Camelot

Memories of Your Suburb: Kirkham

John Oxley the surveyor general of the colony was granted land in 1815 on the eastern bank of the Nepean which he called Kirkham after his home in Yorkshire. Only Kirkham Stables 1816 remain from this period. Oxley’s son built a flour mill on the estate which operated until rust destroyed wheat crops in 1863. In 1885 James White a later owner of the property built a Gothic Revival styled mansion named ‘Camelot’ by the subsequent owners, the Faithful-Anderson family.
In 1811 Rowland Hassall was granted 400 acres in a loop of the Nepean river, west of Kirkham which he named Macquarie Grove. Camden Airport now occupies much of this property and was used in the Second World War as a flight training centre.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Charles Cowpers’s residence Wivenhoe was built in 1838 and was sold in 1910 to the Catholic Church. It is now the site of Mater Dei School.
Kirkham railway station at the bottom of Kirkham lane was a stop on the Camden to Campbelltown tramway to pick up passengers and milk. Remnants of the embankments for the line can still be seen.

Interior view of stables at Camelot, Kirkham. c.1995. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

Interior view of stables at Camelot, Kirkham. c.1995. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

From the 1990s there has been large block residential development of some parts of Kirkham with a preservation of hilltops and flood prone low lying land.

From Kirkham to Camelot and “A Place to Call Home”

A few weeks ago we told the story of the Faithful-Andersons, the second and longest residents of the property known as Camelot. The property is best known today as the fictional Ash Park, the home of  matriarch Elizabeth Bligh in the hit television series A Place to call home. In our post on the Faithful-Andersons, we highlighted the fairy-tale like story that befell Frances, William and Clarice Vivian. But the story of the property extends beyond that.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

The land on which the property exists was part of the land given to the explorer and surveyor John Oxley in 1818. It was named Kirkham Estate, and the only part of his residence that still stands are the white stone stables. When Oxley passed away in 1828, the property was acquired by Oxley’s former business partner Captain John Coghill.

The white stone stables believed to have been constructed for John Oxley in 1816

The white stone stables believed to have been constructed for John Oxley in 1816

The person who transformed the property was the Hon. James White. A member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and later the Legislative Council, White had a penchant for horse breeding and racing. His equestrian interests provided him sizable winnings in 1877 when Chester, one of the 19th Century’s most successful thoroughbred racehorses and leading sires, won both the Victoria Derby and the Melbourne Cup. This provided White with the resources to purchase the property.

The finances not only allowed White to purchase the land but to employ one of the truly extraordinary architects of the day. The building was designed by John Horbury Hunt. Hunt was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1838. He began training as an architect in 1856 in Boston. Around the outbreak of the American Civil War, Hunt decided to travel to India, landing in Sydney in 1863. He was convinced to stay by James Barnet, the acting colonial architect, and started working for Edmund Blacket, the colony’s leading architect. Within seven years he made such an impact upon the practice that he became the chief assistant, and his ideas so influenced the practice that these seven years became known as Blacket’s ‘queer period’, due to the striking quality of the buildings. In 1869 Hunt started his own practice.

Befitting his bold architectural style, Hunt was a noted eccentric. He was prone to outburst of temper, was incredibly energetic and was often in public and private feuds. His skill meant that he often attracted wealthy clients who wanted quality with no worry about cost, and allowed the bold architect to create extraordinary buildings. Two of these were in the Macarthur region. The most well known is Camelot, but Hunt also designed St James’ Anglican Church located in Menangle.

St James Anglican Church, Menangle.

St James Anglican Church, Menangle.

It took five years to build Camelot and according to a folktale, saw one builder serve his entire apprenticeship on the building (Legend lives On, 1991).  The building was finished in 1888. White was destined to enjoy his dream home for only two years, passing away in 1890. His widow remained in the property until 1897 when she too passed away. In 1901 it was purchased by the Andersons.

Although White’s finances and Hunt’s ambition created the property, it was the Andersons, later the Faithful-Andersons, that gave the property its humanity, with a love that defied the class structures of colonial Australia and the tragic suicide of William. It was also Frances Anderson who, upon seeing the property, renamed it Camelot. After William’s suicide in 1912 and Frances’ death in 1948, their daughter, Clarice Vivian, never marrying or having children, remained in the property until her passing in 1979.

Tales of the property began to grow. An undated news report exists in the Local Studies Collection that reveals that tales had spread through Western Sydney of the location being haunted. The report indicates that 7 youths had come from Fairfield wanting to see the supposedly haunted Camelot (7 Ghost-hunters spirited off– to court). When this occurred is difficult to determine. However, it would have been after Frances’ death, the report referring to the owner of the property as the ‘elderly spinster Miss Faithful Anderson’ no doubt referring to Clarice Vivian.

After will disputes and one withdrawn settlement that lasted over 6 years, the property was purchased by Michael Hawthrone for $2 million. A New Zealand born businessman, Hawthrone sold the property in 1991 (Chancellor, 1991).

In 1999 the property was purchased by Brendan Powers as a wedding gift to his wife, Rachel (Stillitano, 2009). It was the under the Power’s patronage that the property began its new life of fame. It was first used in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, where the house, with its pastoral setting, was used as the location of  Nicole Kidman’s house in England at the beginning of the film. It has since become far more recognizable through Channel Seven’s A Place to call home.

Although the house is best known for its brushes with fame, this unique and striking property has gained fame in its own right. It is heritage listed and has received coverage in several publications from In Macarthur- Your Home Annual to Highlife. The Powers have made strong attempts to keep the property original, with antique Victorian furniture throughout. The kitchen is of particular note, being one of the few Victorian kitchens still in original condition in Sydney (McIntosh, The family that saved Camelot).

From horse race winnings, to love and tragedy, to ghosts, the tales from Camelot are as unique and striking as the building itself. But the current story, the story of admiration, dedication and restoration undertaken by the Powers is one that will ensure its longevity and guarantee that the stories continue for many decades to come.

References:

Chancellor, Jonathan. (25.5.1991). Title Deeds. Sydney Morning Herlad.

n.a. (29.5.1991). Legend lives on. Macarhtur Advertiser.

n.a. (n.d.) 7 Ghost-hunters spirited off–to court.

Stillitano, Iliana. (7.10.2009). Stylish soiree set to welcome race trophy.  Camden Advertiser.

McIntosh, Deborah. (n.d.) The family that saved Camelot. Highlife.

Camelot-The Real “A Place to Call Home”

With the television drama series “A Place to Call Home” entering into its second season viewers are being treated to the latest clashes between Sarah Adams and the matriarch Elizabeth Bligh.

The fictional Bligh’s Ash Park is the real life building known as Camelot. Located on the outskirts of Camden it has many of its own stories to tell. The one that is filled with the greatest drama is that of its second and longest running residents, the Andersons, who occupied the property from 1890 to 1979.

Last year Ian Willis revealed the power play of the real life matriarchs in Camden that mirror much of the drama on the TV show. While the show focuses heavily on the stories of the two strong female leads, the story of the Andersons is far more heart wrenching. It’s a story filled with forbidden love, suicide and mourning, striking the fairy tale notes to which the architecture alludes. What makes the Anderson’s story so compelling is that this fairy tale drama was real.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright:  Camden Historical Society.

Camelot, 1983. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Originally known as Kirkham, the building was created in 1888 for Hon. James White, great-uncle of author Patrick White. It was designed by Canadian John Horbury Hunt, an architect known for his unique buildings, with Camelot considered one of his greatest. Although it has a fairy tale feel and a grandeur not associated with domesticity it has been described as a very ‘human house’.

The fairy tale proportions and aesthetics began to make real life impacts with the second owners. James White passed away from heart disease in July 1890. It was then purchased by William Hugh Anderson and his wife Frances Lillian Faithfull. In something of a reversal of the Cinderella story, William was the coachman of the Faithfull family of Springfield Estate in Goulburn. Frances was their daughter and greatly upset her family by marrying ‘below her status’. Despite attempts to appease the family they rejected him and refused to accept the marriage. The family did however provide a generous dowry, which would prove necessary to finance the purchase of Kirkham. It was the Anderson’s that renamed the estate Camelot, Frances being reminded of the Lord Alfred Tennyson poem “The Lady of Shalott”:

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.

“Who is this? And what is here?”
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;

Tragedy struck the Andersons in 1912 when William committed suicide. William was a considerable horseman and also community minded. He began to suffer from depression, declining mental health and alcoholism. The forerunners to his suicide are revealed by his retirement as town Alderman in 1903, with things getting gradually worse. His suicide was dramatic. He set the large hayshed behind the main house alight and then shot himself. The fire grew and every attempt made to extinguish it failed.

Despite the nature of his death, William was heralded in the local papers after his passing. Sharon Greene reveals that there were no negative words written about him at the time and that he was actually praised for his role as an Alderman and described as a “useful citizen who had won the esteem of the residents”.

Frances approached Camden Council in 1913 to erect a drinking fountain as a memorial to her husband. The memorial erected in memory of William was in the middle of the intersection of John and Argyle Streets Camden. It was eventually moved to Camden Showground and is now part of the  rose garden in Macarthur Park. Local stories reveal that this was not the only memorial for William. After his death, Frances maintained their bedroom in original condition as a shrine to William.

The W.H.Anderson Memorial in its original location at the intersection of John and Argyle Street, Camden

Frances Anderson and her daughter, Clarice Vivian, remained in the house.  The garden, as reported by Nora Cooper for ‘The Australian Home Beautiful’  in 1929, was a great horticultural feat. Cooper reports how Frances described the large variety of trees that she grew in the yard to create a rich variety of green. She knew the different varieties by heart and spoke of them with great pleasure.

They were not isolated from the town and were socially minded. During the depression, Frances commissioned work to be done on the property as a way of helping those who needed work. It was also around this time in 1932 that they changed their name from Anderson to Faithfull-Anderson, incorporating her maiden name.

When Frances passed away in 1948  her will requested that the property be used as a convalescence hospital. Clarice continued to reside in the property until 1979. Never marrying or having any children, Clarice Vivian was the last of the Faithfull-Anderson line. They are all buried together in Springfarm, Goulburn.

What remains of them is Camelot, and although “A Place  to Call Home” may be the more famous story, it is the tale of the Faithfull-Andersons that echoes through its rooms and corridors.

More stories of Camelot can be found in Camden Library and  Camden Images.

References:

From the Local Studies Collection on Camelot.

Cooper, Nora. (1929) “Camelot”-A house of dreams. The Australian Home Beautiful.

Greene, Sharon. (2013) The tale of Camelot. Back Then. District Reporter.

Willis, Ian. (2013) Camelot’s country matriarchs. Back Then. The District Reporter.