SLICE OF LIFE: BELLA VISTA FARM
Bella Vista Farm, located at Elizabeth Macarthur Drive, Bella Vista is an intact historic farm complex of cultural significance to the nation. Established in the late 1700s, it was one of a number of farms along the first road to Windsor, now known as Old Windsor Road. The complex features a two storey homestead, Bunya Pine lined driveway and various farm outbuildings set on a prominent hilltop. It provides a rare surviving link between the community today, the first European settlers and some of Australia's earliest rural development. Three merino sheep, distant descendants of Elizabeth Macarthur's flock, currently reside on the property. In the late 1970s, historians were trying to establish the location of the Macarthur Farm. Local historians Bill O'Halloran and Kevin Moore found that a large area on the Map of the Parish of Castle Hill had been granted twenty to forty years later than the 1794-1804 grants in the area. Through further research they discovered that Major Foveaux had been given 980 acres in 1799, acquired another 790 acres giving him a Stock Farm of 1770 acres which he then sold (with 1250 sheep) on 5th October 1801 to John Macarthur for 2000 pounds. Until the sale, Foveaux had been the largest landowner and had the most sheep in the colony. After the sale, Macarthur inherited this claim and, with his sheep added to Foveaux's, he had 2220 in 1801- the largest, by far, in the colony.
The Farm was enlarged in c.1802 through the purchase of parts of William Goodhall's and Richardson's grants of 1799 which fronted Old Windsor Road making the Macarthur Farm 2430 acres. Elizabeth Macarthur bred the first merinos on the property whilst her husband John was in England facing a court-martial after being arrested for duelling. The merinos were bred from fine wool Spanish merino sheep imported by Captain Waterhouse from South Africa. By 1821, the Macarthurs had exchanged the Seven Hills Farm with the Crown for land at Camden. The property was regranted as follows: - George Acres (500 acres in 1823), Susannah M.Ward (500 acres in 1831), Mathew Woodward Pearce (170 acres in 1835), James Robertson (500 acres in 1837), Andrew McDougall (700 acres in 1840), J.F.Doyle (700 acres in 1840), and Joseph Hendle (60 acres in 1840).
Slab machinery shed at Bella Vista Farm
Although Robertson did not live on his grant he probably leased it. In September 1838 it was advertised for sale in the "Sydney Herald as nine lots. The land was partially fenced, indicating that it had been used for grazing and had a "considerable number of fruit trees which were exceedingly productive, also areas had recently been cultivated. A house existed on Lot 4 "which commands from its elevation a beautiful and extensive view of the surrounding scenery. It was a one room, slab-built dwelling with a fireplace. A timber coach house was extended onto this structure in later years. This building has been given the name "Fitzgerald's Cottage. It forms one side of a quadrangle which was to become the kitchen garden and wells of the "Bella Vista complex of buildings in the ensuing years and may have existed in Mrs Macarthur's time, possibly being used by the overseer.
In September 1838, Robertson sold his 500 acres as a whole unit to Isabella Maria Acres for one thousand one hundred and five pounds. Then on the 14th May 1842, William Thomas Pearce purchased it for two hundred and eighty seven pounds (less than a quarter of what she paid for it!).The property was described as "Robertson's grant by the farms of Goodhall and Hendle. William Thomas Pearce lived in his "King's Langley house and probably used the Robertson land for grazing sheep and cattle. After his death in 1865, his son Edward Henry Pearce developed the property to its full potential, naming it "Bella Vista. Under his guidance almost all the buildings on the "Bella Vista site were built.
The property was fairly isolated: the only transport being wagons and drays drawn by horses. Because of this, the farm, like those of its neighbours, had to be self- supporting. Sheep and cattle were kept mainly for food, although some of the wool was clipped and sent to Sydney as late as 1930. The property supplied its own fruit and vegetables as well as fodder crops of barley, oats and maize. Flour was bought by the ton. Bees were kept until 1950. "Bella Vista reached its peak in the 1890s and appears to have suffered little from the Depression that plagued the colony at that time. Orcharding was the main activity and the farm was privileged by a visit from the Governor in 1887. Lord Carrington was invited by the New South Wales Fruitgrowers Union to see the "fruits of their industry. About 100 people were employed on the property, all but a few actually lived there in many small huts scattered around - probably those that were demolished by Norbrick. A considerable number of the workers were Chinese.
Orange Grading and Packing in the 1890s at Bella Vista
On the death of Edward Henry Pearce in 1912, his eldest son, Edward William Charles Archdall Pearce, inherited the "Robertson grant of 500 acres and the house known as "Bella Vista. During the ownership of Edward C. A. ("Toby) Pearce, no new buildings were added to the property. In 1930 sheep farming was discontinued in favour of dairying and pigs. Life during the 1930s Depression was difficult for all, including those on the land. The property survived but ready cash was not available. The property workers dwindled to six. Toby Pearce's second son, Gordon, died in May 1933 and Toby followed just a few months later. The tide had turned for the grand "Bella Vista of the 1890s.
A new dairy was built in the late 1930s. This was the last improvement made to the property before it was sold in 1950. Mrs. Nellie Pearce died in August 1941 and her eldest son, Mr. E.H.Pearce, and his sister Isabel were responsible for the farm during the Second World War when the two other sons, Norman and Keith, were called away for "King and Empire. Obviously all the events of the previous twenty years took their toll on the property, the least of which was the death duties. It was with much sadness that the family found it necessary to sell the property, in October 1950, to the North Sydney Brick and Tile Company (now known as Norbrik) for 34, 492 pounds 10 shillings.
From this time, part of the land was used by the Brick Company while the "Bella Vista buildings were rented by Mr. C. Jones who used the dairy and converted many of the sheds to accommodate poultry. In 1974 the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board paid a quarter of a million dollars for 13.63 hectares which included the Bella Vista buildings and resumed the area as a future water reservoir site. "The Elizabeth Macarthur Seven Hills Farm Association was formed in the 1970s as a result of the discovery of its actual location. The association fought to achieve the restoration, conservation and use of the Farm; record the history of the Farm; publicise the importance of the Farm in Australian History; and establish the origin and uses of the flora and fauna, buildings and relics on the Farm.
Bella Vista Homestead before renovation in 2003
In 1979 "Bella Vista was placed under Interim Preservation Order No. 108 by the Heritage Council of N.S.W. In 1982 the Heritage Council commenced stabilization work on the buildings and the University of Sydney began archaeological investigations on the site. The Australian Heritage Commission listed "Bella Vista in the Register of the National Estate. In April 1997, as a result of a Public Inquiry into the Objection to the Making of a Permanent Conservation Order in Respect of "Bella Vista Farm Group Old Windsor Road Kellyville, a Permanent Conservation Order was granted and placed on "Bella Vista. The site is also listed on the State's Heritage Register.
In November 1997, the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning transferred ownership of the 10.6 hectare property, containing "Bella Vista and the surrounding farm buildings, to Baulkham Hills Shire Council along with a $1 million dollar grant for restoration. Norwest also transferred ownership of other portions of the original farm giving the Council 24.48 hectares. Since August 1998, the Council has: - secured the site with perimeter fencing and continued yard maintenance; installed a temporary project office; constructed a new horse stable; undertaken termite control; and installed fire hydrants.
In November 2000 Baulkham Hills Shire Council adopted the Conservation Management Plan prepared by Heritage Design Services, NSW Dept of Public Works & Services. A project manager was appointed in July 2001 and a works program for the high priority conservation works was endorsed in December 2002. State funds have been used for site establishment, reinstatement of the verandahs and original slate roof to the homestead, and restoration of the kitchen block. Funding from the Federal Government has also enabled the stabilisation and repair of timber outbuildings.
A draft Plan of Management was developed for Bella Vista Farm Park in 2007 to provide for the strategic direction and future management of the site. In particular the plan aims to:
Bella Vista Homestead back view with new roof & verandah
Bella Vista Farm Park Plan of Management draft 2007
Bella Vista Farm Conservation Management Plan / Heritage Design Services, Department of Public Works, 2000
Mrs Macarthur's Seven Hills Farm / Harry Carr, 1998
Lost Farm of the Seven Hills / Valerie Hill, 1993
Bella Vista Farm Group, Old Windsor Road Seven Hills / Howard Tanner & Associates, 1992
Bella Vista, Old Windsor Road, Kellyville Archaeological Report / Judy Birmingham, 1986
Bella Vista: Visual Analysis and Curtilages Definition / Greg Burton, 1986
"Bella Vista Historical Study / Jennifer A. Pearce, 1986
Photos courtesy of The Hills District Historical Society PO Box 48 Castle Hill NSW 2154