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Saturday, 13 April 2024
Hambledon Cottage, Parramatta
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC

Bujari Naami Darug Nurawa[1]

I pay my respects to the Traditional Owners of this land, the Burramattagal Darug people and Elders, past, present and emerging, and acknowledge the impact of the last 200-plus years on Country and culture.

The frontispiece to the bicentenary book Celebrating Hambledon Cottage: 200 years – a House History: Its Evolution- Occupation and Activation 1824 -2024 is a bucolic pastoral scene of Elizabeth Farm, painted in 1824 by Joseph Lycett, convicted banknote forger and convict artist.  

On the far right of the painting, dwarfed by the residence of John Macarthur, and the undulating hills surrounding the residence, is a diminutive sandstone homestead.  That, it seems, is Hambledon Cottage.  The timing is right: Hambledon Cottage was completed in 1824, the year Lycett painted the idyllic scene. In magnification, it looks like the cottage so well preserved today; and its actual location on Elizabeth Farm corresponds with its placement in the painting.  

Designed by architect Henry Kitchen, the architectural drawings were completed by local draughtsman Henry Cooper after Kitchen’s premature death.  The first occupant was the Macarthur’s eldest son, Edward, visiting from England, followed by Thomas Hobbes Scott, the first Archdeacon of the Church of England in Sydney.  In circumstances to which I will refer shortly, it became the home of the family’s former governess, the formidable Penelope Lucas, the first governess in the colony and the first qualified female teacher to come to the colony to teach, as opposed to enjoying his Majesty’s hospitality! 

The cottage remained within the Macarthur family domain until 1881, during which time its guests included Governors Denison, Young and Robinson.   

The story of the Macarthurs and Elizabeth Farm form a large part of the early history of the colony.  With a land grant of 100 acres of arable land in 1793, Elizabeth Farm became legendary for its production of fine merino wool, once attributed solely to the skill and vision of John Macarthur but with better historical research it is now known to have been, in significant measure, the work of Elizabeth.   

This is unsurprising given John Macarthur’s active role in the affairs of the colony, including during its most turbulent period, generally known as the ‘Rum Rebellion’.  Many of the early tales of the Rum Rebellion focussed on stories of Governor Bligh hiding under a bed in the first Government House. 

That part of the story is likely to be apocryphal, but what is known is that in 1808, with Bligh seeking to regulate the system of land grants and to remove the New South Wales Corps’ monopoly on rum, Macarthur and George Johnston staged a coup.   Bligh was held under house arrest for a year and then bided his time in Tasmania until Governor Lachlan Macquarie arrived in 1810. 

Bligh’s circumstances in the colony may not have been propitious, but Macarthur’s were less so.  Some years prior, in 1801, Macarthur had been arrested following a duel with then Lieutenant-Governor, Colonel William Paterson, and sent back to England by Governor King for court martial. However, it was deemed ‘impossible’ to investigate the case against Macarthur in England and it was recommended he rejoin his regiment in New South Wales. Though officially censured, Macarthur returned to the colony in June 1805.  He was accompanied on that occasion by Miss Penelope Lucas, whom he had engaged to be the governess for his children.

After the coup of 1808, Macarthur again returned to England, this time in support to Johnston, and was one of the crucial defence witnesses at Johnston’s court martial. While he remained in England Elizabeth was left, once again, to ‘look after the farm’ which she did with great accomplishment. 

Whilst Elizabeth Farm is very much the story of the Macarthurs, it was the respect that Penelope Lucas engendered in her employers, in particular Elizabeth Macarthur, that forms a central part of the story of Hambledon Cottage.  It was she who first ascribed the name by which it is known today.  Although coming into the family as a governess, Penelope became a friend, confidant and protector of the Macarthur family women.  

By the early 1830’s, the irascible Macarthur had succumbed to mental illness, to the point where Governor Bourke removed him from office as a Legislative Councillor.  As paranoia set in, Macarthur banished the female members of his family from the homestead. Two daughters found sanctuary with their former governess in this little cottage where we are now, and Elizabeth found great solace in their friendship.  Fortunately, before he lost testamentary capacity, John Macarthur’s will provided for a lifelong right of residence for the former governess and family friend.

The cottage was described by Elizabeth Macarthur, in a letter to her son Edward, as a ‘neat’ and a ‘pretty little abode’ surrounded by a ‘plantation of maize and Roses at the Gate by the little bridge, including a Pine, & an Oak’. Hambledon Cottage stands today as one of our nation’s oldest and best surviving examples of a country cottage in the colonial Georgian style.  

Last year, Hambledon experienced its best-ever visitor numbers, with an increase of over 64% over the previous year, including – encouragingly – among school groups.  This has also meant an equivalent increase in guided activities.

Hambledon Cottage, much like Government House, relies heavily – and, here I understand, exclusively - on the work of its exceptional volunteers to support its collections, to tend its cottage gardens, and to deliver educational and guided tours, and I thank them for their contributions to preserving this unique history.

As a museum, Hambledon Cottage provides a focal point for locals and visitors alike, to wander, to absorb, to ponder and to learn.

The Cottage is also testament to the importance of local history and to the dedication of local historical societies.  Acquired by Parramatta and District Historical Society from Parramatta City Council, it was opened as a museum in 1966. When viewed alongside other heritage sites of cultural significance, including the row of terraces built by working class Irish immigrants at Susannah Place at the Rocks, we gain a cross-spectrum portrait of public and community life in early Sydney.

Events of the past should never be viewed in isolation, so I leave you one other interesting piece of synchronous history. This past year has also seen the Bicentenary of the New South Wales Legislative Council. The oldest legislative body in Australia, established in 1823 to advise the Governor in relation to the making of laws. John Macarthur was the most influential of its three appointed non-Executive members, representing the interests of the landed class, the free settlers and the squatters.

So, the story of this humble little heritage-listed cottage is inextricably bound up in the history of the colony, located on the site where the first experiments in Australia’s wool industry were made, and some of the first crops, including vines, were planted. It was the backdrop to the lives of the characters who peopled our early colonial history, and with the integration of Penelope Lucas into the family life of the Macarthur’s, a reflection of the changing social structures of the colony.   

Today, we celebrate the rich history of Hambledon Cottage, its remarkable characters, and former residents. Above all, we celebrate the resourcefulness of the Parramatta and District Historical Society, the local Council and the local community whose dedication to the conservation of history enriches us all.

As proud Patron of the Parramatta and District Historical Association, I convey my congratulations to all at Hambledon Cottage, Parramatta’s ‘jewel in the crown’! Here’s to the next 200 years!


[1] “Good to see you on Darug Country”.

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