledge structures also involved separation of information into smaller and smaller parts (Wesson 2005:6) (p12)

She then states that a cultural exchange has shifted this binary view of the world. The

Understanding of plurality of meaning of things underpins both theory and practice in archaeology today (e.g. Hodder above and multivariate methods used later in this thesis). This shift in western thinking, as with all cultural change, is an outcome of exchange. (p12)

Nepean River Cowpastures[1]

Questions and their validity?

This post is interested in the questions around settler colonialism and the opportunity it provides to reflect on the colonialism of the southern Cumberland Plain.

This post is just asking:

Is this an opportunity to pose a number of questions?

Examples might be:

  • Is settler colonialism an appropriate lens to the view the events, myths and perceptions of the colonialism of the Cumberland Plain?
  • Are there new types of colonialism at work on the Cumberland Plain?
  • What has the Appin Massacre got to do with any of this?
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Colonialism and the popular imagination

So what are we talking about?

There are numerous myths and stories surrounding the colonial period on the southern Cumberland Plain. Some of these are part of the foundational story of the nation.

  1. The cows of the Cowpastures
  2. The Appin Massacre and Governor Macquarie – the Father of Australia
  3. The legend of John Macarthur – the pioneering hero – the great founder of the Australian wool industry
  4. Governor Macquarie and the Cowpastures
  5. John Oxley and Kirkham (later Camelot)
  6. Denbigh and the Galloping Parson Thomas Hassall
  7. John Hawdon of Elderslie
  8. Glenlee
  9. Wivenhoe and Charles Cowper
  10. Studley Park and Payne’s Folly
  11. The legend of Hume and Hovell
  12. The stories of Thomas Mitchell
  13. And many others

Each of these in their own way are worthy of re-examination in the light of the debate around settler colonialism and its methodology.

An even more recent set of events might fit the mould created by settler colonialism with a new form of colonialism with its own stories and myths

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

Global nature of frontiers and settler colonialism

The Cumberland Plain has been subjected to many new frontiers that are global in nature. These frontiers have been based on ideas, culture, social, technology, political, and a host of other areas.

A new idea is born and it creates a new concept. This then spreads out across the globe in a wave like formation.

The wave process challenges the status quo. The new idea might become the dominant narrative or story.

There is the process of making and re-making places, societies, cultures, lifestyles and other activities.

One of these new frontiers has been the movement of people across the globe. Waves of people at various times in the past. They came to colonies of New South Wales to make a new life in a new land.

They came the colonies with the intention of staying  in their new locality. They invaded and took possession of territory. One way of interpreting this is settler colonialism.

Settler colonialism is an area of study looking at the occupation of space and the occupation of land, particularly indigenous territory.

The concept of settler colonialism has been particularly applied to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada, while more recently Israel, Algeria and other localities.

Patrick Wolf expressed settler colonialism in terms of race with the binary notion of blackness and whiteness. This certainly applied to the southern Cumberland Plain.

 

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

Sydney’s Cumberland Plain has been the site of place making from late 18th century.

The landform has shaped the human response to the land, and humans have shaped the landform to suit their purposes.

From the later 18th century there have been a number of successive waves of invasion, succession, dispossession and displacement.

Each time a culture has attempted to create the dominant narrative, that is, form their own stories around the landscape.

There has been peace and conflict, hope and loss – all expressed in a binary context – good and evil, moral and immoral, black and white, outsider and insider.

When the colonial frontier arrived it was a movable locality where violence was part of the existence.

From the practice of naming landforms to taking ownership to outright conflict. The aim of the invaders was the possession of territory. They all intended to stay.

On the Cumberland Plain 18th century settlement of New South Wales can be expressed in these terms.

The new European arrivals were here to stay and took possession of the territory displacing and eventually dispossessing the indigenous people.

The New South Wales colonial authorities started making land grants and pushing Aborigines off their country. The Europeans named landform features and took ownership. They were re-making the existing landscape in their own vision of the world.

Granting land to Europeans by Europeans was structured dispossession of indigenous territory. This created conflict and violence, which has been well told by Grace Karskins’ The Colony.

Grace Karskins The Colony Cover
Grace Karskins The Colony Cover

The British came with a form of capitalism that created a market structure or market economy, where there was none and forced the indigenous inhabitants to take part in it.

The act of dispossession removed the agency of the indigenous people and removed and diminished their sovereignty.

The new arrivals came with new hopes and aspirations for themselves, while the act of dispossession created a loss of hope for indigenous people.

These acts were all played out on the Cumberland Plain ending up in the violent conflict that took place in the Appin region in 1816 and the loss of life. It was not the first conflict on the Cumberland Plain. There  were clashes between new white arrivals in the Hawkesbury and Aborigines before 1816.

The wave of new settlers onto the Cumberland Plain had parallels in other parts of the world. The new frontiers of settlement across North America – the Western Frontier of 19th century America.

On the Cowpasture Road / Chrisr: Bunbury’s. from Views of Sydney and Surrounding District by Edward Mason, ca. 1821-1823; 1892. State Library of NSW PXC 459
On the Cowpasture Road / Chrisr: Bunbury’s. from Views of Sydney and Surrounding District by Edward Mason, ca. 1821-1823; 1892. State Library of NSW PXC 459

 

New Colonialism on the Cumberland Plain

Expansion of the urban frontier

There is a 20th  and 21st century parallel to the dispossession suffered by the Dharak,  Dharawal and Gundungurrra. That process is the movement of the  urban frontier of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe across the Cumberland Plain from the 18th century.

The 18th century expansion of the British Empire and  the settlement of New South Wales was an expansion of the urban frontier of metropolitan London and part of the British colonial enterprise.

The act of creating the urban settlement of Sydney was an in effect an act of expanding the urban frontier from the home country.  One way to view the Great Britain in the late 18th century was as an urban market based economy.

As the British metropolitan project arrived from England in Sydney Cove it moved inland to Parramatta  – Parramatta indigenous name, vs Sydney England name – and by 1810 into the Hawkesbury and the Nepean River.

This continued with new waves of arrivals.

The urban expansion of the 20th century was about taking possession of territory from settler farmers by new urban dwellers.

The new urban dwellers and the structured expansion of urban Sydney forcibly took possession of land. There was the resumption of land for roads and other infrastructure.

Sydney’s rural-urban fringe is the site of dispossession and displacement, hope and loss and parallels the early narrative of 19th century settler colonialism.

CHS2436
The rural urban fringe in the Camden area (Camden Images)

Sovereignty and the rural-urban fringe

The rural-urban frontier is a moving frontier that removes the sovereignty of existing land users and displaces them.

These processes have been studied by geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, urban historians, urban planners, architects and others interested in the construction of place.

The rural-urban frontier is a zone of conflict where there are winners and losers that creates conflict. There is the dispossession of territory of existing landholders.

The loss of European dreaming about a lost Arcadian view of a bucolic picturesque rural landscape and sites that have spiritual importance to those Europeans that inhabit those sites.

These sites have immense importance to those who have occupied these rural landscapes. Nostalgia is the primary process involved in the lost memories and stories of their lives.

Lost traditions. Lost memories. Lost landscape. Lost sacred sites. These people go through a grieving process that creates strong emotions of anger and frustration.

The new arrivals come with aspirations and hopes of a new beginning by taking possession of new territory. They have their own dreaming about the new urban landscape that they are about to create.

These processes and human reactions were experienced by the Indigenous people that were displaced in the late 18th and 19th century on the Cumberland Plain.

Settler colonialism creates a re-imaging of the landscape and the themes of hope and loss are embedded in the narrative and stories that are created in the re-imagined landscape.

There are winners and losers and they each have their own stories of hope and loss. The Cumberland Plain has been the stage that these actors played out their roles in this story.

Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005
Mount Annan around 2002 CHS2005  (Camden Images)

Appin and the urban frontier

Appin is currently undergoing a type of new colonialism. A new process of invasion and succession by a new set of invaders.

These new arrivals are dispossessing the existing landholders and removing their sovereignty. The new arrivals are taking possession of the territory. Sydney’s urban expansion is taking place in the new suburbs and estates that are appearing in and around Appin.

There are parallels between the conflict on the urban frontier and the colonial frontier of the 19th century and the bicentenary of the 1816 Appin Massacre and the creation of a new landscape by the new urban settlers.

It is an interesting question to ask: Has this process heightened the sense of interest in the commemoration of the massacre in the popular imagination? There has been extensive coverage of the bicentenary of the massacre in the media – Channel 7, Daily Telegraph, SMH, ABC Radio and others.

Amongst current generations there is a strong a view and feeling about the site of the massacre at Broughton Pass.

Some claim that there is a bad spirit as you drive through the area. Local Aboriginal people will not go to the area. While others have commemorated the massacre at the  Campbelltown Arts Centre, and in song writing.

The massacre has been an act of forgetting for nearly 200 years. Broughton Pass is a beautiful location with a dark past.

The question is: What has caught the popular imagination on the bicentenary of the massacre?

Broughton Pass is largely undisturbed woodland. As you approach from Appin you pass through farmland much as you would have in the 1810s and abruptly come upon the gorge. Just as the military would have confronted the local Aboriginal people 200 years ago. This is brought out the art exhibition at Campbelltown Art Centre ‘With Secrecy and Despatch’.

What is the basis of the current interest?

Is it the possible acknowledgement of the past events and the violence of the colonial frontier on the Cumberland Plain?

There is a paradox in the act of remembering the massacre at Broughton Pass and the act of the forgetting and loss experienced in the resumption of rural farmland for housing.

On the edge, the making and re-making of place

To sum up.

The Cowpasture and Cumberland Plain are sites where there has been the making and re-making of place.

Place is constructed on stories, memories, ceremonies, traditions, celebrations around the dominant narrative.

The Cowpastures is part of the southern Cumberland Plain where there have been waves of new ideas.

One of these new ideas could be a re-interpretation of the dominant narrative using the methodology of settler colonialism.

It could ask more questions?

Notes

[1] Karen Stokes, Stone, Sources and Social Networks Tracing Movement and Exchange Across Dharawal Country, Southeastern Australia. BA (Hons) Thesis, UoSyd, 2015.

Read more

Grace Karskins, Appin Massacre, Dictionary of Sydney Click here

Grace Karskins, The Colony, Click here

Ian Willis writes about localities on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe @ Dictionary of Sydney Click here

Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Entertainment · Farming · Leisure · Local History · Women's diaries · Women's Writing

London women in the colonies

Cover Caroline's Diary
Cover Caroline’s Diary

Book Review

Anne Philp, Caroline’s Diary, A Woman’s World in Colonial Australia, Anchor Books Australia, NSW, 2015, x + 269 pages; ISBN 9780992467135.

This is a book where Anne Philp has created a narrative around the personal diaries of English woman Caroline Husband who came to New South Wales in the mid-19th century.  Her father, lawyer James Husband, fell on hard times and fled his Hampstead Hill house in England with debt-collectors in pursuit, and was followed to Australia by his wife and seven children.   Caroline has documented her thoughts, her experiences and her feelings of her life adventure from England to Sydney, and then the Wellington District, Armidale and finally Camden. She has provided a window into the world where imperial linkages have intersected with the life of her family, her husband, her church and her community.

Discover of diaries

Caroline’s diaries were discovered by chance lying in the back of a drawer at the historic Camden property, Brownlow Hill, by Joan Downes, the wife of one of Caroline’s descendants in the 1980s. The strong Camden connections are set from beginning of Caroline’s story on the voyage out from England  in 1852 when one shipboard companion was a Mr Downes of Brownlow Hill.  In early 1883 Caroline’s daughter May married Fred Downes of Brownlow Hill and had four children, one of whom gave birth to John, Joan’s husband. Caroline had originally moved into the Camden District with her family and household staff in 1875 when Henry purchased the Georgian style Wivenhoe from politician Sir Charles Cowper.  Using her agency Caroline quickly re-established a social network  after her move from Saumarez  (137) and commenced calling on the Barkers of Maryland, the Macarthurs of Camden Park, the Chisholms of Gledswood and the Downes of Brownlow Hill.  Local folklore has it that the Thomas’s Camden move was to ensure that Caroline’s daughters were married off to appropriate Sydney bachelors.

Flippant young girl

Caroline’s voice is heard in Philp’s use of extensive diary extracts which are organised chronologically beginning with the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. The nineteen year old Caroline,   an educated writer, is a party animal with a constant round of outings accompanied by her younger sister, Cordy, in and around London. She has a rather indulgent, flippant manner which upsets some of her elders and is reflected in her immaturity. Author Anne Philp remarks about the apparent ease ‘with which the Husband girls are able to move around unchaperoned’  (18) even on visits to family relatives and friends.  The whirlwind of actors in Caroline’s life-story are clarified for the reader by Philp by the provision a number of appendices including  Cordy’s scrapbook, family trees, a list of who’s who, index and images of family and houses. Caroline has used cross-writing, sometimes called cross-hatching, where she wrote across the page at 900 from earlier text in her diaries, presumably to save paper which was expensive. For the historian it makes deciphering these writings difficult and time consuming. Philps notes her ‘writing became almost unreadable, particularly when she crosswrote’ (103) with excitement at the impending marriage to squatter Henry Arding Thomas.

Voyage Out

The chapters mark out Caroline’s life and provide an insight into how English society dealt with those who fell out and their sudden collapse of good fortune. Some fled and  Caroline’s voyage out to Sydney in 1852 aboard the General Hewitt, a former convict ship of 961 tons, under Captain Gatenby, which took four months and ten days and sailed directly from Plymouth to Sydney.  Caroline’s Diary joins around 800 other diarists’ accounts of the 19th century voyages to Australia. Many were written by educated well-off women and for them writing a diary was a way of normalising the deprivations and uncertainties of the journey. (a)  Although for Caroline the worst of the voyage seemed to be boredom and dull company, ‘Very dull & stupid – dread the breakfasts & dinners – Mr Hay is so dull.’ (46)  Yet a fellow ship passenger, Catherine Roxburgh, had a rather different view of the Husband girls. She stated in a letter to her sister that they possessed ‘no depth’, they were ‘deficient in judgement and prudence’ and she described Cordelia as ‘rather fond of being admired, [and] likes society’. Catherine felt that her shipmates viewed the journey out as a time to   ‘eat’, ‘drink and be merry’. (48-49) This contrasted with the early weeks of the voyage where Caroline felt that it was ‘A dreadful life. No wind in our sails. The mankind exceedingly disagreeable…’ (46).

Fresh commentary of colonial Sydney

Caroline’s fresh commentary of colonial Sydney, a small Victorian outpost of the British Empire, through her youthful eyes is unencumbered by the town’s dark history and brutal heritage. The value of the diaries are the sharp witty observations of social life and the comparisons the reader can draw between metropolitan London and young colony of Sydney. Her positive outlook on life combined with Sydney’s Englishness presented a not unfamiliar place for Caroline and she soon started re-creating a life as a social butterfly. The Husband girls, Caroline, Cordy and Fanny, attracted the cream of Sydney’s eligible bachelors as a string of would-be suitors. Sydney’s shortage of suitable women made the family’s modest lodgings at Woolloomooloo a honey pot, a coterie of potential wives. The sisters had a busy schedule of excursions, opera, theatre, balls, parties and social callings in Sydney, topped off with regular church attendances. Even later in life Caroline enjoyed a rich social life based around the church in Armidale, with constant rounds of calling, (163) playing the church harmonium and working at the church bazaar. While Henry undertook magistrate duties in Armidale and constant business and social visitors. The Thomases were leading citizens in the Armidale District reflecting their wealth and status.

Diary impulsive and frank

‘Refreshingly frank’ is how Anne Philp describes Caroline’s comments on her ‘middle-class’ life, written as they were ‘from a woman’s point of view’ (1). Caroline’s diary entries are short and lively. Her thoughts are impulsive, expressive and reflect her youth and zest for life. ‘We had supper and he walked home. Do like him very much.’ (105) ‘We had a splendid breakfast dinner & tea enjoyed ourselves extremely.’ (98)   Caroline provides glimpses of the rituals of middle class courtship in Victorian Sydney relatively unencumbered by chaperones or prying parents. ‘J.M. spooney with me again!’ (102) and around the same time in February 1856 she ‘Went to the South Head & did not get home till 11 at night – enjoyed it so much.’ (102)

Adventures around Sydney

Caroline’s and Cordy’s adventures around Sydney read like a whimsical colonial travelogue. Their were regular excursions with young men to Bondi, Coogee, Parramatta, and Manly Beach and frequent mentions of boating and yachting excursions on Sydney Harbour, cricket matches (121) and Regattas on Port Jackson (57). Sydney was like a new suitor for the Husband girls, to be wined, dined and enjoyed. Like England the girls enjoyed a considerable degree of freedom in Sydney given the strictures and formality of Victorian society, and walked considerable distances around the town – up to 16 miles (69).  There is a rich sense of the landscape in Caroline’s writing as it passes before her like the pages of her diaries. As her journey through life grows her commentary on her world matures with it.   She has sharp observations of early townships, the trials of coach travel, and the challenges and risks encountered on  the frontier. She records her movements throughout the colony, on the steamers between Sydney and Morpeth, the long overland coach journey through Bathurst into the Wellington District and her frequent trips from Maitland to Saumarez in the New England District. In 1882 even a family holiday to Manly Beach for her six children and nursemaid (235).

Women’s life-writing

Caroline’s Diary touches the primary discourses of the nineteenth century including imperialism, religion, the frontier, separate spheres and others, and is typical of other Victorian female diarists  who explore women’s emotions, privacy and domesticity.(b)  Gender and the separate spheres of men and women, which are often hidden, are revealed in Caroline’s subjectivity and her identity.  There is Henry’s public role as squatter pastoralist and public official while Caroline has her private domestic world organising her family and household. Caroline’s Diary is typical of the  genre of women’s life-writing that was popular in the Victorian period in England, including Queen Victoria.   Her  writing gives insights into how she negotiated her space in society, her possession of knowledge, her inter-personal relationships and how her writing helped the healing process in the face of loss. Life for Caroline in colonial New South Wales provided many challenges and she used the agency she enjoyed within the strictures of society to effectively exercise her power within her domestic space. Religiosity is important to Caroline and she is a regular church goer throughout her life. Sydney’s St James Church, one of the oldest in Australia, is central to her story, as it was the colony. Familial links are a constant theme, along with women’s health issues, that were particularly problematic for colonial women. Historian Anne Philp has provided a view how an English family fitted into colonial New South Wales, with its transnational linkages between the bush, provincial Sydney and metropolitan London.

Silences and interruptions

The diaries also have silences and interruptions  that in their own way have as much to say as Caroline’s extensive diary notes. Silence and knowledge re-enforce each other. These speak to  the hardships and challenges that women faced on the colonial frontier where life was precarious, male dominated and sometimes violent. Henry’s close affection for his ‘city-bred’ wife and her welfare indicate a depth of feeling not often found in colonial narratives. Her diaries provide a clear picture of the  dangers faced during pregnancy and birth, the trials of the chronic illness of her husband and the death of her sister, Cordy at age 23, during the Siege of Lucknow in India in 1858 (149). The family regularly returned to Sydney during Caroline’s confinements, a privilege working class women in rural New South Wales did not have or could afford. Rural patriarchy is clearly demonstrated in the moves that Henry forced on Caroline and her growing family, often at short notice, when he sells the family pastoral holdings. Caroline is moved to Saumarez Station at Armidale with a three-month old baby and a young nursemaid Ellen. Henry then moved the family again to the grand home of Wivenhoe, near Camden New South Wales.

 A lack of communication

Communication, or the lack of it, were a constant of theme of colonial existence at a time when there was no Facebook or Instagram. During the colonial period the thirst for knowledge about family and friends was no less intense or urgent than it is today.  Caroline’s writing demonstrated the hunger by all for news from home and elsewhere including England, Sydney and her sister in India. Caroline and her family had to wait months for any news of the fate of her sister after the Siege of Lucknow during the 1857 Indian Rebellion (149). Distance was relative and the country and city divide was as large a psychological divide as the gap between London and Sydney. The actors in Caroline’s story where eager for news, any news, of family and friends about births, deaths, marriages and other celebrations.  Visits to town from the pastoral station, whether Sydney or Armidale, to catch up on business, news, and gossip were just as important as news from England or India. Isolation was the curse of the bush, and could be particularly burdensome on young city born women with small children.  ‘Very miserable. Got up early in the hopes dear Henry would come but he didn’t.’ (113).

Service and governesses

Domestic service was the most common form of employment for single working class women for decades during the 19th century. Caroline grew up in a household with domestic staff and on the voyage out: ‘Very uncomfortable without a servant’ (52) After Caroline was married had certain expectations about her own household staff. At Wivenhoe Caroline engaged three live-in staff and a children’s nursemaid and her daughters were educated at home by a governess. The diaries illustrate how she negotiated hiring governesses for her own children as well as other household staff, including nursemaids and general servants. Caroline provides commentary on how her mother hired servants from amongst the Irish immigrant girls who arrived at  Hyde Park Barracks in the 1850s (71). Caroline’s story even explores the experiences  the colonial governess because of her family’s poor financial standing on arrival in Sydney in 1852.  Caroline’s had a short and unsuccessful engagement as a governess for Reverend WM Cowper, colonial born and Oxford educated, at Stroud in northern New South Wales, the settlement for the Australian Agricultural Company.

Settler colonialism

It is an interesting question to ask how this diary is placed in relation to the current debate around settler colonialism. On another level the diaries can be read as an exposition of the story of a settler society where the Indigenous Australians have disappeared from the landscape. There is a fleeting mention of Caroline and Henry attending a ‘corrobbero’ (117) at Buckinbah in the Wellington District, like attending an English country fair. By the 1850s the ‘black problem’ had been resolved and squatters wives like Caroline had little if any interaction with Aborigines, even in rural areas. The dispossession of territory underwrote the type of rural capitalism practiced by the Thomases at Buckinbah in the Wellington District, at Saumarez in the New England and Wivenhoe at Camden. The diaries give hints of the issues surrounding squatting and raising sheep without fences. At Buckinbah in 1856 there were thirteen outstations with shepherds in charge (113) that had to be re-supplied with lambing and station work (114). Shepherd supervised flocks of a thousand without a horse. The owner on his horse would search for lost sheep and much time was spent looking for stray sheep (117). Much the same routine existed at Saumarez in 1858. By the time the Thomas’s turn up at Wivenhoe pastoralism is regulated by fences.

Fresh view of her world

Caroline’s Diary provides fresh view on the colonial world of New South Wales from the eyes of an English woman that contrasts with the dark tales of death and misery of frontier violence, or the hagiographic views of the explorers, pioneers and nationalism. The story weaves through the ins and outs of the daily goings on for the rural elite, while providing an exploration of life between the city and country giving intimate personal details of family life.  Women’s diaries from the Camden District are rare and this type of exposition is even less common. This is a valuable addition to these types of works and in the process Caroline’s Diary has created a great read for any fan of colonial stories.

 

Notes