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'Paper houses - Part 1

Paper houses - Part 1

Camden Park, the mansion built from 1831-35 on land first granted to pastoralist John Macarthur in 1805 in the Cowpastures district south-west of Sydney, is one of the most significant, and intact examples of Australian colonial domestic architecture. Recent studies have highlighted Macarthur’s interest in architecture, and discussed the numerous schemes he both considered and seemingly rejected for the estate. These designs, most of which never left the page, survive in a large collection of drawings which are today contained within the Macarthur Papers at the State Library of New South Wales and in the archives at Camden Park itself.

The full design history of Camden Park is a complex sequence of commissions and abandoned designs, subject to the changing fortunes, resources and politics both of the Macarthur family and wider colony and, ultimately, to the fluctuating physical and mental health of John Macarthur himself. Through an analysis of the plans, this research establishes a design sequence that links the series of unbuilt schemes for houses at Camden, Parramatta and Pyrmont by Henry Kitchen and Henry Cooper, James Smith and John Verge, the cottages ornée Belgenny and Hambledon, and the design of Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta, to the final neo-Palladian house that we see today. In doing so it demonstrates that Verge’s realised scheme was the final stage of a continual design process that had begun many years earlier, where the fundamental spatial concepts of the final design was ever-present, and which was driven by Macarthur.

This dissertation also presents a diagnosis of Macarthur’s mental and physical state, and biographical studies of the ill-fated architect Henry Kitchen and his eventual successor in Macarthur’s employ, Henry Cooper. In reconstructing each stage of Camden Park's design process, it shows how the psychology, world-view and motivation of a pivotal colonial figure were to give a distinct form to the house he deemed worthy of his family and above all for his wife, Elizabeth.

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