The Cowpasture convicts

The story of the Cowpasture convicts

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?

Camden Cowpasture Reserve Spring Flowers 2018
The Camden Rotary Cowpasture Reserve was opened on 19 February 1995 by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair Governor of New South Wales. The reserve is located at Lat: -34.053751 and Long: 150.701171. and the address is 10 Argyle Street Camden. The reserve is located on an original land grant with the boundaries of Camden Park Estate from the early 19th century which was part of the Macarthur family colonial pastoral empire. Camden Park Estate was a central part of the Cowpastures district. (I Willis)


The convicts that ended up the in Cowpastures district were part of the 160,000 who were transported to the Australian colonies from England, Wales, Ireland and the British colonies.

Convicts were usually employed in a number of ways by the colonial authorities: assignment; government work gangs; Tickets of Leave; Conditional Pardon; and an Absolute Pardon with complete freedom to do as they wished including returning to Britain.

Generally speaking most convict women could be classified as domestic servants, while male convicts had a host of skills with town trades dominating over rural workers.

The literacy rates and skills of convicts were the same or better than the English and Irish working classes.

Map Cowpastures SMH 1935
This is a map of the Cowpastures published in the Interwar period when then was increased increase in the story of the cattle, John Macarthur and Camden Park Estate. Map of Cowpastures (SMH 13 August 1932)


The best short reference of the convicts in the Cowpastures is Ken Williams’ 1824 Cawdor Bench of Magistrates Population, Land and Stock Book (2011), where he lists the names and masters. Williams indicates that in the Cowpasture in 1824 there were 430 convicts and of them 15 were women, who were listed as domestic servants.

Elizabeth Villy indicates that the stock books indicates 29 landholders, who were mostly absentee landlords. ( Elizabeth Villy, The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930, Rosenberg, Dural, 2011)

The Old Razorback Road Elizabeth Villy Cover
The cover for Elizabeth Villy’s The Old Razorback Road, Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830 and 1930.


To read more about these convicts click here

A country fire station

Camden Fire Station

The Camden Fire Station was opened in 1917 at 38 John Street Camden. The building was formerly the Camden Temperance Hall.

Entrance Museum Fire Station Library Complex 2008 lowres
The entrance to the former fire station at 38 John Street, now part of the Camden Museum Library Complex. The station was the former Temperance Hall built in the late 1800s. This station replaced an older fire station in Hill Street. This image was taken in 2008 after the re-adaptation of the site. (I Willis)


The brigade moved into the new premises after the NSW Fire Brigade purchased the land and buildings of the old Temperance Hall for  £350, and spent another £339 on improvements. (Camden News, 25 January 1917)

The opening of the new fire station in 1917 was a big event. It took place on 24 January 1917 at  5 pm. when Mr. E.H. Farrer President of the Fire Board and three board members officially opened the new station. (Camden News, 25 January 1917)

The local press reported that Mr Farrer stated:

This building in comparison with the old one was as a palace to a pig-stye, and he recognised that every consideration should be given to the fire fighters, and was certain the new structure would mean much to them in their training. (Camden News, 25 January 1917)
The Mayor of Camden, Aid. G. F. Furner, expressed pleasure at meeting the Board -in .Camden once more, and to see the work recently completed. It only seemed a few months since the council had met the Board in this same building, as it was then, when it was pointed out that with suitable alterations the old hall would mean all requirements. The council and the people of Camden, were he was sure, pleased to see that the Board had carried out the suggestion.
We have now an up to date Fire Station, but he hoped it would be a long time before its use would be required, but it was a grand thing to be prepared. He spoke feelingly in reference to tho local brigade, and congratulated Captain Peters 011 the efficiency of the men under his charge, men, he said, who always have taken a keen interest in their work. Captain Peters’ had been in charge of the brigade many years now and had always shown that keen interest in it which proved it to be a labor of love.  (Camden News, 25 January 1917)

The Camden Fire Brigade was formed up in 1900 and was housed in a shed in Elizabeth Street.  The original brigade was formed up on military lines with officers holding rank and had 10 volunteers.

The brigade moved to premises in Hill Street in 1902 provided by produce merchant and general store owner CT Whiteman at a monthly rental of 1/-.  A shed was built for the station at a cost of £38/16/6.

New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB), created in 1910, is the State Government agency responsible for the provision of fire, rescue and hazmat services in cities and towns across New South Wales.

In the 1920s and 1930s the brigade was called out to between 1-5 fires each year, which increased in the 1950s to around 30 per year and in last decade between 200-400 calls.

During the Second World War the siren at the station was used as town’s air raid siren when practice blackouts were held throughout the town.

The fire brigade moved to new premises in Elderslie in 1993.

A country court house

Camden Court House

History and Description

Camden Court House is built on land set aside for this purpose by James and William Macarthur at the time the town allotment plans were laid down. The brothers also offered £100 towards the cost of building.

Camden Court House 1991 CWTimes Camden Images
Camden Court House is located at 33 John Street Camden. It an important part of the John Street Historic Precinct in central Camden. The court house is not as grand as larger buildings on the New South Wales goldfields where the size of the building represented the authority of law and order. This image was taken in 1991 when the court still held hearings of the Local Court. (CW Times)


The first buildings on this site were a timber lock-up and Chief Constable’s residence. The present building was commenced in 1855 and completed in 1857 with cells underneath and at the rear. The building was designed during William Weaver’s term as Government Architect. A new lock-up was built to replace the old one between 1859-61.


A Court of Petty Sessions at Camden was established by Proclamation on 20 July 1841 after lengthy opposition from both Campbelltown and Picton who were requesting that the Cawdor Court be removed either to Campbelltown or Picton. Until that date the Court was still at Cawdor. (


The first Clerk of the Bench in the area was James Pearson who was Clerk at Cawdor until his death on 13 July 1841. John Downes Wood, a nephew of Charles Cowper was appointed the first Clerk of Petty Sessions for Camden by Government Proclamation on 23 September 1841. When the new courthouse was completed the Clerk of the Bench was J.B. Martin, who retained this position for 35 years. (

Building description

Camden Court House is a small Italianate court building with a temple front loggia with three arches. It is a painted ashlar building with painted chimneys and a gable shingled roof. There is a circular window on the front facade, and twelve pane and two pane double hung windows on the side facades. The entrance door is a six panelled timber door. The cells were constructed underneath and at the rear. (NSW SHI)

Condition and Use

Camden Court House building is in good condition. (NSW SHI)

In 2013 the NSW Government spent $200,000 on refurbishment of Camden court house. (Camden Narellan Advertiser, 25 September 2013)

Heritage Significance

The courthouse has been closed in 2014  and is part of the John Street historic precinct.

Camden courthouse, like its neighbouring police station, is of little value alone. Its value lies in its relationship to the other important buildings. It is probably the work of colonial architect Alexander Dawson. (Australian Heritage Database)

Heritage Listing

Local Environment Plan                       Item  43

Australian Heritage Commission        Australian Heritage Database  ID 3230

Read more

Iliana Stillitano, ‘Court shut down’, Camden Narellan Advertiser, 1 July 2014

A police barracks in a country town

Camden Police Station and Residence

History and Description

Camden Police Station is a single storey brick building typical of many official police buildings of the last quarter of the nineteenth century and is located at 35 John Street, Camden.

Camden Police Station 1997 J Kooyman Camden Images
The is a view of Camden Police Station and Residence at 35 John Street Camden. This image was taken in 1997 by photographer John Kooyman when the station was still in use by the NSW Police Service. The station was the centre of a Police District that stretched out to the Burragorang Valley in the west of the area before Warragamba Dam was opened in 1960. (Camden Images)


Before the John Street building was constructed police used a timber lock-up and adjoining residence (c.1844). (

The police barracks was built in 1878 and probably the work of the Colonial Architect James Barnet. It was originally built in 1879 as two adjacent police cottages.

Historical sources consider that the Police Sergeant lived in the west end of the building and the constable lived in the east end. The mounted constable boarded elsewhere. The police horse was kept in the non-presbyterian church area (1925-1950’s). Wooden posts tethered the horse.  (NSW SHI)

Camden Police Station has a corrugated iron hipped roof and brick chimneys. The building has a paved verandah with carved timber posts and brackets. It has a four panelled timber entrance door with a highlight window and eight pane double hung windows with sandstone sills. The front façade is symmetrically designed with two projecting wings and a central recessed verandah. It is sited adjacent to the courthouse. (NSW SHI)

Condition and Use

These police barracks were constructed in face brickwork and the original picket fence along footpath has been removed. The building has been restored and modernised to facilitate its continuing use as a Police Station.

There was alterations and additions in 1972  and 1980. (NSW SHI)

The barracks are a good example of the police buildings for that period. The verandah was once enclosed but has been fully restored in recent times.

The building is no longer used as a Police Station since the new Local Area Command Police Station was opened at Narellan on Friday 12 August 2011. (

Heritage Significance

The building retains good integrity and intactness (NSW SHI) and is representative of the style of official or important early buildings in the town. The building’s value lies in its relationship to the other important buildings in the John Street Group. (Australian Heritage Database)

Heritage Listing

Local Environment Plan   2010     Item  44

 Read more

Phillip Haylock, The Very Sociable Policeman, Camden History, Volume 3 No 7 March 2014, pp. 256-258,

Charlotte Hemans, ‘Policing Camden in the early years, Camden Police Station, 1805-1878’, Camden History, Vol 2, No 8, September 2009, pp. 305-312

The District Reporter, 6 March 2017

Camden’s Victorian banking building

Commercial Banking Coy of Sydney

This magnificent 19th century Victorian banking building is located on the main intersection in the Camden town centre. It is a handsome building with an interesting past.

Camden CBC Bank 1910 CIPP
The Commercial Banking Coy of Sydney building in central Camden is an imposing Victorian structure. It lords it over the surrounding intersection and other buildings in the town centre. This image from 1910 illustrates that the horse and buggy was an important mode of transport at the time even as the bank building fronted the Main South Road which passed along Argyle Street. The Main South Road was the main thoroughfare to Goulburn and beyond to the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. The images shows the Anderson fountain in the foreground. (Camden Images)


The Camden Commercial Banking Company of Sydney at 125 Argyle Street was built in the late 1870s. The imposing late Victorian Italianate style building was representative of the banking business in the 1870s.

Building Description

The building has a hipped shingle roof with a tiled ridge-cap and painted chimneys. The entrance door is a timber framed glass sliding door with a highlight window and arched two pane double hung windows. There are french doors to the first floor verandah and the building has Australian Red Cedar throughout the interior.

It was built in 1877-78 to the design of G.A. Mansfield, who did much of the CBC’s architectural work at that time. The contractor was C. Furner of Camden. A one storey extension added 1972-73 by Architects Laurie and Heath, sympathetically following the style and detail of the original building. (State Heritage Inventory)

The building is a fine example of the late Victorian Bank buildings to be found in country towns of New South Wales. It has a fine stone entrance porch to the main elevation and a cast iron balustraded verandah and balcony to its two storeys. The wisteria vine which climbs over the verandah is considered part of the Bank’s aesthetic contribution. (SHI)

The entrance doors have been converted to automatic sliding doors. Airconditioners have been installed. (National Estate Database)

Condition and Use

The building is in good condition. The building is currently occupied by the NAB, and other small businesses. (SHI)

Heritage Significance

An important and noticeable building in a key position on the corner of Camden’s two main streets. It continues to be used for its original purpose and well kept over the years. The building is representative of a Victorian Italianate building. It is part of the John Street Group. (SHI) The bank retains good integrity and intactness. (SHI)

Heritage Listing

LEP 2010 item no 112.


Opening of Camden District Hospital


The new Camden District Hospital was opened in 1902 on Windmill Hill by the NSW Premier Sir John See in front of a large crowd of local folk.

Camden Hospital and Nurses Qtrs aftr 1928 CIPP
Camden District Hospital around 1930 in Menangle Road Camden. The nurses quarters built in 1928 are on the right hand side of image. The original hospital building has an additional floor constructed in 1916. The first matron of the Camden District Hospital was Josephine Hubbard assisted by Nurse Nelson with Senior Probationary Nurse Mary McNee. The medical officers were Dr West and Dr B Foulds. The hospital was administered by all male board.


The new hospital had 12 patient beds, 2 nurses bedrooms, a maid’s room, an operating theatre, a separate cottage serving as an infectious disease ward, lighting provided by acetylene gas and pan toilets.

The new hospital was designed by Sydney architect HC Kent, who also designed Carrington Hospital.

The new health facility replaced the original 12 bed Camden Cottage Hospital that was opened in 1899 in the two storey house known as ‘Edithville’ in Mitchell Street.

The Camden community had originally moved to support the opening of a cottage hospital in the 1890s after an outbreak of scarlet fever in the local area.

A country store and a retail legacy

The wonderful Victorian colonial building that was once the Whiteman’s General Store has had a new lease of life through the Burra Charter principle of adaptive re-use. There are has been a continuous retail shopping presence on the same site for over 135 years.

While the building has also had new work and restoration it is a good  example of how a building can be adaptively re-used for commercial activities without destroying the integrity of the buildings historic character and charm.

Camden Whitemans Store 1923 CIPP
It was a different world of shopping when the Whiteman’s General Store operated in Camden NSW in 1923 (Camden Images)


In 1878 CT (Charles Thomas) Whiteman, who operated a family business in Sydney, brought produce to Camden. He purchased a single storey home at the corner of Argyle and Oxley Street and ran his store from the site. (SHI)  CT Whiteman moved to premises in Argyle Street in 1889.

CT Whiteman was previously a storekeeper in Goulburn and Newtown and later married local Camden girl Anne Bensley in 1872. Whiteman, was a staunch Methodist, and  was an important public figure in Camden and served as the town’s first mayor from 1892 to 1894.

Learn more click here

A gothic picturesque style gentleman’s country town residence

Dr West’s Residence


The house was originally built by merchant H (Henry) Thompson in 1860 after he  purchased the land off Sarah Tiffin in 1854. The house reflected Thompson’s social and economic status and authority in the small market town of Camden.

Camden Macaria Dr West Surgery OV Coleman Postcard No 158 c1905 CIPP
Camden’s town residence of Dr West in John Street Camden. This postcard is one in a series of the Camden area sold by general merchant OV Coleman in Camden. This one of Macaria is No 158 in a series of over 100. It dates from around 1905. The impressive gentleman’s town house was originally built by Camden merchant Henry Thompson in 1959-1860. The building is now an art gallery housing the Alan Baker Art Collection. (OV Coleman/Camden Images)


Henry Thompson lived in Macaria until 1870 with his large family of 16 children.  Thompson built “Macaria” in 1859-60 as a school for teacher William Gordon, who was under his patronage, as Thompson had several school-age sons.

The school failed to eventuate and Gordon moved from Camden to the rural property of “Macquarie Grove” downstream from the town on the Nepean River.

H Thompson and his brother Samuel came to Camden as independent investors, setting up a general store and steam flour mill next to one another. Times favoured their business ventures and they prospered as the middlemen for the local farmers.

The next two owners of “Macaria” were the Milfords, father then daughter. It later became the Camden Grammar School and was occupied by a series of doctors including Dr West.  The building was eventually was bought by Camden Council and used as offices for the Mayor and Town Clerk. The building recently underwent adaptive re-use and was converted to an art gallery.

Macaria has gabled windows, high chimneys, and stone trims with wooden porch and verandah.  Sydney architect Clive Lucas maintains that Macaria is one of the finest picturesque Gothic town houses in Australia.

Learn more about Macaria and the Alan Baker Art Collection Click here

A country town gasworks

The Camden gasworks was an essential service to the country for most of the 20th century. Today the toxic chemical remains on the site have proved to be a major health hazard.

The Camden News reported in early 1912:

Mr Murray the gasworks manager reported that construction at the gasworks had been completed, the retort had been lit and he anticipated full supply by the end of the month. (Camden News, 4 January 1912)


Camden Gasworks 1900s CIPP
The Camden Gasworks provided a much needed essential service in the early 20th century in the country town of Camden. This image shows the Camden gasworks around 1910s with the manager, Mr Murray. The gasworks were located in Elizabeth Street in the Camden town centre. Today the toxic chemicals on the former gasworks site have proved a hazard to health. These chemicals forced the relocation of Camden High School which was adjacent to the site from the 1950s. (Camden Images)


During 1912 the Camden News reported

Throughout 1912 there an ongoing dispute between Mr Alexander, the managing director of the Camden Gas Company, and Camden Municipal Council over damage to Argyle Street while laying gas pipes and who was going to pay for it. (Camden News, 12 September 1912)

A country store

The Whiteman family conducted a general store in Argyle Street in Camden NSW on the same site for over 100 years.

Camden Whitemans General Store 86-100 Argyle St. 1900s. CIPP[1]
A genuine country store in Camden NSW run by the same family for over 100 years. The Whiteman family were Camden retailers who ran the general store at 86-100 Argyle Street Camden. This image shows the dapper male shop assistants outside store front in 1900. Female shop assistants were rare at this time in country stores. (Camden Images Past and Present)
In 1878 Charles Thomas Whiteman, who operated a family business in Sydney bringing produce to Camden, bought a single storey home at the corner of Argyle and Oxley Street and ran his store from the site. (SHI)

In 1878 a fire destroyed the business.

CT Whiteman was previously a storekeeper in Goulburn and Newtown and later married local Camden girl Anne Bensley in 1872. Whiteman, was a staunch Methodist, and was an important public figure in Camden and served as the town’s first mayor from 1892 to 1894.

CT Whiteman moving to premises in Argyle Street in 1889 occupied by ironmonger J.Burret and Whiteman modified the building for a shopfront conversion. (SHI) The store was leased to Woodhill family from 1903 to 1906.

The original Argyle Street building was an early timber verandahed Victorian and Federation period store. It was a two storey rendered masonry building with hipped tile roof, projecting brick chimneys.

The second storey had painted timber framed windows which were shaded by a steeply pitched tile roof awning supported on painted timber brackets.(SHI)