The Camden Park Collection
There is little doubt that what gives Camden Park its special flavour is the continuity of family tenure which this house has enjoyed. Not many houses in Australia have experienced this – and it is curious how this continuity imparts an atmosphere and a feeling which can never be achieved by even the best ‘restorations’.
A good number of the acquisitions, collections and awards of the early occupiers of the house remain and it is this provenance that makes the collection special. The furniture that was acquired specifically for the entrance hall, the library and the main dining room remain largely in situ. A display of Eastern Australian wood samples collected by William Macarthur is a feature of one of the house's passageways. A duplicate collection of these wood samples was sent to the Paris Exposition Universelle (International Exhibition) of 1855. A table commissioned by William in Europe for the exhibition, constructed using Australian wood taken by William to Paris, still resides in the house.
House records contain numerous invoices dated 1838, the year that James Macarthur married Emily Stone, the daughter of a London banker. One invoice shows that on 13th September 1838 "James Macarthur Esquire bought of John Mortlock, China-Man to Their Majesties’ Royal Family" a substantial set of china adorned with the family motto - "Fide et Opera". Much of this service still remains. Records also show that one hundred pounds was paid for the portraits, painted by Capalti in Rome, of Mr and Mrs James Macarthur and their daughter Elizabeth and of Sir William Macarthur. These portraits continue to be hung in the dining room.
Camden Park contains much artwork collected by early generations, including works by artists who had a connection with family members. There are a number of landscape watercolours by Conrad Martens, a regular visitor and a one time tutor to John’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. These works include views to Elizabeth Farm, The Blue Mountains and the Cowpastures. Other works of art were collected by family members during trips to Europe in the mid 1800’s.
The decorative art on display also often has a connection with early family members. The Library contains three portrait medallions of William and James from about 1853, by the pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner, as well as a collection of portrait miniatures painted in the early 1800’s.
The Camden Park library is recognised as one of the best examples of a 19th Century gentleman’s library with some of the books arriving in the early days of the colony, a number having being previously owned by other well known early colonial figure such as George Bass and William Dawes. Many of the volumes reflect the pursuits and interests of family members. Subjects covered include classical literature, biographies of contemporary notables, scientific and agricultural texts, early Australian publications and political texts. The botanical volumes, probably collected by William often evidence clear signs of use.
In addition to the document collection retained at Camden Park, the family donated the so-called Macarthur Papers 1789-1930 (First Collection) and 1796-1945 (Second Collection) to the Mitchell Library, Sydney in 1940 and
1957 respectively. These very large collections are generally regarded as the most significant private papers in Australia and are extensively consulted as they cover so many important aspect of Australian history.