1920s · 1973 New Cities Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan · Aesthetics · Agriculture · Attachment to place · Belonging · British colonialism · Camden · camden council · Camden Story · Camden Town Centre · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Curtilage · Denbigh · Dharawal · Economy · Edwardian · England · Farming · Frontier violence · Georgian · Gothic · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape · Landscape aesthetics · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Menangle · Modernism · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · Victorian

Hope, heritage and a sense of place – an English village in the Cowpastures

Camden Heritage Conservation Area

In 2006 Camden Council designated the Camden town centre as a  Heritage Conservation Area, and later incorporated it in the  2010 Local Environment Plan. A heritage conservation zoning, according to Camden Council, is :

 an area that has historic significance… [and]… in which historical origins and relationships between the various elements create a sense of place that is worth keeping.

Map Camden Town Centre HCA LEP 2010 CRAG
Map of the Camden Town Centre Heritage Conservation Area from 2010 Local Environment Plan. (Taken from 2016 Camden Residents Action Group Submission for State Listing)

 

Historic significance

Several writers have offered observations on Camden’s historical significance.

Historian Ken Cable argued in the 2004 Draft Heritage Report prepared by Sydney Architects Tropman and Tropman that: Camden town is a significant landmark in the LGA.  

In 2006 Sydney architect Hector Abrahams stated that Camden was ‘the best-preserved rural town in the entire Cumberland Plain’ (Camden Advertiser, 28 June 2006).

Hector Abrahams -best preserved- Camden Advertiser 2006 Jun28
Comment by architect Hector Abrahams that Camden was the best preserved country town rural town in the Cumberland Plain. Camden Advertiser 28 June 2006.

 

Historian Alan Atkinson has argued that Camden is ‘a profoundly important place’, while historian Grace Karskins maintains that ‘Camden is an astonishingly intact survival of early colonial Australia’.  

 

Sense of place

In the early 20th century poets, artists and writers waxed lyrical that the town was like ‘a little England’.

Camden Council documents stress the importance of rural nature of the town for the community’s sense of place and community identity.

Camden Aerial 1940 CIPP
An aerial view of Camden township in 1940 taken by a plane that took off at Camden airfield. St John’s Church is at the centre of the image (Camden Images)

 

This is quite a diverse range of views.

This blog post will look at the historical elements that have contributed to the town’s sense of place, and ultimately its historical significance.

While none of these elements is new, this is the first time they have been presented this way.

 

A private venture of Englishmen James and William Macarthur

The village was a private development of Englishmen James and William Macarthur on the family property of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had their private-venture village of Camden approved in 1835, the street plan drawn up (1836) and the first sale of land in 1841.  All within the limits of Camden Park Estate.

The Macarthur brothers had another private venture village at Taralga on Richlands and Menangle on Camden Park Estate.

Camden James Macarthur Belgenny
James Macarthur (Belgenny Farm)

Creation of a little English village

The notion of an English-style village on the family estate must have been an enticing possibility for the Macarthur brothers.

In the Camden village, James and William Macarthur named streets after themselves and their supporters. They include John Street, Macarthur Road, Elizabeth Street, Edward Street, Broughton Street, Exeter Street, Oxley Street, Mitchell Street. The Macarthur family and funded the construction of St John’s church on the hill and donated the surrounding curtilage.

St Johns Church
St Johns Church Camden around 1900 (Camden Images)

The Macarthur brothers created vistas from the family’s Georgian hilltop Georgian mansion across the Cowpastures countryside to their Gothic-style village church.

The Englishness of the Camden village entranced many visitors and locals, including artists and writers. On a visit in 1927, the Duchess of York claimed that the area was ‘like England.’

 

Strategic river crossing into the Cowpastures

The village was strategically located at the Nepean River ford where the first Europeans crossed the river. By the 1820s the river crossing was the main entry point to Macarthur brothers’ Camden Park Estate, the largest gentry property in the area.

The situation of the village on the Great South Road re-enforced the Macarthur brothers economic and social authority over the countryside.

The river crossing was one of the two northern entry points to their realm of Camden Park Estate, the other being at the Menangle.  Menangle later became another private estate village.

The Macarthur village of Camden would secure the northern entry to the family’s Camden Park estate where the Great South Road entered their property. By 1826 the river ford was the site of the first toll bridge in the area.

Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP
Camden Cowpastures Bridge 1842 Thomas Woore R.N. of Harrington Park CIPP

 

None of this was new as the river crossing had been the entry into the Cowpastures reserve declared by Governor King in 1803. The site was marked by the police hut in the government reserve at the end of the Cowpasture track from Prospect.

 

English place names, an act of dispossession

The Camden village was part of the British imperial practice of placing English names on the landscape. The name of the village is English as is the gentry estate within which it was located – Camden Park.

English place names were used in the area from 1796 when Governor Hunter names the site the Cow Pastures Plain. The Cowpastures was a common grazing land near a village.

Naming is a political act of possession, or dispossession, and is an active part of settler colonialism.

Camden Signage
The Camden sign on the entry to the town centre at Kirkham Reserve on Camden Valley Way formerly The Great South Road and Hume Highway. (I Willis)

 

The Cowpastures was a meeting ground in between the  Dharawal, the Dharug and the Gundungurra people. The area was variously known as ‘Baragil’ (Baragal)’ or Benkennie (dry land).

Indigenous names were generally suppressed by English placenames until recent decades.

Initially, the Wild Cattle of the Cowpastures that escaped from the Sydney colony in 1788 occupied the meadows of the Nepean River floodplain.

The Cowpastures became a contested site on the colonial frontier.

 

Dispossession in the English meadows of the Cowpastures

The foundation of the Macarthur private village venture was part of the British colonial settler project.

The first Europeans were driven by Britain’s imperial ambitions and the settler-colonial project and could see the economic possibilities of the countryside.

Under the aims of the colonial settler project, as outlined by Patrick Wolfe and later LeFevre, the new Europeans sought to replace the original population of the colonised territory with a new group of settlers.

Hunter’s naming of the Cowpastures was the first act of expropriation. Further dispossession occurred with the government reserve, and later Governor Macquarie created the government village of Cawdor in the centre of the Cowpastures.

Art Governor Macquarie SLNSW
Governor Macquarie SLNSW

 

The Europeans seized territory by grant and purchase and imposed more English place names in the countryside, and created a landscape that mirrored the familiarity of England.

The colonial settlers brought Enlightenment notions of progress in their search for some kind of utopia.

 

Cowpasture patriarchs

The Macarthur private venture village was located in a landscape of self-style English gentry, and their estates interspersed with several small villages.

The gentry estates and their homestead and farm complex were English style village communities. One of the earliest was Denbigh (1818).

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

 

The oligarch-in-chief was Camden Park’s John Macarthur.

The Europeans used forced labour to impose English scientific farming methods on the country.

The Cowpasture colonial elite created a bunyip aristocracy and styled themselves on the English gentry.

On the left bank of the Nepean River were the gentry estates of Camden Park along with Brownlow Hill. On the right bank were the gentry properties of Macquarie Grove, Elderslie, Kirkham and Denbigh and several smallholders.

The ideal society for the colonial gentry included village communities. To foster their view of the world, the Europeans created the small village of Cobbitty around the Hassall family’s private Heber Chapel.

The village of Stonequarry was growing at the southern limits of the Cowpastures at the creek crossing on the Great South Road.  The village was located on the Antil’s Jarvisfield and later renamed Picton in the 1840s.

The picturesque Cowpastures countryside greeted the newly arrived Englishmen John Hawdon from County Durham. In 1828 Hawdon became the first person to put in writing that the Cowpastures area reminded him of the English countryside when he wrote a letter home.

 

The progress and development of the country town

The Enlightenment view of progress influenced the Macarthur’s vision for their Camden village. They sought to create an ideal village community of yeoman farmers and sponsored self-improvement community organisation including the School of Arts.

Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP
Camden School of Arts PReeves c1800s CIPP

 

Within the Macarthur fiefdom, former estate workers became townsmen, took up civic duties and ran successful businesses.

The village of Camden prospered, became a thriving market town and the economic hub of a growing district.

The architectural styles of the town centre shine a light on the progress and development of the Macarthur village. The architectural forms include  Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar moderne, Mid-20th century modern, and Post-modern.

The town centre served a host of functions for the community that are indicated by the types of land use in a country town. These include commercial, government, open space, industrial, transport, residential, religious, agricultural, amongst others.

 

The country town idyll and the appearance of heritage

Since the 1973 New Cities Structure Plan for Appin, Campbelltown and Camden there has been increased interest in the cultural heritage of the town centre. This is the first appearance of the influence of post-modernism in the Camden story.

The New Cities Plan 1973[1]
The New Cities Structure Plan Campbelltown Camden Airds 1973
John Wrigley conducted the first heritage study of the Camden town centre in 1985 for the Camden Historical Society.

Urban growth and the loss of rural countryside has encouraged a nostalgic desire for the past. This process had led to the evolution of the Camden, the country town idyll.

The heritage of the town centre is what the community values from the past that exists in the present. It is made up of tangible and intangible heritage, as well as multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The town centre story can is a timeline with many side shoots or a tree with the main stem and many branches.

 

Camden time traveller and the town centre

The living history of the town centre is evident at every turn. At every corner. A visitor can be a time-traveller into the past. A view along the main street is a view into the past.

There are many locations in our local area where a person can be a time-traveller into the past. The traveller can be a participant in the area’s living history, ‘simply by being present’.

One of these sites is the commanding view from the hilltop at St John’s church. Here the traveller can view the Cowpasture countryside that nestles the Camden town centre within its grasp.

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Attachment to place · Camden Park House and Garden · Colonial Camden · community identity · Country Women's Association · Cultural Heritage · CWA · Edwardian · First World War · Gender · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Interwar · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Menangle · Modernism · Movies · myths · Philanthropy · Place making · Red Cross · Second World War · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Stereotypes · Storytelling · TV Series Shows · Volunteering · Volunteerism · war · War at home · Women's diaries · Women's history · Women's Writing

Formidable women from the past

Camden’s formidable women

A popular TV drama ‘A Place to Call Home’ on Channel 7 has been set in and around the  Camden district. Amongst the characters is the fictional 1950s matriarch of the Bligh family, Elizabeth (Noni Hazlehurst). This figure has a number of striking parallels with Camden’s own 20th century female patrician figures.

Camden’s matriarchs, just like Elizabeth, were formidable figures in their own right and left their mark on the community.  The fictional Elizabeth Bligh lives on the family estate Ash Park (Camelot, formerly Kirkham) in the country town of Inverness during the 1950s.

A Place to Call Home DVD
A Place to Call Home was a hit TV series produced in Australia that premiered in 2013. The series used the John Horbury Hunt designed Victorian mansion Camelot located at Kirkham on the edge of Camden as the location setting for the TV show. (Amazon)

 

Frances Faithful Anderson

Kirkham’s own Elizabeth Bligh was Frances Faithful Anderson, who moved to the Camden area with her husband, William, in the 1890s. She renamed James White’s fairytale castle Kirkham, Camelot, in 1900 after being reminded of the opening verse of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. Frances (d. 1948) lived in the house, with her daughter Clarice, until her death. Both women were shy and retiring and stayed out public gaze in Camden, unlike the domineering fictional character of Elizabeth Bligh. The Anderson women were supporters of the Camden Red Cross, Women’s Voluntary Services, the Country Women’s Association, Camden District Hospital and the Camden Recreation Room during the Second World War (DR, 29/3/13). Clarice willed Camelot to the NSW National Trust, according to Jonathan Chancellor. The NSW Supreme Court rule in 1981 that her mother’s 1938 will took precedence. Frances  wanted the house to become a convalescent home, but this clashed with zoning restrictions.

Camelot House formerly known at Kirkham, Camden NSW
Camelot house, originally known as Kirkham, was designed by Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt for James White. The house was built in 1888 on the site of colonial identity John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill. Folklore says that James White financed the house from the winnings of the 1877 Melbourne Cup by his horse Chester. Under White’s ownership the property became a horse-racing stud and produced a number of notable horses. (Camden Images)

 

Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow

Camden’s Edwardian period was dominated by the figure of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park.  She took control of Camden Park in 1882 when her husband Arthur died. Under her skilful management the family estate was clear of debt by 1890 and she subsequently re-organised the estate. She established the pastoral company Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, with her children as shareholders.  Heritage consultant Chris Betteridge states that she organised the estates co-operative diary farms, built creameries at Camden and Menangle, orchards and a piggery. Elizabeth was a Victorian philanthropist, a Lady Bountiful figure, and according to Susanna De Vries was a strong supporter of a number of local community organisations including the fore-runner of the Camden Show Society, the Camden AH&I Society. She died on one of her many trips to England and has dropped out of Australian history.

Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow lived at Camden Park house and garden.
This image of Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow is from a portrait painting at Camden Park House. Elizabth was the daughter of James Macarthur. She married Captain Arthur Onslow in 1867 and had 8 children. (Camden Park)

 

Sibella Macarthur Onslow

Elizabeth’s daughter, Sibella, was a larger than life figure during Camden’s Inter-war period and was quite a formidable figure in her own right. She grew up at Camden Park and moved to Gilbulla in 1931, which had been the home of her sister-in-law, Enid Macarthur Onslow. Sibella never married and fulfilled the role of a powerful Camden patrician figure. She was a true female matriarch amongst her brothers who took public positions of power in the New South Wales business community. She was one of the most powerful female figures in New South Wales and her personal contact network included royalty, politicians and the wealthy elite of Sydney and London. Macarthur Onslow possessed strong conservative Christian values and was an active figure in the Sydney Anglican Archdiocese.  She was a Victorian-style philanthropist and was president of the Camden Red Cross from 1927 until her death in 1943.

enid macarthur onslow
Enid Macarthur Onslow (CPH)

 

Rita Tucker

The power vacuum in Camden’s women’s affairs left by the death of Sibella Macarthur Onslow was filled by Rita Tucker of The Woodlands, at Theresa Park. She had a high community profile in 1950s Camden and was well remembered by those who dealt with her. She became president of the Camden Country Women’s Association in 1939 and held the position until her death in 1961. She was a journalist and part-time editor of the North West Courier at Narrabri before she moved to Camden with her husband Rupert in 1929. She was an active member of the Camden Liberal Party in the 1950s, holding a number of positions, and was New South Wales vice-president of the CWA between 1947 and 1951. She was an accomplished musician and played the organ at the Camden Presbyterian Church in the early 1940s.

Rita Tucker, Camden NSW
Rita Tucker, Camden NSW (J Tucker)

 

Zoe Crookston

A contemporary of Tucker was Zoe Crookston, the wife of Camden surgeon, Robert Crookston. A shy retiring type, she lived in grand Victorian mansion at the top of John Street and was the wartime president of the Women’s Voluntary Services. She was a Presbyterian, a liberal-conservative and an active committee member of the United Australia Party in the 1930s. According to her daughter Jacqueline, ‘her mother was a no-nonsense person who always liked to get on with the job at hand’. She was a foundation member of the Camden Red Cross and was actively involved until 1949. Other community organisations occupied her time including being on the committee of the Camden District Hospital Women’s Auxiliary from 1933 to 1945.

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

A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5

 

In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.

These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.

Tompson-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-Cover_lowres
Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson. ‘The  Cow-Pastures, Camden Park’ William McLeod. c1886.

 

Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.

Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.

Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.

A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).

Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)

Tompson Book Back Cover Camden sketch 1857-lowres
Back Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes Charles Tompson. Sketch of Camden, HG Lloyd, 1857 (SLNSW)

 

The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)

The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.

The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.

Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were  not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture.  Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)

TompsonCharles-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-lowres

 

The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)

The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).

Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.

Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)

The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)

Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)

The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)

Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.

Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.

Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Australia · Belgenny Farm · Camden Park House and Garden · community identity · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dairying · Farming · Food · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Menangle · Modernism · Monuments · myths · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Sydney · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Town planning · Urban growth · Urban Planning · urban sprawl · Urbanism · USA · Utilities

Menangle Milking Marvel

Menangle mid-20th century milking marvel

One of the largest tourist attractions to the local area in the mid-20th century was a local milking marvel known at the Rotolactor.

Menangle Rotolactor Post Card 1950s
Menangle Rotolactor in the 1950s Postcard (Camden Images)

 

The Rotolactor was truly a scientific wonder that captured the imagination of people at a time when scientific marvels instilled excitement in the general public.

In these days of post-modernism and fake news this excitement seems hard to understand.

What was the Rotolactor?

The Rotolactor was an automated circular milking machine with a rotating platform introduced into the Camden Park operation in 1952 by Edward Macarthur Onslow from the USA.

The Rotolactor was part of the process of agricultural modernism that the Macarthur family had implemented on their colonial property of Camden Park Estate to improve their dairying operations in the mid-20th century.

The idea of a rotating milking platform was American and first introduced in New Jersey in the mid-1920s.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model2 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolactor Model 2 model in 2018 (I Willis)

 

The 1940s manager of Camden Park Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Macarthur Onslow inspected an American Rotolactor while overseas on a business trip and returned to Australia full of enthusiasm to build one at Camden Park.

 

The Menangle Rotolactor was the first in Australia and only the third of its kind in the world.

Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model3 2018
Camden Belgenny Farm Rotolacotor Model 3 display in 2018 (I Willis)

 

The rotating dairy had a capacity to milk of 1,000 cows twice a day. It held 50 cows a time and were fed at as they were milked. The platform rotated about every  12 minutes.

The Rotolactor was a huge tourist attraction for the Menangle village and provided a large number of local jobs.

In 1953 it was attracting 600 visitors on a weekend in with up to 2000 visitors a week at its peak. (The Land, 1953Mar27)

Town planning disruption

In 1968 town planning disrupted things. The Askin state government released the  Sydney Regional Outline Plan, followed by the 1973 the New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin Structure Plan, which later became the Macarthur Growth Centre in 1975.

The structure plan did recognise the importance of the Rotolactor and the cultural heritage of the Menangle village. (The State Planning Authority of New South Wales, 1973, p. 84)

These events combined with declining farming profits encouraged the Macarthur family to sell out of   Camden Park  including the Rotolactor and the private village of Menangle.

The Rotolactor continued operations until 1977 and then remained unused for several years. It was then purchased by Halfpenny dairy interests from Menangle who operated the facility until it finally closed in 1983. (Walsh 2016, pp.91-94)

Community festival celebrates the Rotolactor

In 2017 the Menangle Community Association organised a festival to celebrate the history of the Rotolactor. It was called the Menangle Milk-Shake Up and  was a huge success.

Menangle Promo MilkShake UP
Menangle Milk Shake Up Community Festival organised by the Menangle Community Association in 2017 (MCA)

 

The Festival exceeded all their expectations of the organisers from the Menangle Community Association when it attracted over 5000  of people to the village from all over Australia. (Wollondilly Advertiser, 18 Sept 2017)

The Menangle Community Association Facebook page described it this way:

‘A true country event like in the old days. So many visitors came dressed up in their original 50s clothes, and all those wonderful well selected stall holders. It was pure joy.’

Despite these sentiments the event just covered costs (Wollondilly Advertiser 5 April 2018)

The festival’s success was a double-edged sword for the organisers from the Menangle Community Association.

Urban development

The festival’s success demonstrated to local development interests that Rotolactor nostalgia could be marketized and had considerable commercial potential.

The Menangle Community Association attempted to lift the memory of the Rotolator and use it as a weapon to protect the village from the forces of urban development  and neo-liberalism

The success of the festival was also used by Menangle land developers to further their interests.

Developer Halfpenny made numerous public statements supporting the restoration of the Rotolactor as a function centre and celebrating its past. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December 2017).

Menangle Rotolactor Paddock 2016 Karen
Menangle Rotolactor in a derelict condition in 2016 (Image by Karen)

 

The newspaper article announced that the owner of the site, local developer Ernest Dupre of Souwest Developments, has pledged to build a micro brewery, distillery, two restaurants, a farmers market, children’s farm, vegetable garden, and a hotel with 30 rooms.

In 2017  the state government planning panel approved the re-zoning of the site for 350 houses and a tourist precinct. Housing construction will be completed by Mirvac.

Mr Dupre stated that he wanted to turned the derelict Rotolactor into a function with the adjoining Creamery building as a brewery, which is next to the Menangle Railway Station.

He expected the development to cost $15 million and take two years. The plan also includes an outdoor concert theatre for 8000 people and a lemon grove.

Aesthetics · Art · Attachment to place · Australia · Belonging · Camden · Camden Airfield · Camden Park House and Garden · community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Denbigh · England · Entertainment · Farming · Fashion · festivals · Gothic · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Leisure · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memorials · Memory · Modernism · Monuments · Moveable Heritage · Movies · myths · Place making · Public art · Re-enactments · Ruralism · sense of place · Stereotypes · Streetscapes · Sydney · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Technology · Theatre · Tourism · Travel · TV Series Shows · Victorian · Volunteerism · war

Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

Moviemakers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations.

From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of filmmakers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables.  This did not go unnoticed in the film industry.

Camden Park Publicity

One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and racehorse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an aeroplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.

Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was released in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based on Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).

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

The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directed by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which was painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive-In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.

The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with the co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison-gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulges the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.

Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year-old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson.  Many old-time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and the United States.

In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary  The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.

In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine was filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.

In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced several short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.

In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill, a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently, Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.

Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has several powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates.  The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.

The 55-room fairytale-like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on the air. In the end, Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.

Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010.  Part of the show is power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.

Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park were used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.

Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for several movies, advertisements and fashion shoots since the 1950s.   They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film was written and directed by Liz Hughes which used lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century, there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.

In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”.  In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to the Macarthur and Sydney markets.

In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse-drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlooking the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cupcakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room sitting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.

 

In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene, the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman, the reason the Camden area was used was that it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern-day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.

 

 

In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘

The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.

The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.

Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 has been used as a film set in 2018 for the TV series Doctor Doctor (I Willis)

 

In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero.  The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.

Studley Park at Night spooky 2017 CNA
Spooky Studley Park House is claimed to be one of the most haunted locations in the Macarthur region. The TV series Home & Away on 3 & 4 October 2018 certainly added to those stories by using the house as a set location. (CN Advert)

Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;

Studley Park House, Camden 

This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.

In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.

The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.

 

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

In 2019 movie-making in the area continues with the 4th series of Doctor Doctor. Wikipedia states of the plotline:

Doctor Doctor (also known outside of Australasia as The Heart Guy[1]) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016.[2] It follows the story of Hugh Knight, a rising heart surgeon who is gifted, charming and infallible. He is a hedonist who, due to his sheer talent, believes he can live outside the rules.

Camden was used as one location along with the historic colonial property of Denbigh. Mediaweek stated in 2016 (Sept 9):

The regional setting for the series has proven to be a benefit for narrative and practical production reasons. While all of the hospital scenes were filmed in a hospital in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Rozelle, exterior shooting took place in Mudgee, with filming of Knight’s home was shot in Camden. In addition to $100,000 worth of support from the Regional Filming Fund, the regional setting delivers a unique authenticity to the series that it would otherwise lack.

 

Sometimes the local area is used a set for an advertising campaign by a fashion label or some other business. The owners of Camden Park House posted on Facebook in August 2019 that the house and garden were used as a set by the Country Road fashion brand.

Camden Park House Country Road Photoshoot 2019
Country Road fashion shoot at Camden Park House. Have a peek at Camden Park House at the Country Road page and visit us on 21/22 Sept on our annual Open Weekend. (Camden Park House)

 

In late 2019 the local press reported that streaming service Stan’s drama The Common was partially filmed in Camden. The spokesperson for Stan said

While no specific details about plotlines or particular actors were given away, the spokesman said the production was filming on August 7 at the Narellan Jets Football Club and Grounds, Narellan Sports Hub.

 

In 2020 the movie release of Peter Rabbit 2 highlights part of our local area. Press reports state that the production team were impressed with the local area for Peter Rabbit and they came back for the sequel. Visual effects supervisor Will Reichelt said that the Macarthur region resembled an ‘English country vista’.

Wollondilly Advertiser 2020Mar13 Movie Peter Rabbit 2
Onset: Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne (picture here filming a different scene) were on set in Brownlow Hill for the production of Peter Rabbit 2. Picture: Sony Pictures Australia/Wollondilly Advertiser 2020Mar13

 

Updated 21 April 2020

 

Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Park House and Garden · community identity · Cultural Heritage · festivals · First World War · Heritage · history · Local History · Memory · Music · Place making · Red Cross · sense of place · Volunteering · Volunteerism · war · War at home

Band music at the Camden Park House and Garden 2018 Open Day

Band music was provided at the 2018 Open Day at Camden Park House and Garden just like the Camden Town Brass Band provided over 100 years ago.

Camden Community Band Camden Park Open Day 2018[2] IWillis lowres

In 1914 the Camden Town Brass Band  provided entertainment for the afternoon when Miss Sibella Macarthur Onslow offered her home of Camden Park for a fundraiser for the Camden Red Cross. The band was under direction of the bandmaster was Mr Price of Menangle.

Camden Park 2018 Open Day Flyer_lowres

Camden Park House and Garden were regularly used for patriotic funds during the First World War.

Camden Park House 2018 Flynns LForbes

Camden Community Band at the Camden Park 2018 Open Day

Band member Lyn Forbes reports

 Last year, after wandering around the gardens at Camden Park, thinking that the band playing would be so suitable, so I suggested it to the band the following Tuesday.   

Camden Park House Camden Community Band Flyn LForbes 2018

Band member Barbara Reeves reports

Camden Community Band was looking for different opportunities for performances. A suggestion made by Lyn Forbes was to play at  Camden Park House on their Open Weekend in September. Barbara made contact with Edwina Macarthur Stanham to see if they would be open to the idea. Edwina took the suggestion to a Camden Park House committee meeting, and they all agreed that the Band playing would add to the atmosphere of the day. Edwina and Barbara negotiated the details and the Band played on Sunday 23rd September under the shady trees in the garden.

 

The Band was pleased to be able to perform at Camden Park House, and Edwina allowed Band members to take a tour of the House as way of thanks. Camden Park House has suggested we may be able to join with them in the future for another event. 

Camden Community Band 2018 LForbes

Camden Park Garden Party in 1914

The report in the Camden News on 17 September 1914 stated:

The gardens and hot-houses of Camden Park will /be open to the public from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday next. A small charge will be made for admission, the proceeds to be devoted to the Red Cross Funds. Miss Macarthur Onslow is also providing refreshments, which will be on sale; for the above funds, – the charge will be a silver coin. The grounds of Camden Park, are at the present time simply beautiful, and this opportunity of viewing them will no doubt be largely availed of. The Camden Town Band has been engaged by Miss Onslow for the occasion.

 

Camden Patriotic Fund formation and fundraising in 1914

An extract from Ian Willis’s Ministering Angels about the the Camden Patriotic Fund stated:

The fund was formed at a public meeting convened by the mayor, RER Young, the husband of the Red Cross president, in the first week of September 1914. The meeting passed a motion, moved by the mayor and seconded by AJ Macarthur Onslow, Sibella’s brother, which stated that one of the fund’s main purposes was to provide for the ‘widowed and fatherless who have sacrificed their lives in the Defence of our Empire’. Macarthur Onslow was elected secretary and a public subscription was taken up and raised £340, which included £250 from Camden Park. By June 1915 the fund had raised over £1796 of which £426 had gone to the Camden Red Cross. One of the first events organised on behalf of the Camden Patriotic Fund for the Camden Red Cross was a Camden Park garden party on Saturday, 19 September 1914, hosted by Sibella Macarthur Onslow. Around 250 people enjoyed the ‘simply beautiful’ garden and listened to the Camden District Band after paying an entry cost 1/-. The event raised over £12.[1]

Source: Ian Willis, Ministering Angels, The Camden District Red Cross 1914-1945. CHS, Camden, 2014, p.37.

[1] The Camden News, 17 June 1915, 3 September 1914, 17 September 1914, 24 September 1914.

Learn more about banding in the Camden area.

Hitting the right note.

The story of the Camden Town Brass Band from the late 1800s to the early 20th century.

Picton hits the right note.

The story of the Picton Brass Band in the early 20th century.

Tough times for the Camden band.

The story of the collapse of the Camden Town Brass band after the First World War.

 

Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Australia · British colonialism · Cawdor · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Cowpastures · Cowpastures River · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Local newspapers · myths · Nepean River · Newspapers · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism

The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840

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 for the activities of those within a 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.

Before the Cowpastures district was even an idea the area was the home for ancient Aboriginal culture based on Dreamtime stories.  The land of the Dharawal,  Gundangara and the Dharug.

After European occupation, the Dharawal people became known as the Cowpastures tribe by 1805.

Map Aboriginal Groups Sydney 2005 Belgenny Farm lowres
Map showing Aboriginal Groups of the Sydney area including the Dharawal of the Cowpastures (2005, Belgenny Farm)

 

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.

The party climbed a hill (Mt Taurus) and 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.

Cowpastures cattle here Grafton 1875 SARNSW
Cattle similar to the horned wild cattle of the Cowpastures at Grafton in 1875 (State Archives and Records NSW)

 

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.

1824-view-of-cowpastures-joseph-lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett (SLNSW)

 

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 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

AT “CAWDOR”.

  1. 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.
  2. A Weather-boarded House for the accommodation of the Subordinate Overseers and Stockmen.
  3. 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.
  4. A Tanning House and Tan Yard for Tanning the Hides of the Wild Bulls for the use of Government.
  5. 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 Cowpastures as an identity extended into the second half of the 19th century.

The extent of the Cowpastures region by the 1840s

The extent of the Cowpastures by the 1840s was:

  • 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 ridgeline north dividing Bow Bowing Creek and South Creek.
  • South – Stonequarry Creek catchment – bordering Bargo Brush – line following Wilton Road in the east – through Thirlmere – ridge line between Stonequarry Creek and Bargo River – west to Burragorang Valley
  • West – Burragorang Valley

 

Cowpastures Map 1840
The extent of the Cowpastures region in the 1840s (I Willis, 2018)

 

Cowpastures as a regional identity

The graph below shows the usage of the locality name Cowpastures in newspapers listed on the National Library of Australia Trove Database in 2017 using QueryPic.

Usage of the locality name ‘Cowpastures’

Cowpasture_QueryPic_Trove_Graph
A graph showing the usage of the locality name ‘Cowpastures’ in newspaper articles on the National Library of Australia Trove Database between 1795 and 1950 using QueryPic (I Willis, 2017)

The usage of the Cowpastures regional identity persisted into the late 19th century.

1836 Glendiver Estate

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’.

The notice 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))

1838 the estate of Narellan

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

The northern extremity of the Cowpasture Estates was the Bringelly Road.  (Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser, 16 July 1840)

Map Bringelly Cowpasture Estate Map 1847 Land of MD Hunter NLA
Map of the Cowpasture Estates at Bringelly on the land MD Hunter in 1847. ( National Library of Australia)

 

1843 Charles Cowper in the Cowpastures district

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)

1843 GCP Living of Raby in the Cowpastures

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 totaling 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))

1843 SR Swaine of Narellan of the Cowpastures

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)

1845 Bridge repairs in the Cowpastures

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)

1847 Cowpastures population

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)

1870 shepherd Hugh McGuire in the Cowpastures

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))

1870 Camden flood in the Cowpastures

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 that continued through Wednesday night on the 26 April. The lowlands presented a ‘uniform sheet of floodwater’ and were just below the ‘tow great floods of 1860’. (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1870, page 7)

1877 Cowpastures River

In 1877 the Sydney Morning Herald one letter writer that as the late 1870s the Nepean River was still known as the Cowpastures River.  (Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 – 1954), Saturday 24 March 1877, page 8)

1878 Campbelltown next to the Cowpastures

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)

1882 wheat growing in the Cowpastures

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 this area, hay production had replaced former wheat growing. (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1870 – 1907), Saturday 2 September 1882, page 20)

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

The end of the 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.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of Cowpastures (SMH 13 August 1932)

  

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.

Macarthur was the ultimate Cowpastures oligarch and he had many colleagues who also fitted this description.

640px-Macarthur_stamp_sheep_1934 (1)
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp (Australia Post)

Learn more

The Cowpastures Project

 

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)

 

Attachment to place · British colonialism · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cowpastures · Elderslie · England · Farming · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Landscape aesthetics · Local History · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Victorian

The Cowpastures Project

The Cowpastures project is a community based collaborative research enterprise which is co-ordinated by UOW historian Dr Ian Willis.

 

Presentation The Cowpastures 2017Oct3

 

It is a long term venture which aims to reveal the intricacies of the Cowpastures district from 1795 to 1850.

The Dharawal people occupied the area for centuries.

 

Sydney1790_Aborgines in Port Jackson
Sydney 1790 Aborigines in Port Jackson (SLNSW)

 

The district was part of the Australian colonial settler society project driven by British colonialism.

There was the creation of the government reserve for the wild cattle between 1795 and 1823. After this period the Cowpastures became a regional locality that was in common usage well into the 19th century.

 

1824-view-of-cowpastures-joseph-lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett (SLNSW)

 

The British aimed the create an English-style landscape from their arrival in the area from 1790s. The earliest written acknowledgement of this by Englishman John Hawdon in 1828.

 

1932_SMH_CowpastureCattle_map
Map of the Cowpastures government reserve (SMH 13 August 1932)

 

I have published some material and there are a number of blog posts related to the project.

Learn more 

A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

A review of Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr) (2019) Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) for the first time.

A contested sacred site in the historic landscape of the Cowpastures

This blog post examine community concerns around the sale of glebe land attached to St John’s Anglican Church in Camden and highlights community sensitivities to sale of church sites. This church was largely funded by the Macarthur family and has since its foundation in 1847 has received considerable endowments from the family.

The Cowpastures Region 1795-1840 (regionalism & boundaries)

This blog post attempts to put a regional boundary on The Cowpastures for the first time and examines some of the historical evidence for this boundary.

Camden Cowpastures Bicentenary Celebrations  (Blog)

‘Just like England’, a colonial settler landscape  (Peer-reviewed article)

Cowpastures and Beyond: Conference 2016  (Camden Area Family History Society)

Convicts in the Cowpastures (B;pg)

Governor Macquarie in the Cowpastures 1810 (Blog)

Governor Macquarie returns to the Cowpastures 1820 (Blog)

Mummel and a Cowpastures Patriarch (Blog)

The Cowpastures, just like a English landscape (Presentation)

The Cowpasture, just like an English landscape (Slideshare)

Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures (Blog)

John Hawdon of Elderslie (Blog)

John Hawdon of Elderslie English Origins (Blog)

The Cowpastures at the Campbelltown Arts Centre (2017) (Exhibition)

The Came by Boat Exhibition Campbelltown Arts Centre (Exhibition Review, 2017)

John Macarthur the legend (Blog)

Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Farming · Heritage · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · Settler colonialism · Tourism

Richlands, an outpost of a colonial farming empire

Richlands Georgian style homestead built in the 1840s  on the 2016 open day (I Willis)

The Richlands estate, north of Goulburn in the NSW Southern Tablelands, was an important part of the Macarthur family pastoral empire for nearly 100 years.  The Richlands estate acted as an outstation about one days ride west of Camden Park estate. The property  reached its hiatus in the 1840s when its extent reached around 38,000 acres including the private village of Taralga.

James Macarthur managed the Richlands estate with his brother William Macarthur from Camden Park. (Belgenny Farm)

James and William Macarthur initially took up adjacent land grants of around 2000 acres between Taralga Creek and Burra Lake in 1822.  The area had been traversed by a party led by Charles Throsby in 1819 looking for an alternative route to Bathurst other than the arduous route across the Blue Mountains. Throsby and company journeyed from the Moss Vale area, crossing the Wollondilly River then the Cookbundoon Ranges near Tarlo, turning north are eventually arriving at Bathurst.

Opening up the Southern Tablelands

Reports of these areas encouraged pastoralists to take up land, one of the first was Hannibal Macarthur, John Macartur’s nephew, at Arthursleigh on the Wollondilly. In a speculative venture in 1822 James Macarthur and partners Lachlan MacAlister and John Hillas, overseer with William Macarthur, moved a mob of cattle over the Cookbundoons and left them in charge an assigned convict Thomas Taylor at Tarlo. Hillas and MacAlister also took up a grants adjacent to the Macarthur holdings.

On the death of John Macarthur in 1834 the Richlands estate passed to Edward Macarthur, a career British soldier, while managed by James and William Macarthur on his behalf.

Governed by absentee landlords

While the Richlands estate was governed by absentee landlords the real story is of those who formed the microcosm of society on the estate. They  included convicts, managers, tenant farmers, servants and the Burra Burra people, who were dispossessed and displaced from their country.

Fledgling settlement of Taralga

For the twenty years of the Richlands estate it was managed from the fledgling settlement of Taralga on the southern edge of the property. There was a central store and a number of skilled tradesmen,  convicts and their overseers were based in the village from the 1820s.

Taralga village main street 2000s. The initial management of the Richlands estate was conducted from the village in the 1820s until it was shifted to the new hilltop homestead built in the 1840s. The village is one of number of private towns that the Macarthur family established in colonial NSW. ULSC

Rural empire of 38,000 acres

James and William Macarthur acquired land by grant and purchase north and south of the hamlet of Taralga including 600 acres from Thomas Howe of Glenlee in the Cowpastures in 1837. The diary of Emily Macarthur’s, James’ wife, showed that William made six-monthly visits to Richlands from 1840. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Macarthur visited Richlands in 1851 after being posted to Sydney as deputy adjutant general.

Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), who inherited the Richlands estate on the death of his father John Macarthur in 1834. ( Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, c1858)

Strategic hilltop

Work began to move the management of the estate from the village to the hilltop overlooking Burra Lake and Guineacor to the east. Hilltop locations for homesteads were common throughout the Cowpastures and were of other Macarthur properties. It followed Laudon principles and provided a defendable strategic location on the estate.

Richlands Georgian style homestead on hilltop location built in the 1840s on 2016 open day (I Willis)

William Campbell was appointed superintendent in 1839 and work began on stone offices on the farm hilltop site, along with underground grain silos, convict accommodation and outbuildings. Work was completed by 1844 when Thomas and Martha Denning occupied the house forming a small quadrangle.  Denning was appointed overseer (farm manager).

Georgian-style residence

Work on a new on a Georgian-style residence began in 1845 for new English estate manager George Martyr, who took up the position after his arrival in the colony in 1848 after marrying Alicia in Sydney.

Martyr took an active interest in community affairs serving on Goulburn Council and supervising construction of the Catholic Church in the village. A qualified surveyor from Greenwich Martyr surveyed the village of Taralga and the Macarthurs offered village lots for sale from 1847. George and Alicia raised six children on Richlands.

Richlands Georgian style homestead built for estate manager George Martr and his family in the 1840s on the 2016 open day (I Willis)

The property was eventually resumed by the New South Wales Government in 1908, broken up for closer settlement and sold in 30 smaller lots in 1910.

Notes

Peter Freeman Pty Ltd, Richlands-Taralga, Conservation Management Plan, Richlands Conservation Management Plan, 1997.

 

 

Agriculture · Attachment to place · Australia · British colonialism · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · community identity · Convicts · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Denbigh · Economy · Elderslie · England · Farming · Gothic · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Place making · Radical history · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Storytelling

Convicts in the Cowpastures, an untold story

The convict story in the Cowpastures

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?

View near Woolwich in Kent shewing [sic] the employment of the convicts from the hulks, c. 1800 (State Library of NSW)
View near Woolwich in Kent shewing [sic] the employment of the convicts from the hulks, c. 1800 (State Library of NSW)

Part of a global story

The convicts were a form of forced labour, with a global history that goes back to Roman times. Amongst those who were landed were human souls who were part of the dark story of banishment and exile. The story of convicts and banishment is an integral part of the European colonialism from the 16th century and the rise of labour camps. The story parallels that of slavery. Convicts came to New South Wales after the British lost the American colonies in the revolutionary wars in the 1780s.

Convicts in the Australian colonies

The convicts that ended up the in Cowpastures district were part of the 160,000 who were transported to the Australian colonies from England, Wales, Ireland, and the British colonies. Convicts were usually employed in several ways by the colonial authorities: assignment; government work gangs; Tickets of Leave; Conditional Pardon; and an Absolute Pardon with complete freedom to do as they wished including returning to Britain.

Generally speaking, most convict women could be classified as domestic servants, while male convicts had a host of skills with town trades dominating over rural workers.  The literacy rates and skills of convicts were the same or better than the English and Irish working classes.

Map of Cowpastures SMH 13 August 1932
This is a map of the Cowpastures published in the Interwar period when then was an increased increase in the story of the cattle, John Macarthur and Camden Park Estate. Map of Cowpastures (SMH 13 August 1932)

 

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.

View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett
View upon the Nepean River, at the Cow Pastures New South Wales 1824-1825 Joseph Lycett

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.[1]  Elizabeth Villy indicates that the stock books indicate 29 landholders, who were mostly absentee landlords.[2]

The best account to date of the activities of the convicts in the Cowpastures is Elizabeth Villy’s The Old Razorback Road (2011). She states that in the 1820s in the last days of the Cowpastures Government Reserve there were around 550 convicts assigned to settlers including around 100 at Camden Park Estate. These men were employed as shepherds and labourers, who were clearing land, and preparing the ground for ploughing and growing pasture.[3]

Convicts and civil works in the Cowpastures

The Great South Road was one of the major civil engineering projects in the Cowpastures district that employed convicts. A major bridge (Cowpasture Bridge) was constructed by convicts across the Nepean River mid-way between the river crossings at the Home Farm at Belgenny and the Hassall’s at Macquarie Grove.  Villy details how the bridge was built by a team of convicts between 1824 and 1826. The construction was supervised by convict Samuel Wainwright, a Cheshire carpenter, who arrived on the Neptune in 1818. Villy lists 24 convicts who worked on the bridge construction between 1827 and 1829.[4]

The other major project was The Great South Road itself and in the Cowpastures section Villy estimates that around 400 men worked on the road. Her research indicates that they left no surviving records and many just ‘melted into society after their sentences’ (p.67).  The ethnography of the convicts up to 1828 was mainly English, with smaller numbers of Welsh and Scots. From this time as more Irish were sent out the ratio English to Irish was around half and half. If the convicts misbehaved they were punished by whipping and the Cawdor Bench imposed punishments up to 50 lashes. Mostly they involved insolence, absconding, drunkenness, and laziness. On the Camden-Stonequarry road section, there were no portable stockades or vans. Villy provides interesting accounts of the activities of individual convicts, their punishments and the convict lifestyle of the road gangs. [5]

John Hawdon Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), Saturday 18 January 1879, page 17
John Hawdon arrived in New South Wales with his family and servants in 1828. He took a six-year lease on John Oxley’s former grant of Elderslie and became a colonial identity. He later took up a grant in the Moruya area of the New South Wales South Coast and built Kiora homestead in 1836  (Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1870 – 1907), Saturday 18 January 1879, page 17)

 

Elderslie

Convicts were part of the John Oxley’s Elderslie enterprise and when John Hawdon leased it in 1828 off Francis Irvine he was impressed with the range of trades amongst the 30 ‘government men’ who worked on Elderslie. He was not deterred by dark Gothic notions of the penal settlement and expressed his frustration with the attitude of his countrymen in a letter home.[6] 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’.[7]

Elderslie according to Alan Atkinson supported 9 convicts when Oxley sold the grant to Francis Irvine in 1827.[8] At Macquarie Grove under Samual Hassall, there were 30 convicts with 3 families of children.[9]

Denbigh

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.[10]

Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis
Denbigh Homestead is an important colonial farm complex in the Cowpastures. The original grant of 1812 was to Charles Hook and he built a single story dwelling on the site. The property was purchased by Thomas Hassall in 1827 and added a bedroom story to the house. The farm is significant because it contains a rare and remarkable group of the homestead and early farm buildings from colonial New South Wales. (Open Day 2015 I Willis)

 

Kirkham

At the time of the 1828 Census at ‘Kirkham’, which had 54 people including 44 convicts. (SRNSW NRS 1273 1828 Census).

Birling

Birling’ was a 1000 acre granted to Robert Lowe in 1812. According to the 1814 muster, Robert Lowe employed seven assigned convicts which had increased to 21 by the 1822 muster, while by 1828 this had dropped to 12 convicts. (SRNSW)

The Cowpastures Convict and Settler Database

Some members of the Camden Historical Society drew together a database of names of convicts and settlers in the Cowpastures in the early part of the 19th century in the 1990s. The data was drawn from a variety of sources including convict musters. On extracting the names of convicts the following information is now available for several gentry properties in the Cowpastures District before 1840 and include: Brownlow Hill  – 44 convicts between 1823 and 1828. In 1823 there were 11 convicts assigned to Peter Murdoch who had the Glendaural grant, which later became part of Brownlow Hill; Denbigh – 8 convicts in 1828; Kirkham – 103 convicts between 1814 and 1830 with a mix of skill including ploughman, shepherds, millers, and general labourers; Macquarie Grove – 28 convicts in 1828 with skills including ploughman, wheelwright, labourer, and house servants; Matavai (Cobbitty) – 14 convicts in 1828 who included blacksmith, sawyer, labourers and house servants; Wivenhoe – 6 convicts in 1828 who included a cooper and shoemaker. The database is located at the Camden Museum.

Notes

[1] 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.

[2] Elizabeth Villy, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg, Dural, 2011. p. 35.

[3] Villy, The Old Razorback Road, pp. 34-35.

[4] Villy, The Old Razorback Road.pp. 62-65

[5] Villy, The Old Razorback Road.pp. 66-90.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 26 October 1929, p 13.

[7] The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 26 October 1929, p 13.

[8] Alan Atkinson, Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales, OUP, Melb, 1988, p.20. Peter Mylrea, Camden District, A History to the 1840s, Camden Historical Society, 2002, p.34.

[9]  Atkinson, Camden,  p.20

[10] James S Hassall, In Old Australia Records and Reminiscences from 1794, RS Hews,  Brisbane, 1902 (BiblioBazaar, 2015), pp. 4-5

The Cowpasture Project

More information about the Cowpastures can be found on the Cowpastures project blog page. Click here