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Camden, NSW

Historic township south-west of Sydney - now part of Greater Sydney.

Today Camden lies at the south-western extremity of Greater Sydney. This historic town, which was once far removed from suburban Sydney, has slowly seen the surrounding grazing land turned into monochrome suburbs so that it is now possible to drive from Sydney down the Hume Motorway and see very little of the original farm and bush land. Interestingly while the surrounding area is characterised by large housing developments, the town still has a surfeit of interesting historic buildings reflecting its position as one of the earliest inland settlements in New South Wales. Of particular interest are the St John's Church, Macarthur Park and Camden Park Estate - the latter is one of the most impressive Georgian residents in the country and is open to the public one weekend a year.

Location

Camden is located 67 km south-west of Sydney via the M5 and Hume Motorway. It is located on the Nepean River 68 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

John Macarthur, who owned Camden Park Estate, named the property after Lord Camden, the Colonial Secretary who had ordered Governor King to grant Macarthur 2,000 acres in the Cowpastures area.

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Things to See and Do

Historic Walk
There is an excellent and very detailed brochure (with some remarkable historic photographs) which is available for free download at http://www.camden.nsw.gov.au/assets/pdf/Development/PlanningAndBuildingInformation/2014/Heritage/camden_heritage_walking_tour_2011lowres.pdf.

It lists a total of 27 places of historic interest all within three blocks of the corner of John and Argyle Streets. Of particular interest are:

1. Library, Museum and Fire Station - Located at 40 John Street is the public library and the Camden Historical Museum. This building was originally the School of Arts and was opened in 1866. The first meeting of the Camden Municipal Council was held here in 1889. It is now the Camden Public Library. The Camden Museum is open Thursday to Sunday 11.00 am - 4.00 pm. It contains local memorabilia including Aboriginal artefacts, historic clothes, photographs, household implements, uniforms, musical instruments, booklets, maps, furniture, coins, guns and badges. If you want more detailed information check out http://www.camdenhistory.org.au or tel: (02) 4655 3400. The website has a video which can be downloaded.

2. Court House, 31 John Street - In 1841 the local Court House was transferred from Cawdor to Camden and this piece of land was provided by the Macarthurs. Initially a lock up was built and it was extended in 1857 when this Court House and cells were completed.

3. Camden Police Station, 35 John Street - The town's police barracks and wooden house for the Chief Constable were built in 1878. Both were built on land that was provided by the Macarthurs who donated £100 towards costs. Prior to this building a much simpler Chief Constable's house and a wooden lock-up had occupied the site.

4. Macaria, 37 John Street - The two-storey brick cottage 'Macaria' is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. It is characterised by stone trim, high chimneys, gabled windows and wooden fretwork on the verandas. It was built, probably in the late 1840s, for Henry Thompson who had built the first flour mill in the town. At various times Macaria has been a grammar school and a doctor's surgery. Today it is the Camden Council Administration Building.

5. Camden Cottage - Located at 39 John Street this small Georgian residence was built by Henry Thompson and dates from the 1840s. It is thought to be the first home built in Camden and was once occupied by Captain William Larkin, the local mayor.

6. National Australia Bank - Located on the corner of John Street and Argyle Street is the Victorian Classical Revival NAB Bank building which opened in 1878. The intricate wrought-iron work on the balconies is original as are the medallions of Queen Victoria on the gates.

10. Macarthur Park - Located at the corner of Menangle Road and Park Street, Macarthur Park was opened on 10 October, 1906. It is Camden's finest and most historic reserve and was donated by Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow, the grand-daughter of John Macarthur. It is noted for its beautiful gardens, sheltered picnic tables and amenities. The "shelter" was erected in 1913 as a memorial to Elizabeth Macarthur-Onslow. She had donated 6 acres to the people of Camden in 1905 on condition that they be used for parkland, that no entry fee be charged, that no business be conducted on the land and that the timber be preserved. Some of the ironbarks are thought to be 600 years old. The palm trees at the vehicle entrance were planted in 1906 and the palm trees at the southern end of the park were planted after World War I by returned soldiers. The rose garden was laid out in 1964 and planted in 1965 and the W.H. Anderson Memorial Drinking Fountain was moved to the park in 1937 from the main street. It has a drinking trough for dogs at its base.

11 & 12. St John's Church and Rectory - Located at 6 and 10 Menangle Road, St John's Church (1840-1849) and Rectory (1859) were both built on land chosen by John Macarthur and donated for the construction of the church. The Macarthur family also provided the ironbark for the ceiling and contributed to the overall cost. Recognised as an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture its design has been attributed to a number of architects including Mortimer Lewis and Edmund Blacket. It has a 38 metre high spire, was made of 386,000 red sandstock bricks, and was consecrated on 7 June, 1849. There is a a stone-flagged floor, some beautiful Gothic stone tracery in the windows and an unusual ceiling. The clock was added in 1897. Many early settlers are buried in the cemetery which has a fine entrance gate. The rectory was added in 1859.

15. Argyle Inn - Located at 75 Argyle Street it was built around 1840 with the second storey being added in 1885. It was, for many years, known as the Plough and Harrow Inn.

22. Nepean House - Located at 1 Mitchell Street this a lovely old building dates back to c.1857 and is notable for the decorative carved wooden barge boards on the gables and the distinctive roof gables.

25. Bransby's Cottage - Located at 17 Mitchell Street and known as Taplin's Cottage this may be the oldest building in Camden. It was built around 1842-1843 and was occupied by Dr George Bransby who was the local magistrate between 1848-1852. It is a well preserved example of a modest Georgian cottage.

26. Edithville - Located at 18 Mitchell Street this handsome building was completed in 1899 and became a community hospital briefly from 1899-1902.

27. St Paul's Catholic Church - Located on the corner of John and Mitchell Streets this Gothic Revival structure of brick with stone dressings was designed by William Munro and built on land donated by James and William Macarthur. The foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Polding in 1859.

Camden Rotary Club Mural
Located on the corner of Menangle Road and the Old Hume Highway is an unusual memorial/mural which commemorates the role European pioneers have played in the history of the district although it does acknowledge the Aboriginal occupation of the area prior to the arrival of Europeans. Mounted on 200 tonnes of stone taken from an old church in Burragorang Valley before it was flooded by the Warragamba Dam, it is 3.5 metres high and 11 metres long and divided into five panels.

The Monument Australia website notes: "It is divided into five panels. The first on the left, surmounted by a rotary wheel, depicts Aboriginal hunting and wheat and mining industries. The second panel is a ram's head and shepherd's crook with the date 1797. The centre panel consists of sheep, wool shed, bales of wool, and sailing ship surmounted by the Camden coat of arms and the date 1795. The fourth panel is a bunch of grapes, shovel and brush hook and the date 1805, when the local wine industry began. The fifth panel depicts grape growing, orcharding, sheep, agriculture, milk industry and wine industry, surmounted by Macarthur`s coat of arms." Check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/landscape/settlement/display/20662-camden-pioneer-mural for more details.

Camden Park House
Camden Park House is probably the most important house in the history of Australian agriculture. It was from here that John Macarthur developed his ideas about grazing merino sheep and subsequently started the Australian sheep industry.

The original 5,000-acre Camden Park was granted to John Macarthur in 1805 by the British Colonial Secretary Lord Camden. The descendants of Macarthur have lived continuously at Camden Park. This gracious country mansion was commissioned by John Macarthur and designed by the important Colonial Architect, John Verge (1832-35). The two-storey house is built of stuccoed sandstock bricks and flanked by single-storey pavilions. It possesses a grand colonnade veranda and sandstone portico. It is a superb time capsule with floor-to-ceiling cedar book shelves filled with ancient volumes, a dusty wine cellar, impossibly high ceilings, heavy Victorian furniture, portraits of members of the family on the walls and, yet, for all this antiquity, it is a lived-in house where the family watch TV, eat their meals and go about their daily lives. There is a large brick stable and, on a nearby hill, the family mausoleum where John and Elizabeth Macarthur are buried. There is a graciousness and elegance about the house and – the opening times are no accident - the wisteria at the front is in full bloom in spring. William Macarthur (1800-1882) was a passionate gardener and today Camden Park can boast the largest nineteenth century garden in New South Wales. Check http://www.camdenparkhouse.com.au for opening times and additional details. It is open two days a year in September. All money raised contributes to the ongoing conservation of the property. The house can be accessed as follows: leave the Hume Highway and head towards Narellan on Narellan Road, turn left onto the Camden By-Pass, continue over Macarthur Bridge, turn left into Elizabeth Macarthur Drive and follow the signs.

The history of the site dates back to the earliest years of European settlement. The first residence on the site was a simple slab and bark hut used by Mrs Macarthur during her husband's extended exile in Britain. The site is now marked by a stone cairn. It was replaced by Belgenny Farm House (1821), a humble timber cottage which served the couple until Macarthur's death. This house and the related outbuildings form the oldest group of farm structures in Australia. It was here that Australia's wool industry started.

By the 1840s Camden Park Estate was home to an estimated 800 people. The bell on the brick cairn was rung to signal time to the employees. There is a blacksmith's shop with original bellows and forge, an interesting octagonal shed and a row of workmen's cottages. In the remnants of the estate's orchard is Australia's oldest-surviving apple tree, a Gravenstein planted in 1837 by William Macarthur, along with some English magnolias. Also on the property is Australia's oldest oak tree grown from an acorn given to John Macarthur at Buckingham Palace. A brass plaque on the property marks the spot where Governor Macquarie and his wife camped in 1810 when they first visited the district.

The Importance of John Macarthur and Camden Park
John Macarthur was baptised in Stoke Dameral near Plymouth on 3 September, 1767. He was the son of a successful mercer and draper. By 1788 he was an ensign with the 68th Regiment stationed at Gibraltar. Then his luck changed and on 5 June, 1789 he became a lieutenant with the New South Wales Corps and, with his wife Elizabeth and son Edward, he sailed for Botany Bay. The family reached Sydney Town on 28 June, 1790. By 1793 he had been granted 100 acres (40 ha) of the best land at Parramatta. He called the property Elizabeth Farm. Rapidly, and with the help of free convict labour, he cleared 50 acres of virgin land and was granted another 100 acres. Very quickly he became one of the colonies most successful landowners providing the settlement at Sydney Cove with produce from his farm. By 1801 he had so alienated two governors (Hunter and King) and was involved in so many disputes that he was arrested and sent to England to be court marshalled. Ever the entrepreneur, Macarthur used his journey to England to further his agricultural interests. He carried fleeces from his own sheep which, in 1803, were deemed to be "of a very superior quality, equal to the best which comes from Spain." He resigned from the Army and returned to Australia to develop a local wool industry. He was granted 5,000 acres (2024 ha) of the best pasture land at Camden with another 5,000 acres being offered if the sheep and wool project was a success. He reached Sydney Town on 8 June, 1805 and by 1806, with the help of 34 convicts, he was settled on the rich lands known as the Cowpastures. By 1809-1810 he had returned to England where, amongst a bewildering array of entrepreneurial projects, he carefully investigated the potential of wool from Australia. He finally returned to New South Wales in 1817 and almost immediately his sheep and wool interests started to make him a very rich man. By 1819 he had 6,000 sheep, had sold 48 rams at an average of £14 a head and had 300 pure merinos. His vision of the colony of New South Wales was "an extensive wool-exporting country controlled by men of real capital, with 'estates of at least 10,000 acres (4047 ha) each' who would maintain transported convicts as their labour force and keep them landless and 'in proper subjection'. A colonial aristocracy would thus provide a necessary bulwark to the 'furious democrats' and their corroding influences."

"Swiftly upon the official approval ... came the sale of Camden fine wool in England for an unprecedented 124 pence a pound ... In 1822 the Society of Arts in London presented Macarthur with two gold medals, one for importing 15,000 lbs. (6804 kg) of fine wool from New South Wales, the other for importing fine wool equal to the best Saxon; in 1824 a larger medal was awarded for importing the largest quantity of fine wool. Amidst these tokens of success Macarthur successfully pressed his claim, confirmed in 1822, to the supplementary 5,000 acres (2024 ha) that he had been promised in 1804. They were also taken up in the Cowpastures. By the end of the decade Camden Park was 'the first agricultural establishment in the Colony', incorporating over 60,000 acres (24,281 ha) acquired by grant and purchase." Macarthur died and was buried at Camden Park in 1834. For a more detailed account of Macarthur's life check out http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macarthur-john-2390. The quotes above come from that source.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Mt Annan Botanic Garden
Mt Annan Botanic Garden is Australia's largest botanic garden and, according to its brochure, "the most popular tourist and recreation facility in south-western Sydney". Within its 416 ha there are over 20 km of walking trails, a loop road, two ornamental lakes with lakeside picnic areas, the Bowden education centre, a nursery and arboretum, an abundance of birdlife and most of Australia's known native plant species (the Park Trustees dream of having all 25,000 species) including a good collection of young Wollemi Pines. The flora is featured in a variety of settings - a terrace garden, a wattle garden, a banksia garden and a mallee eucalypt arboretum. There are also woodland and lakeside plant communities. From Mount Annan it is possible to see Campbelltown, the Sydney skyline and, to the south-west, the Menangle district and the Razorback Range. The Sundial of Human Involvement, a sculpture made of basalt columns which allows you to tell the time by raising your hands in the air, has particular appeal for children. There are picnic facilities and bike tracks. The gardens are open from 10.00 am - 5.00 pm and there are daily tours - tel: (02) 4634 7935. For more information check out http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome/australian_botanic_garden which has details of entrance fees and a good map.

Gledswood
Located at 900 Camden Valley Way, Catherine Field is the historic property of Gledswood. The land was granted to James Chisholm in 1829 and the family became pioneers in the wool industry. It has been transformed into a wedding and conference venue. However it is possible to have a tour of the convict-built stone rubble homestead (c.1830) and enjoy a day of farm activities including sheep shearing and boomerang throwing. The elegant home has multi-paned French windows, four-panel doors, beautiful gardens and a separate kitchen. The decorative porches and veranda were added in the 1870s. A winery has been established in the old coach house and it operates as a cellar door, tel: (02) 9606 5111 or check out http://www.gledswood.com.au.

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History

* Prior to European occupation the district was inhabited by the Tharawal Aborigines. There is evidence that the bitter conflict between European settlers and the Tharawal resulted in the arrival of the Gundangarra people in the district. They called it 'Benkennie', meaning dry land.

* In 1788, just four months after the arrival of the First Fleet, seven of the eight cows on the Government Farm at Farm Cove, disappeared. They were finally sighted in 1795 on the western side of the Nepean and by that time the herd had increased to over 40. They were grazing on an area that became known as 'Cow Pasture Plains' which is where Camden now stands.

* The Burragorang Valley and the area around Camden was first explored by the Frenchman, Francis Barrallier, in 1802-03.

* Between 1802-1804 the botanist George Caley travelled through the area and sighted the first lyrebird.

* In 1803 Governor King, accompanied by his wife, explored the area. King's wife became the first white woman to cross the Nepean River.

* A hut, used to store meat and later used by the first police in the area, was established near present-day Camden in 1803 or 1804.

* By 1806, seeing the rich agricultural potential of the area, John Macarthur and Walter Davidson has taken up land west of the Nepean.

* Around 1810 Governor Macquarie began issuing the land around the Cowpastures in large grants. John Oxley received two properties which he named Kirkham and Elderslie. These large estates evolved into villages.

* In 1813 Governor Macquarie established three cattle stations on the Cowpastures. One was located at Cawdor and another on the future site of The Oaks.

* In 1816, Governor Macquarie sent troops to "control" the Aborigines in the area who were attacking the local farmers and taking food from the land. This led to the massacre at Appin.

* In 1817 Governor Macquarie returned, climbed Mount Hunter and named the district Cowpasture Plains. David Collins described the area as: "remarkably pleasant to the eye; every where the foot trod on thick and luxuriant grass; the trees were thinly scattered ... several beautiful flats presented large ponds, covered with ducks and the black swan, the margins of which were fringed with shrubs of the most delightful tints, and the ground rose from these levels into hills of easy ascent."

* In 1820 Macarthur travelled to the vineyards of France and when he returned to Australia he established a commercial vineyard at Camden Estate.

* By 1826 the properties opened to control the cattle on the Cowpastures were all closed down. This year saw the establishment of a toll bridge across the Nepean River.

* In 1829 the Camden Estate vineyard yielded 90,000 litres of wine.

* In 1832 the first brandy made in Australia was produced at Camden Park Estate.

* The Surveyor-General, Major Thomas Mitchell, chose a site on the western side of the Nepean River and the first 100 half-acre blocks were sold in 1840. There was provision made for a church and a hotel.

* In 1841 the court and other public functions were transferred from Cawdor to Camden. The Post Office also opened this year although there had been a postal service in the town as early as 1836.

* The first hotel, the Camden Inn, was licensed on 21 June, 1842.

* Camden's first public school opened in 1851. The town's population reached 342 that year.

* In 1861 Camden Park won a gold medal for its wine at the Paris Exhibition.

* The town's population increased to 505 in 1881.

* The railway reached the town in 1882.

* In 1889 a municipal council was established.

* Camden was seen as a satellite city of Sydney in the Three Cities Structure Plan of the 1970s.

* The population increased from 3,427 in 1966 to 22,473 in 1991.

* In 2014 the population was 68,000 and predicted to grow to 212,600 by 2036.

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Visitor Information

Camden Visitor Information Centre, John Oxley Cottage, Camden Valley Way, Elderslie, tel: (02) 4658 1370.

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Useful Websites

The Camden Museum site - www.camdenhistory.org.au - has useful information about the museum and local history. The general council website for the area is http://www.camden.nsw.gov.au.

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