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Camden Park House, designed by John Verge for John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1834-1835.

On the trail of the Macarthur Family
Part 2 – “A small miserable hut”, Belgenny Farm, Camden Park Estate, Camden.
     

Along the route to the findings from the test-excavation, we had to overcome a few false assumptions. Most people would think that a "bark hut" was a temporary structure. But, if you look carefully at the Conrad Martens watercolour, it has a bark roof and what appear to be slab walls. This is supported by the archaeological evidence for a wall slot for horizontal timber foundations, indicating a timber framed structure. This type of structure can be permanent, providing it is well maintained and the roof kept waterproof.

 

Another assumption we had to overcome was the belief that a wealthy landholder would not stoop so low as to live in a bark hut. But the evidence points to a progression of houses at Camden Park, from the early "small miserable hut" (by 1810), to the cottage at Belgenny or the Home Farm (by 1821), then finally the grand country house of Camden Park House (1834-1835). We need to realise first that the bark hut was a substantial slab cottage and secondly that all wise landholders would only expend what was necessary on a house until they could afford better from the profits of their enterprise. Macarthur was no different and we should remember that he was only at an early stage of making his fortune in 1810. Greater wealth and grandeur came later.

 

The example provided by John and Elizabeth Macarthur was summarised by advice given by James Atkinson in his book, "An Account of the State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales", published in 1826:

 

"The time and expense bestowed upon setting up the requisite buildings, are among the greatest drawbacks upon the success of the new Settler; and on this point the best advice that can be offered to him is, to proceed with extreme caution, and to build nothing that he does not feel to be absolutely and indispensably necessary….The capital that would be required to build a good house and offices at the first commencement  of a Settler's career, if invested in live stock, and employed in the cultivation and improvement of his land, would soon afford him the means of erecting those buildings out of the mere proceeds; whereas if sunk and expended in this way at first, unless his funds are large, he will stand the chance of wanting the means of supporting himself in it.
 
Many persons on first taking possession of a grant of land, content themselves with the shelter afforded by a bark hut, while they put in their first crops, or carry on their first and most important operations;…it is certainly a prudent step for every one, as early as possible, to construct himself a decent dwelling; taking care, however, always to bear in mind, that in such a building, grandeur and ornament must be kept out of sight; and that comfort and convenience are the only requisites to be studied." (James Atkinson. 1826. "An Account of the State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales". Facsimile edition. 1975. Sydney University Press. p. 94-95).

 

John and Elizabeth Macarthur could afford a little "grandeur and ornament" by the time John Verge built Camden Park House for them in 1834-1835.

 

For many who came from the British Isles, the dream was to become a country gentleman on an estate with a country house. The many colonial houses on the western fringes of Sydney (Cumberland Plain) attest to the success of many in achieving this goal.

 
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