The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement. The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.
Regionalism in the Cowpastures
The geographers call this type of area a functional region. A functional region is based on horizontal linkages within a particular area that are to an extent self-contained. The region was relatively self-cohesive when compared with linkages between regions. The key concept is self-containment with respect to the activities of those within the particular area.
A useful way into a regional study like the Cowpastures is an environmental history, which is a multi-disciplinary approach. This would cover the physical and cultural landscapes. The boundaries of the Cowpastures region were both culturally derived and natural, where the landforms restricted and constrained European activity. The story of the Cowpastures regions has many layers of history that can be peeled back to unravel its bits and pieces.
The story of the wild cows and more, a cultural landscape
The story of the Cowpastures begins with the wild cows. The First Fleet leaves England in 1787 and HMS Sirius which collected 4 cows and 2 bulls at the Cape of Good Hope on the way out to New South Wales. They were Cape cattle.
The cattle did not think much of their new home and after their arrival they took off within 5 months of being landed and disappeared. The cattle escaped and found heaven on the Indigenous managed pastures of the Nepean River floodplain. The cattle occupied and seized the territory of the Indigenous people who were wary of these horned beasts.
After European occupation the Dharawal people became known as the Cowpastures tribe by 1805.
In 1795 the story of the cattle is told to a convict hunter by an Aboriginal, who then tells an officer and informs Governor Hunter. Hunter sends Henry Hacking, an old seaman, to check out the story. After confirmation Governor John Hunter and Captain Waterhouse, George Bass and David Collins head off from Parramatta, cross the Nepean River on 17 November 1795. After climbing a hill (Mt Taurus) they spotted the cattle and named the area the Cowpastures. Governor John Hunter marked area on maps ‘Cow Pasture Plains’ in the region of Menangle and elsewhere on maps south of Nepean. By 1806 the herd had grown to 3,000.
The Europeans seized the territory occupied by the wild cattle, allocated land grants for themselves and displaced the Indigenous occupants. On their occupation they created a new land in their own vision of the world. A countryside made up of large pseudo-English-style-estates, an English-style common called The Cowpasture Reserve and government men to work it called convicts. The route that Governor Hunter took became the track to the area became known as the Cowpastures Road, starting at Prospect Hill and progressing to the crossing of the Nepean River.
In 1803 Governor King issued a proclamation in July 1803 banning any unauthorised entry south of the Nepean River to stop poaching of the wild cattle. (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 10 July 1803 page 1) Governor King ordered that a constable be placed at the Cowpasture crossing of the Nepean River and that a small hut be built to house them. (Historic Records NSW Vol 5, pp. 719-720) The government reserve for the wild cattle was strengthened under the Macquarie administration.
Government Cowpastures Reserve
Bigge Report 1822-1823
The government reserve was never really defined and was just a vague area occupied by the Wild Cattle. The 1823 Bigge report described the Cowpastures this way:
The county of Camden contains the extensive tracts known by the name of the Cow Pasture, which which five of the cattle that were landed from His Majesty’s ship Sirius, soon after the first arrival of Governor Phillip, had strayed from their place of confinement. They were discovered in these tracts in the year 1795 by a convict, and appear to have been attracted to the spot, and to have continued there, from the superior quality of the herbage. Since that period their numbers have greatly increased: and they have latterly occupied the hilly ranges by which the Cow Pastures are backed on the south, and have been found in the deeper ravines of the hills of Nattai, and on the banks of the Bargo River. It does not appear, however, that they have penetrated beyond the Blue Mountains, or the barren tract that is called the Bargo Brush. The Cow Pastures extend northwards from the river Bargo to the junction of the river Warragumba and the Nepean. To the west they are bounded by some of the branches of the latter river and the hills of Nattai. They contain by computation about sixty thousand acres; and the soil, through varying in fertility, but always deepening and improving on the banks and margin of the Nepean, consists of a light sandy loam, resting upon a substratum of clay.
(JT Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of NSW, 1823, Vol 3)
Public Buildings 1822 Bigge Report
At the centre of the government reserve
- A Brick Built House for the residence and accommodation of the Superintendant and principal Overseer of Government Stock in the Cow Pastures, reserving two rooms for the occasional accommodation of the Governor, with Kitchen and other necessary Out Offices, together with a good Kitchen Garden, well enclosed.
- A Weather-boarded House for the accommodation of the Subordinate Overseers and Stockmen.
- Four large paddock of 100 acres each enclosed with a strong Fence for the grazing of the Tame Cattle and Taming of the Wild Cattle, and cleared of the standing and dead Timber.
- A Tanning House and Tan Yard for Tanning the Hides of the Wild Bulls for the use of Government.
- Several other Paddocks and Stock-Yards enclosed for the Government Horses, Homed Cattle, and Sheep, grazing in other parts of the Government Grounds in the Cow Pastures. N.B.—Cawdor is the principal Run or Grazing Ground for the Government Horned Cattle and Sheep in the Cow Pastures on the western side of the Nepean River, consisting of about Fifteen thousand acresof land, and ought never to be alienated as long as it may be deemed expedient and advisable for the Government to possess and maintain Herds and Flocks.
(JT Bigge, Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry on the state of agriculture and trade in the colony of NSW, 1822, Vol 1)
End of Government Reserve
A regional identity had emerged by the time the government reserve was dissolved in the early 1820s and the land sold off. The usage of the identity of the Cowpastures extended into the second half of the 19th century.
Extent of the Cowpastures region by the 1840s
The extent and boundaries of the Cowpastures by the 1840s were:
- North – Bringelly Road – taking in the upper South Creek Catchment – west to Bents Basin and Warragamba River
- East – Wilton Road north through Appin – ridge dividing Nepean and Georges River catchments – generally the Appin Road – following ridge line north dividing Bow Bowing Creek and South Creek.
- South – Stonequarry Creek catchment – bordering Bargo Brush – line following Wilton Road in east – through Thirlmere – ridge line between Stonequarry Creek and Bargo River – west to Burragorang Valley
- West – Burragorang Valley
Usage of the Cowpastures name as a regional identity
The graph below is the usage of the locality name Cowpastures in newspapers listed on the National Library of Australia Trove Database in 2017 using QueryPic.
Graph of usage of the name of Cowpastures
The usage of the Cowpastures regional identity persisted into the late 19th century as these following newspaper extracts illustrated.
In 1836 Glendiver Estate at The Oaks was advertised for sale with the given address as The Cowpastures. The sale notice boasted that the estate was one of the finest dairy farms in the colony of New South Wales with ‘the finest soil’ and ‘abundance of water’. It was claimed that the owner could run ‘double the stock’ of any other part of the colony because of the ‘beautiful district’. The estate for sale came to 2390 acres. The estate had 70 acres under wheat the property suited a ‘wealthy grazier, horse or cattle-dealer’. (Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Friday 5 August 1836, page 4 (4))
In 1838 the estate of Narellan in the Cowpastures was advertised for sale on behalf of Francis Mowatt consisting of a desirable homestead and 800 acres of ‘rich productive’ land. The property was fenced with 12 miles of fencing and watered by Narellan Creek. The property fronted the Cowpastures Road for ¾ of a mile. The ‘commodious and comfortable’ cottage has ‘out-offices’, ‘excellent stables in good repair’. The garden has extensive fruit trees and ‘grapery’. The sale also include household furniture, harnesses, saddlery, and ten horses. (Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 3 February 1838, page 3)
Cowpasture Estates of 1840
In 1840 MD Hunter released the Cowpasture Estates on former properties owned by Sydney businessman John Dickson in the Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser for auction by The Australian Auction Company. The properties offered were Orielton, Nonorrah, Moorfield, Eastwood and Netherbyres with a total of 7000 acres. The properties were offered in lots ranging from 300 to 30 acres. The sale notice stated that Orielton had a ‘substantial Stone Barn, Threshing Mill and Offices’, Nonorrah boasted a ‘spacious and elegant Cottage with Gardens, Stables and Offices’. (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW : 1838 – 1841), Friday 5 June 1840, page 4 (4))
The northern extremity of the Cowpasture Estates was the Bringelly Road. (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, 16 July 1840)
In 1843 the Sydney Morning Herald announced the presence of Charles Cowper in the Cowpasture district. Mr Cowper arrived at Mr James Chisholm’s Gledswood and joined a procession of horses followed by carriages and gigs of around 150 men and women. Mr Cowper took a seat in Mr Hassall’s carriage. The procession headed for by Mr Hovel of Macquarie Grove. with Mr John Wild of Picton bringing up the rear of the carriages. The procession then moved to Mr Chisholm’s house on his property Wivenhoe. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Tuesday 11 July 1843, page 2)
In 1843 auctioneer Mr Stubbs announced the sale of the household effects, stock and farming implements for the insolvent estate of GCP Living of Raby in the Cowpastures. The stock included heifers, bullocks, calves, dairy cows, steers totalling 165 beasts and five horses. The farm equipment included dairy utensils, and transport equipment including carts, drays and wagons. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 6 November 1843, page 4 (3))
In 1843 Mr Beck advertised the sale of furniture of the late Mr SR Swaine of Narellan of the Cowpastures. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 15 December 1843, page 3)
The Camden District Council meeting in 1845 reported on the state of repair of the bridge across the Cowpasture River. (Weekly Register of Politics, Facts and General Literature (Sydney, NSW : 1843 – 1845), Saturday 14 June 1845)
In 1847 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the population growth of the Cowpastures district which nearly reached 3000 people. The press reports described the schools in the villages of Narellan, Cobbitty and Camden, with the reporter visiting The Razorback and the properties of Raby, Gledswood and Harrington Park. The beauty of other properties mentioned in the story included Orielton, Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Thursday 23 September 1847, page 2)
In 1870 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported a claim for compensation on the colonial government by a shepherd Hugh McGuire for services for supervising a team of men in the Cowpastures district. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 April 1870, page 10 (4))
In 1870 the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a flood in Camden which was located in the Cowpasture district. There was a heavy downpour with a violent gale continued through the Wednesday night on the 26 April. The lowlands presented ‘uniform sheet of flood water’ and were just below the ‘tow great floods of 1860’. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1870, page 7)
In 1877 the Sydney Morning Herald one letter writer that as late 1870s the Nepean River was still known as the Cowpastures River. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 24 March 1877, page 8)
In 1878 the Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the state of the town of Campbelltown and the surrounding area which was adjacent to the ‘fertile flats and alluvials’ of the Cowpastures. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 16 March 1878, page 20)
The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the state of the wheat growing in the colony in 1882. The story stated that wheat for bread making used to be grown in the ‘Camden, the Cowpastures, Hawkesbury, Hunter, etc’. In these area hay production had replaced former wheat growing. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 September 1882, page 20)
The end of Cowpastures region and a village is born
The beginning of the end of the Cowpastures region was the development of the Camden village from 1840 by the Macarthur family on their estate of Camden Park The Camden district eventually replaced the Cowpastures regional identity.
Revival of the Cowpastures during the Interwar period
The Sesqui-centenary of the colonial settlement of New South Wales sparked a revival of the story of the Cowpastures during the early 1930s.
There was also the revival of national pioneering heroes that it was felt provide a sound basis of the story of a new nation and one of those was John Macarthur of the Cowpastures. He was the ultimate Cowpastures Oligarch. He had many colleagues who also fitted this description.