Denbigh is something of an unsung landmark. Where Camden Park is linked with the history of Australian agriculture, and Camelot is the current star of A Place to Call Home, Denbigh has had a very intimate relationship with Camden’s history and is considered “one of the finest early colonial farmhouses in Australia, with important historical associations and an evocative atmosphere.”
Part of the Cobbity land grant between 1812 and 1819, Denbigh was allotted to Charles Hook. He, like all the grantees, had to clear and cultivate the land within 5 years. Between 1812 and 1819 Hook had between 3 and 9 convicts working the land. This was not necessarily an easy period with the 1814-1816 Cowpasture War in full effect and the land being well within the battlefields. But by 1819 Hook started building some form of residence, living first in Sydney and then in Macquarie Grove with Samuel Hassall, finally moving onto the property in 1820. The first buildings were defensive “siege-style” structures due to the Cowpasture Wars, but later he began constructing the main bungalow that still stands on the property. Like Camden Park House, it was based on a Georogian style, but ‘Denbigh’ was set lower with a simplified version of this English style, which suited it well to the Australian climate.
The main bungalow. The front section was built by Charles Hook before 1826 and the two storey section by Thomas Hassall after he purchased Denbigh about 1826. Since renovated. Mrs Lesley McIntosh (owner) standing on verandah. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.
The property began to see considerable success and become self-sufficient. Livestock increased with the notable addition of sheep, 400 of the 1,100 aces was cleared, and 60 acres was dedicated to growing the famous Camden wheat. Hook passed away in 1826, and the property was sold to Thomas Hassell the following year.
Hassell came from a family of churchmen, and his move to the area was due to his appointment as chaplain in the Cowpastures. Although already owning land in the area, ‘Denbigh’ offered many advancements over these other properties, both in agricultural terms and in its suitability as a parsonage. While Hook lived on the property only with his wife, never having children, and a handful of convicts, Hassell and his wife Anne had a growing family and undertook works to develop the property. These increased works called for more hands on the property, and Denbigh expanded from a self-sufficient farm to a scattered village, having everything from a blacksmith and carpenter to a shoemaker and schoolmaster.
From the northern side showing the Hassall additions and the nineteenth century garden. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.
Hassell was considered a generous and benevolent landowner by many who came to work for him. Testament to this is that some would continue working on the property even after gaining their tickets of leave, some for as long as fifty years. The prosperity came to an end in the 1840s, largely due to factors within the colony as a whole. The end of transportation and the economic depression resulted in Thomas reducing his holdings, selling some of his properties and leasing considerable amounts of ‘Denbigh’. A further hit to the property came in the 1860s, when rust brought an end to the Camden wheat industry.
In 1868 Thomas Hassell passed away, and his wife Anne found a suitable lessee in Charles McIntosh, who would own the property eighteen years later, when Anne Hassell passed away in 1886. The McIntoshes continue to farm the land to the present day. The first generation with Charles saw the property develop from crop based agriculture to a greater reliance on livestock, in particular dairy cattle and breeding draught horses. It was a leading dairy farm for much of the 20th century, and also witnessed the mechanization of agriculture in Australia.
Jim McIntosh at 2-3 years of age in a yard with cows at Denbigh, 1925. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.
Denbigh is a unique property in the Camden Area, still maintaining many of its period features. Like the more famous Camden Park, it witnessed the changes and developments of the area. And with the current residents actively undertaking steps to conserve the property it remains a perfect, “intact example of a continuously functioning early farm complex.”