The following is an extract from 'A History of Camden' by John Wrigley OAM.

The First Australians
It is to our regret that little record exists of the people who inhabited this area before the arrival of the white man. They did not have a written language and the very early white settlers had little contact with them. There is little doubt that the Camden area was used extensively by the aborigines as a hunting area. They called the area Benkennie meaning the dry land.

Camden sits at the intersection of three tribal boundaries. The people of the Camden town location, the western Cowpastures and the adjoining mountainous areas were Gundungurra. The eastern Cowpastures were Tharawal, and the people to the northeast of the Nepean River were Dharug.
Europeans admired the people of this area. Lieutenant Collins described how, at a tribal meeting 1824 'the men from the Cowpastures were the most remarkable. They were rather short, stocky, strong and superbly built. The painting on their bodies, resembling some kinds of coats of mail, added even more to their martial attitude...'

The people of the Camden district were reluctant to tell the white man about their customs. From archaeology and information given by other tribes of the Cumberland Plain and by their descendants, we think that they hunted kangaroos and possums on the grasslands and in the forests. They camped by the rivers to fish and to catch eels and water birds. They harvested seasonal fruits and vegetables, especially yams which grew in big yam beds by the rivers and creeks.

  Display of Aboriginal Artifacts at Camden Museum
1840s sketch depicting the Cowpastures
People lived in extended family groups of about twenty five members. They met regularly with other bands and with neighbouring tribes to feast, celebrate and perform religious observances. They also traded a local valuable white pipe clay, which was widely used to decorate bodies and tools.
The Gundungurra dialect was spoken in all the country between Burragorang and Picton, and as far as Goulburn, Crookwell and Yass. The Dharug dialect, very closely resembling the Gundungurra, was spoken at Campbelltown, Liverpool, Camden, Penrith and possibly as far east as Sydney. The Gundungurra and Dharug natives could converse together but with difficulty.

Another tribe or perhaps sub-group of aborigines in the Camden or Cowpasture area was called the Cubbitch Bartha, the name coming from words for the white pipe clay. Because the Camden area has few rock outcrops, it is to the surrounding bushland areas of Hawkesbury Sandstone that we must look for the rock engravings and cave paintings that the aborigines have left as their marks. Burragorang Valley and the area between Campbelltown and the coast have scattered aboriginal relics.

Although many Aboriginal people died of European diseases, the first few years of white presence were peaceful, with friendly meetings between Aboriginal people and visitors to their lands. But after 1812 Governor Macquarie began to grant large tracts of land in the Camden district to farmers. They threw fences across the land, and built over yam beds and kangaroo feeding grounds and it became clear that the visitors were not going to leave. Early records tell of Macarthur's shepherds and their wives being killed by aborigines.. These deaths must be seen against a background of what the impact of the white man's coming would have meant to the original residents. With the reduction in the numbers of kangaroos in the area it was only natural that the aborigines would look to other sources of food, and this of course brought them into direct conflict with white pioneers.

Samuel Hassall described one such incident. In March 1816 a large group of hostile Gundungurra attacked three of Macarthur's servants. They then withdrew to high ground, pursued by about 40 armed settlers who were guided by a 'small company of friendly natives'. From their vantage point, the raiding party rained spears and stones down upon their pursuers. The 'friendly natives' led by the Tharawal man Budbury, attempted to mediate between them but they 'would not adhere to what he said and immediately began to dance, daring our approach.' Having learned that muskets were good for only one shot, 'the natives would fall down as soon as the men would present their muskets at them, and then get up and dance.' Suddenly they melted away and they were gone.

Macquarie had recognised that the settlers and their servants were guilty of provoking acts of violence, but in 1816 these influential men pressured him into a declaration of war. He sent out three detachments of the 46th Regiment to 'chasten these hostile tribes, and to inflict terrible and exemplary punishments on them...' The main party was based at Camden. They frightened many Aboriginal people, shot several and took half a dozen prisoners, but were unable to inflict Macquarie's 'terrible and exemplary punishments' until they came upon a camp at Appin one night. There they massacred 14 Tharawal and Gundungurra men, women and children, and took the five surviving women and children prisoner. Aboriginal resistance collapsed - the war was over. Many had been killed. The survivors had been forced off their lands into the mountains of the west and south, or onto the farms of friendly settlers.

Hassall, however, reported seeing a corroboree at Camden in the 1820's, at which over four hundred aborigines took part.

In 1914 the recollections of William Russell or "Werriberrie", described as the "Chief Man of the Gundungorra Aboriginals of the Burragorang Valley", were recorded by A. L. Bennett. Werriberrie was stated to be almost the last of his tribe.

The story of the aborigines of the Camden Area is one that still remains to be written. As time passes of course it will become harder to write. The creation of Aboriginal Land Councils and their active involvement in gathering and recording aboriginal social history is an important development of recent years.

The Camden District is closely associated with the early history of the colony of New South Wales. Its areas were penetrated by white men as far back as 1795. The story of the loss of the early colony's cattle forms part of the early narrative of New South Wales, as those beasts which strayed from Farm Cove led to the discovery of this locality. Early records show that seven years elapsed before news came to Sydney Cove's little settlement of the whereabouts of these missing stock. Rumours and conflicting accounts of the existence of the cattle reached the ears of convicts, and Governor Hunter despatched a party under Henry Hacking to confirm or deny the reports.

The result of this party's investigation so impressed Governor Hunter that he determined to visit the locality to see the cattle and country for himself. With a small party he left Parramatta on 18th November, 1795. After travelling a few days the explorers crossed the Nepean River at a spot near where the Camden Cowpasture Bridge now stands, and there came across a fine herd of over forty cattle. Arrangements were made for a more complete survey, and in June the following year, Governor Hunter again visited the retreat of the wild cattle, and journeyed through the locality until he and his party ascended the high hill which obtained the name of Mount Hunter, a landmark by that name today.

The name "Cowpastures" by which the locality became known, is due to Governor Hunter, for he marked it on a map drawn by himself and dated 20th August, 1796.

In 1802 Explorer Barallier journeyed through the area with others noting the class of country the cattle had chosen for their home. Journeying southward on 7th November that year, he passed a swamp called "Manhangle" by the natives. It was in this direction that John Macarthur selected for his future estate and for his venture in rearing sheep.

        1840s sketch depicting the Cowpastures
1840s sketch depicting the Cowpastures
Another early historical reference to this district was in December 1803, when Governor King accompanied by Mrs King and party visited the "Cowpastures". Early colonial history records that Mrs King crossed and re-crossed the Nepean, and the Sydney Gazette reported that Mrs King was the first white lady that had ever crossed the Nepean. The party again came across the straying cattle running wild. It was the Governor's instructions that as many of the cattle as possible were to be preserved, but an endeavour was to be made to weed out certain of the wild bulls.

To effectively bring about the preservation of the cattle a hut was built at Elderslie near the ford of the Nepean River, the site being on the southern side of the present Cowpasture Bridge. This was the first house in the district, completed in early 1805, and officially referred to in those days as "The Cowpasture House". Constables Warby and Jackson were the public officers installed there.

Several of the colonial gentry took excursions to see this country, attracted of course by the cattle. These visits by various men of the time, led to the desire to acquire property near where the cattle had chosen for themselves, which fact indicated the suitability and the richness of the land.

The track to the Cowpastures led from Prospect. On 17th September, 1805, James Meehan under instructions from the Governor, commenced a survey of the track from Prospect to the Nepean Crossing, and a rough road followed the marked line. This became the old Cowpasture Road, most of which line today is known as the Camden Valley Way.

John Macarthur
In 1797 John Macarthur bought some Dutch-Spanish sheep, which Captain Henry Waterhouse, R.N. of H.M.S. Reliance, had secured at the Cape of Good Hope from the deceased estate of Colonel Gordon. With these he formed a small stud at Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta.

In 1801 Governor King sent some of the fleeces from the stud to Sir Joseph Banks, supervisor of the Royal Merino Stud at Kew, for an opinion on their quality. British woollen manufacturers found the wool as good as the merino wools of Spain which had had a monopoly of the English market but Spanish supplies, always limited, were being cut off by the French blockade. Macarthur in England in 1803 saw his chance. Australia, he wrote, "could produce wool to any extent" in its "illimitable forests". The new steam machinery used in cotton manufacture could be applied to the production of Australian raw wool. Cost of manufacture of woollens could thus be lowered to assure British manufacturers "throughout the world the most complete monopoly that any people ever possessed", and provide a living for tens of thousands of British workers.

Lord Camden, the Colonial Secretary, ordered Governor King to grant Macarthur "not less than 5,000 acres of land . . . situated near Mt. Taurus, as being peculiarly adapted for sheep", in order to test his theories. He allowed Macarthur to take to New South Wales the first pure merino rams and ewes ever exported from the Royal Stud at Kew.

Since 1805 Camden Park has been part of the core of Australian history. Governor Bligh's resistance to allowing Macarthur to keep his land on the Cowpastures, and his contempt for the sheep industry, were factors that brought Macarthur actively into the rebellion against the Governor in 1808.

Macarthur's experience with the wool trade in England during his eight year exile there after the rebellion enabled him to tutor his devoted wife, Elizabeth, and his nephew, Hannibal. They bred the wool of the flocks on Camden Park to superior marketable standards, while fighting drought, isolation, and aborigines who killed their shepherds. On Camden Park all the prototype methods of sheep breeding, sheep washing, shearing, wool sorting and press baling were first established in Australia.

By the late 1830's, the property had been expanded, by grant and purchase, to a sheep station of 28,000 acres, including the greatest and most advanced mixed farm in New South Wales. Australian wools by that time had almost ousted continental wools from British usage and the British manufacturers had a vast ascendancy in the woollen markets of the world. The ascendancy of Australian wool intensified until it became almost a world monopoly in its own field.

The Town Begins
In December, 1830, prominent citizens of the district addressed a memorial to the Governor pointing out that the most eligible site for a township was in the "vicinity of the Cowpastures Bridge on the banks of the Nepean, a central situation in the most populous parts of these districts and abundantly supplied with water".

The Surveyor General, Major Thomas Mitchell, reported that the western bank was most suitable, and suggested that John Macarthur be asked to surrender 320 acres of his land for such a purpose. This Macarthur declined to do, fearing that the formation of a town would "greatly endanger the security of the whole establishment on that estate".

In 1836, two years after his death, his sons had a township surveyed and the land was offered for sale in 1840 in 100 allotments of half an acre each. Provision was made too for the erection of a Church, "the situation of which will be highly picturesque and commanding", and for a "first rate commodious hotel". By February, 1840, this was already under construction and was licensed as the Camden Inn on June 21, 1842, in the name of Joseph Goodluck, who for some years had held a confidential situation under Macarthur.

Later sales were held in October, 1840, and in July, 1841, 45 lots being sold for 2185 pounds. Sites for Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches had been selected, a school opened, and a Post Office established. This latter appears to have been the Old Court House opened at Cawdor in 1825 and removed to Camden in 1841. Meanwhile the early meetings of the Court were held in the unfinished Camden Inn until Goodluck secured his licence in 1842 when the Court moved to a bark hut, afterwards the site of Charker's butcher shop near the Railway Station.

During the period between 1830 and 1860 the Camden district experienced considerable increase in settlement. It is not possible in a booklet of this size to describe individually the various families that came during that time. The publication by Sidman 'The Town of Camden' (1939) has extensive references to early families and the book by Dr. Atkinson 'Camden' (1988) also has considerable information on the early settlers to this area.

'A History of Camden' may be purchased for $10.00 from Camden Historical Society.