Bella Vista Farm was part of the colonial farming empire of the Macarthur family of Elizabeth Farm which they called the Seven Hills Farm. The farm was on the overland route opened up between Rose Hill (Parramatta) and the Hawkesbury settlement around 1791 a road constructed between Toongabbie and Windsor by the NSW corps using convict labour. Intially the route was called the Hawkesbury Road and eventually the Old Windsor Road.
The farm is located on the lands between the clan areas of of the Toogagal Toongabbie and the Bidjigal of the Castle Hill area of the Darug people. Bella Vista is located on a hilltop and would have been a lookout site.
John Macarthur purchased the property in 1801 for £2000 with 1250 sheep from Major Joseph Foveaux. In 1799 John Foveaux and Charles Grimes, the Deputy Surveyor of Crown Lands, were granted 980 acres in the Crestwood area, and within months Grimes sold his share of the grant to Foveaux a month later.
Combined with a further grant of 190 acres in 1799, and 600 acres in 1800 was called by Foveaux, Stock Farm. This made him the largest landholder in the colony of 2020 acres, together with his flock of 1027 sheep the largest stock-owner in the colony.
Foveaux sold his property, which he called ‘Stock Farm’, to the Macarthurs in 1801 after he was appointed Acting Lieutenant Governor on Norfold Island.
John Macarthur was absent from New South Wales from 1801 1805. Macarthur was always an argumentative character and had a disagreement with Colonel Paterson his commanding officer, fought a duel, and Paterson was wounded. Governor King had Macarthur arrested and sent for trial in England in 1801.
In John’s absence the family’s pastoral interests were managed by Elizabeth from her home at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta. She called Stock Farm her Seven Hills Farm and was ably assisted by her farm manager, or overseer, initially with Richard Fitzgerald, followed by William Joyce, John Hindle and Thomas Herbert.
Under Elizabeth’s management the Macarthur’s flock of sheep increased from 2000 to 1801, to 3000 in 1803 and 5920 by 1805. A substantial number of this sheep flock was held at the Seven Hills Farm.
Elizabeth subsequently purchased land a neighboring property from Richard Fitzgerald. This purchase was made up of two part, one a 1799 160 acre to Richard Richardson, and a 270 acre grant to William Goodhall. Fitzgerald sold his holding to Elizabeth and worked for the Macarthurs as a steward, manager and record keeper.
John was again absent from New South Wales between 1809 to 1817 over his part in the only coup d’etat in Australian history, the arrest of Governor Bligh in a tin pot take over called the Rum Rebellion.
John asked Elizabeth to negotiate to exchange the Seven Hills estate for land in the Cowpastures in 1809. There was a devastating drought between 1813 and 1815 and the sheep flock was moved elsewhere.
By 1821 the farm was known as Seven Hills Farm and covered 2270 acres. The Macarthurs exchanged the farm for Crown land in the Cowpastures. It was on the Seven Hills Farm that Elizabeth bred some of the earliest Spanish merino sheep.
Subsequent owners of Bella Vista and support groups
1821 James Robertson
1838 Isabella Acres
1842 William Pearce
1865 Edward Pearce, inherited from father
1912 Edward WCS Pearce, inherited from father
1933 leased by Edwards wife after Edward’s death
1950 North Sydney Brick and Tile Company
1952 house leased
1974 Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board for water storage
1979 Interim Heritage order
1980 Formation of the Elizabeth Macarthur Seven Hills Farm Assocation
1997 Permanent Heritage order
1997 Department of Planning, NSW Government
1997 Baulkham Hills Shire Council
2006 Formation of The Friends of Bella Vista Farm
The New South Wales State Heritage Inventory states that Bella Vista Farm is significant because of the:
Evidence of the documentary record, of the agricultural activities of the Macarthur family, managed by Elizabeth Macarthur from Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta (SHR item # 1), and locally by her stewards. These records indicate early experiments at grazing sheep by Grimes, Foveaux and the Macarthurs that failed due to insect plagues, low stock per acre ratios, droughts and the unsuitability of hoofed animals to Australian conditions. Indicating also the monopoly held by, and extensive grants given to certain officers, including John Macarthur.
The Farm is a rare example of an intact rural cultural landscape on the Cumberland Plain, continuously used for grazing since the 1790s. The Farm is one of the most intact and best examples on the Cumberland Plain of the summit model of homestead siting, where the house and plantings are sited high on a prominent hill in contrast with open fields around. The farm is an increasingly rare example, on the Cumberland Plain, of a rural property, where the evidence of the staged development of the homestead survives from slab cottage to villa.
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 important 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 on a number of occasions throughout its history. Once when architect William Swann 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 forebearance.
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 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 steep pitched roof was formed of massive baulks 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 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 and during his absence Elizabeth ran the household and the families 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 NSW in 1817. The Macarthurs were successful selling wool in London and pressed for another grant at Camden. With good fortunes he sought building appropriate to his wealth and began home building and planning. Elizabeth Farm was remodelled. He added new stables, and a new cottage, Hambeldon, and building at Camden under the influence of Sydney architect Henry Kitchen.
From 1821 the house was remodelled 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 learnt to play the piano in her first days in the colony. The Macarthurs were well-read with books, magazines and albums from England. She 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 colonies social life.
After Macarthur’s death the farm was managed by her sons, while Elizabeth and her daughters lived in comfortable style. In Elizabeth’s last years she visited her daughter Emmeline and husband Henry at Watson’s Bay.
After Elizabeth’s death in 1850, aged 83 years, Emmeline and Henry continued to live 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 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 moods 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 HHT acquired the property in 1983 and opened it as a house museum in 1984. Before this the house fell into disrepair and was purchased in 1968 by the Elizabeth Farm Management Trust from the Swann family, who had previously lived in it, and when the house was placed on a list of historic buildings by the 1949 Cumberland County Council.
Management passed to the State Planning Authority, then the Heritage Council of New South Wales which 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. 
 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
There are lots of exciting memories of Camden airfield in the 1930s by local folk, especially by little boys.
One of those was Cec Smith.
Wonders of flight at Camden
He recalls with great excitement the airfield and everything about it. He notes, ‘as the son of a farmer I was into anything that had an engine’.
Cec was a small boy whose family had only been in the district a short time. He was eleven years old.
The 1930s great adventure stories were ones of aviators and their aeroplanes.
Aviators were the heroes of the British Empire, like those that were written about like Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901) or EM Forster’s A Passage to India’ (1924). Or the real adventurers of the empire like TE Lawrence, of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame.
Camden airfield generated the stuff of boy’s own adventure books. Aviators and aeroplanes were the dreams of all small boys in Camden.
In 1936 it happened. Something different. A funny distant loaded, but relaxed, slow revving engine noise. But it was moving. Over that way. Couldn’t see anything. It was hidden by the house. When I got there, nothing. Even the sound was gone. Then within a few days that different distinctive noise again. Looking over to the northeast, could not see it. Then it appeared from my vantage point a mile or so away. It seemed to pop up out of the ground as it slowly emerged above the low ridge line running along this [Camden] side of the river.
Cec eventually found out who owned the aeroplane. It belonged to a local hero of the empire, or so it seemed to one small boy.
It was discovered that the plane belonged to Edward Macarthur Onslow, a local landholder. The plane was a DH.87A Hornet Moth (VH-UUW) and based on the property ‘Macquarie Grove’, where he lived. Older brother Denzil and younger brother Andrew were also qualified pilots. The brothers had taken the first steps toward developing a flying training and charter operation there, that pre-war was the Macquarie Grove Flying and Glider School Pty Ltd, and post-war became the Macquarie Grove Flying School Pty Ltd.
The flying school generated lots of excitement especially the air pageants.
Cec recalls that there were two air pageants put on there by the flying school in the late 1930s. The Macarthur Onslow brothers, along with local pilot/instructor Les Ray, who were the hands on staff of the school, and other pilots including Brian Monk (instructor from the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales) ‘all contributed to the success of what to us was a spectacular public event. This was all exciting stuff for myself and my school friends. It was a new dimension’.
Cec spent of a lot of school time dreaming of flying and notes that ‘much of the flying activities were visible from the school’.
He recalls that around 1937 he was intrigued to learn that there was parachute practice taking place on the airfield.
He recalls that a movie called ‘Gone to the Dogs’ had a flying scene made at the airfield where a greyhound was to be delivered by parachute to a racing track.
Cec assures me that the ‘dogs’ that he saw dropped by parachute were ‘dummies’.
Everything about the airfield was pretty basic in those days.
Cec, who gained his pilots licence after the war, recalls that the airfield was just ‘an open grazing paddock cleared of most trees and shrubbery but a fringe of trees remained on three sides of the field, adjacent to the river’.
In Cec’s view the trees
‘did not represent a hazard except in the event of a seriously misjudged approach… having regard to the operational requirements of the aircraft of the day. The surface was the usual farm type grasses sometimes grazed by cattle’.
Schooling in the bush
Cec attended the one-teacher school at Theresa Park Public School from 1933-1934 where he was in a composite class. The Department of Education at the time paid for the teacher and supplied books and equipment. It was quite common for parents to meet any extra costs.
Cec recalls that the school had 12 pupils and his first teacher was Mr White and later Mr Monday. Cec rode a horse to school bare-back ‘behind a neighbour’s son’, who owned the horse, despite his family owning a saddle. He maintains that the teachers had good control of the class and for their part the pupils were ‘attentive’, although there were occasions ‘when some of us were disruptive’. Theresa Park Public School eventually closed in 1958.
Getting an education in town
After Cec finished with Theresa Park he travelled into Camden Public School in late 1934. Cec says that on the whole he enjoyed school, although he was ‘only a mediocre pupil but could with some effort get into the top three’. Cec’s classes were quite small. He was good attender and received a book prize for not missing a day in two years.
Cec notes that the other pupils at the school came from a mixture of backgrounds, including 5-6 boys who came from the boy’s home. These boys he remembers came to school in bare feet and the lunches were ‘slices of stale bread spread with dripping, wrapped in newspaper and brought together collectively in a sugar bag’.
In 1940 Cec was a student in the secondary department when he finished his Intermediate Certificate. The results were published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1941. Cec gained ‘B’ grade passes in Geography, Mathematics II, Business Principles, Technical Drawing, Woodwork, Music, Agricultural Botany. Other local youth who finished with Cec were J Hayter, Elaine McEwan, John Porter, Frederick Strahey.
Cec recalls that the headmaster at that time was Neville Holder. Holder was the principal of the school between 1937 and 1940 and Cec found him to be a good teacher and felt that he did many ‘good deeds as a person and teacher’ while at the school. Camden Public School became a central school in 1944 and reverted to a public school in 1956 when Camden High School opened in John Street.
Cec sometimes had to wait at the milk depot at the end of Argyle Street, near the railway station, for a lift home after school. His father and brother would deliver the milk from the farm at the depot twice a day.
Cec feels that:
despite all the negatives of those days… we received a good basic education across a range of subjects all for free. All that we had to do was be there. In most cases transport only cost the price of a bicycle and the physical effort of riding it… and the cost of a few books, pens and pencils.
Getting a job
During these days Cec did temporary work at Camden Post Office for three weeks in 1938 when he was 14 years old, and in 1940 six weeks.
One of his jobs in 1940 was to cycle out to the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park each week to change over the public telephone coin tins. As Cec recalls they were officially called ‘coin receptacles’. He recalls that:
While I was there I had to make a test call back to the post office. The public phone at the airfield had not been installed at that stage of the war. The only mail contractor at the post office had the run which started at Camden, went out to Glenmore, The Oaks, Oakdale and Nattai River in the Burragorang Valley and then on to Yerrandarie Post Office.
Eventually Cec started work in Sydney in 1941 while his family continued dairying for the next 11 years.
The war eventually caught up with the family and Cec’s brother joined up in 1940 and ‘my turn came in 1943’. He recalls that ‘for our generation much happened in the relatively short period between 1940-1945’.
The annual festival of farming returns the to the Camden Show ground at the end of March again. The show has been the most important country festival in the district for over 100 years. In the early days it was a celebration of agricultural modernism, by the inter-war period it had matured into a permanent part of the local landscape. The Second World War and the poor state of show finances saw the show disappear for the duration of the conflict. It is now strong than ever and not to be missed on Friday 20 March and Saturday 21 March 2015.
There have been two histories produced of the Camden Show. The first was on the centenary of the show in 1986 and written by local identity Dick Nixon from the Camden Historical Society.
The second history of the Camden Show was written by Neville Clissold on the 125 anniversary of the show in 2011.
Camden Show 1890s
The early years of the Camden Show were big community events when everyone came to town.
Guess who you meet at the show, the Premier in 2014
It is amazing who you bump into at the Camden Show. Historical society volunteers John Wrigley OAM, Bettie Small PHF and Len Channell, with Peter Hayward in the background, greeted Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, the Member for Camden, Mr Chris Patterson, MP, and Camden Mayor, Clr Lara Symkowiak. The dignitaries just walked into the pavilion to look at the arts and crafts put in by competitors and who should they meet but the enthusiastic members of the historical society. The encounter didn’t phase society members one bit and they just took it all in their stride. Usually volunteers just meet friends they have not seen since last years show and this was a real surprise. The historical society has been fortunate to be able to have a stall in the show pavilion for many years. It has been located in amongst the cakes, flowers, sewing, knitting and other rural crafts. The stall sells the latest publications, takes new memberships and renewals and answers lots of local history questions.
Mud and Slush in 2014
The 2014 Camden Show featured mud and storms as a special event. It rained on Friday afternoon with a thunderstorm that arrived around 4.00 pm from the south-west. It caught many people unawares and created a mud bath in many parts of the showground. It dumped about 15 mm in about an hour. On Saturday morning show officials were out and about puting down woodchip over the worst patches and straw on other patches. Patrons who wore boots were well prepared to walk around in the mud. On Saturday there was a steady rain from about 4.00 pm with a short storm that came in over the Burragorang Valley and Southern Highlands, and provided drizzle around right through the fireworks.
2014 Camden Show
The 2014 Camden Show was the usual lively affair and this map of the showground illustrates the range of events and activities.
Show Merchandise 2013
This is the price list for show merchandise in 2013. Did you buy your tie?
Miss Camden Showgirl
The Miss Showgirl competition is in many ways an anachronism from the past. It has survived for over 45 years under the onslaught of feminism, post-modernism, globalization and urbanisation. A worthy feat indeed.
The competition is still popular and the local press are always strong supporters. Show time, the show ball and Miss Showgirl are representative of notions around Camden’s rurality. People use the competition as a lens through which they can view the past, including the young women who enter it. In 2008 Showgirl Lauren Elkins ‘was keen’, she said, ‘to get into the thick of promoting the town and its rural heritage’. Camden people yearn for a past when the primary role of town was to service the surrounding farmers and their needs. Miss Showgirl is part of the invocation of rural nostalgia.
Miss Camden Showgirl
1962 Helen Crace
1963 Helen Crace
1964 Sue Mason
1965 Barbara Duck
1966 Dawn Dowle
1967 Jenny Rock
1968 Heather Mills
1969 Michelle Chambers
1970 Joyce Boardman
1971 Anne Macarthur-Stanham
1972 Kerri Webb
1973 Anne Fahey
1974 Sue Faber
1975 Janelle Hore
1976 Jenny Barnaby
1977 Patsy Anne Daley
1978 Julie Wallace
1979 Sandra Olieric
1980 Fiona Wilson
1981 Louise Longley
1982 Melissa Clowes
1983 Illa Eagles
1984 Leanne Reily
1985 Rebecca Py
1986 Jenny Rawlinson
1987 Jayne Manns
1988 Monique Mate
1989 Linda Drinnan
1990 Tai Green
1991 Toni Leeman
1992 Susan Lees
1993 Belinda Bettington
1994 Miffy Haynes
1995 Danielle Halfpenny
1996 Jenianne Garvin
1997 Michelle Dries
1998 Belinda Holyoake
1999 Lyndall Reeves
2000 Katie Rogers
2001 Kristy Stewart
2002 Margaret Roser
2003 Sally Watson
2004 Danielle Haack
2005 Arna Daley
2006 Victoria Travers
2007 Sarah Myers
2008 Fiona Boardman
2009 Lauren Elkins
2010 Adrianna Mihajlovic
2011 Hilary Scott
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.
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 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]
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 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.
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.
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.
The CHN blogger was recently out and about and re-discovered a lovely urban space in central Goulburn on the New South Wales southern tablelands. Known as Belmore Park since the mid-19th century the park has a formal symmetrical layout. This is typical of many 19th century Victorian urban parks with paths crossing it on the diagonal for promenading and adding to the balance of the space. The park is abutted by lovingly conserved 19th century architecture and the Victorian designed railway station which all add to the ambience of the precinct in the town’s heritage centre.
The origin of urban parks has been traced to a number of sources. At its simplest is was an open space that became the village green or they were grassed fields and stadia in Greek cities, or they were an open area with a grove of sacred trees. By the medieval period they were open grassed areas within or adjacent to a village where the lord allowed the common villagers to graze their animals. Some were royal hunting parks that date from ancient days where the king walled off a section of forest to keep out poachers. From the 18th century French and British noblemen were aided by landscape designers like Capability Brown to design private parks and pleasure grounds. The Italians had their piazza, which was usually paved. In the UK the establishment of Birkenhead Park in 1843, Central Park in New York in the mid 1850s, Philadelphia’s urban park system in the 1860s and Sydney’s Governors’ Domain and Hyde Park all had an influence.
Belmore Park was Goulburn’s Market Square from the 1830s, and renamed Belmore Square in 1869 in honor of the visit of Lord and Lady Belmore on the opening of the railway at Goulburn, and a picket fence was built around the square. In the early twentieth century it was the site of a small zoo, perhaps reflecting the zoo in the Sydney Botanic Gardens or the Botanic Gardens in Hobart, which was part of the notion of creating a ‘pleasure ground’. Belmore Square was re-dedicated as the Belmore Botanic Gardens in 1899. During the 20th century the park became a landscape of monuments and memorials, similar to Hyde Park in Sydney, and other urban parks around Australia.
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 a number of 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 indicates 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 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 Hassalls 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 at the conclusion of their sentences’ (p.67). The ethnography of the convicts up to 1828 were 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 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
A number of 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 a number of gentry properties in the Cowpastures District prior to 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.
 Ken Williams, 1824 Cawdor Bench of Magistrates Population, Land and Stock Book, A Biographical Register of the Inhabitants residing in the Cowpastures, Picton & District Historical and Family History Society, Picton, 2011.
 Elizabeth Villy, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg, Dural, 2011. p. 35.