Showing posts with label Cameron's Hill Hamilton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cameron's Hill Hamilton. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Saving an AA Company house in Hamilton

It continues to await its future, concealed in a battle axe block behind 195 Denison Street. This compact nineteenth century residence was once the home of two AA Company Overmen and a Viewer (manager) of collieries.

In 1994, a chance discovery by a young postgraduate student cycling over Cameron’s Hill along Denison Street was to bring hope to this historic house. Vacant since 1963 and the passing of owner Charles Little, it was becoming increasingly derelict.

The Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co.) house, Hamilton, was built in 1849-50.
 It stands as a rare reminder of Hamilton’s mining past (2013)

That young man was David Campbell. The house had come into the ownership of Mrs Naomi McCourt. Living nearby, she was a descendant of the Little family that had had a 140 year association with the house and surrounding land. When the AA Company no longer had use for the house, it was bought by William Little in 1914.

David emailed me after publication of my book ‘Hidden Hamilton.’ I knew he’d been the driving force behind moves to save the house. Now, he filled in some details:

‘The late Frank Eldridge [1] was a good friend to Naomi.  It was in his presence
that I first visited Naomi in her home.  I remember the joy with which I returned to the happy company of my late great aunt, in Skelton Street, after convincing Naomi and Frank of the significance of the house and surrounding property and of the possibility of securing (State government) funding. Frank, Naomi and I, despite the gap in age, became firm friends. I later met Naomi's daughters, Heather (RIP) and Jenny’.

Then began the process of preparing a funding submission to the Heritage Branch of the NSW Department of Planning; in this Brian Suters, principal of Suters Architects, was instrumental. Ran Boydell, now of Galashiels in Scotland, wrote much of the Heritage Assessment. David wrote the historical background.

The result was a happy one – funding was secured to enable the house to be purchased in 1995 by the Newcastle City Council on behalf of the community.  

Participants in a heritage short course run by Newcastle City Council
inspect the AA Company House, July 1995
Conservation Management Documents 2002, Commonwealth of Australia

However, restoration work did not begin for some time. David remembers that some break-ins occurred, and a couple of clocks were stolen from the lounge room, along with an Edison phonograph.

The kitchen in the AA Company house looks abandoned (2013)

David writes:

‘Naomi gave me my own key to the house; Frank Eldridge and I tried to seal the holes in the roof, with Frank holding the ladder while I ventured onto the roof, complete with bicycle helmet in case I slipped off what were then some pretty wonky roof coverings. I used to regularly call in on Naomi on my bicycle and empty the foam vegetable cartons that Naomi had placed to catch some of the water that poured into the back rooms through the corroded box gutter’.

Essential restoration work such as guttering has been completed on the AA Company house

The historic AA Company house is now secure and water tight, but 20 years on, its interior condition is too fragile for it to be opened to the public. I count myself very fortunate that in 2013, Council Heritage Officer Sarah Cameron showed me through the house, with Naomi’s daughter, Jenny Pritchard. Jenny, fifth generation descendant of the Little family, was visiting Newcastle from her home in Moree.

Jenny Pritchard in the living room of the AA Company house (2013)

Today the house is in limbo. A conservation plan has been completed, but funds are a challenge.

It was David Campbell’s vision and ability to mobilise others to work together that originally saved this rare intact example of a nineteenth century mine Overman’s residence.

David Campbell

Is there someone else out there with imagination and drive who can ensure this hidden piece of Hamilton’s history is not only preserved, but also appreciated and enjoyed? The house waits, but for how much longer?

Front door, AA Company house, showing fleur-de-lys design on glass panel (2013)

Update - sale and NSW state heritage listing

In August 2016, the AA Company house was put up for sale by the Newcastle City Council. Purchase by a qualified buyer was approved in May 2017, with a positive covenant to implement the Conservation Management Plan. A portion of the sale proceeds are to go to interpretative plaques highlighting the history of the AA Company in Hamilton.

In August, 2017 this house achieved a special honour for Hamilton: it is now listed in the NSW State Heritage Register. This listing recognises its heritage significance to Newcastle and to the people of NSW.

Even though the AA house is no longer in public ownership, a private owner committed to its heritage, the proposed interpretive plaques and the recent NSW State Heritage listing secure its future as a tangible reminder of the mining origins of the suburb of Hamilton.

See more photographs and read the history of the AA Company house here.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


Thank you to David Campbell for providing further information, and clarifying some historical issues regarding the AA Company house.

[1] Frank Eldridge was in his 80s at this time, and had served in the Army in World War II.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Queen's Arms on Cameron's Hill

He was a man of influence in Hamilton – James Cameron. So influential was he that the locality boasting his hotel, the Queen’s Arms, became known as Cameron’s Hill. Cameron’s Hilll supplanted Winship’s Hill, which had been named for James Barron Winship, a mine manager for the Australian Agricultural Company from 1860.

Australian Agricultural Company subdivision sale poster
Cameron’s Hill, Hamilton c1911
Winship Street (formerly Lake Macquarie Road) [1] is now Denison Street
Courtesy Newcastle Region Library, from collection of Margaret Haigh

When I was researching the hotels that flourished in the late 1800s along Denison Street for my blog post Hotel Heyday in Denison Street  I was uncertain about the exact location of Hamilton’s second hotel, the Queen’s Arms. More than a year later, Helen Cramp contacted me with information that confirmed its location, and added rich detail to the Cameron story.

James Cameron owned three blocks of land on the western brow of the hill, from 188 – 192 Denison Street. The property is described as:

‘Allotment of land situated Hamilton having a frontage of 127 feet 9 inches to Winship Street by a depth of 300 feet through to Belford Street, with a frontage of 64 feet 9 inches to that street. The erections thereon consists of brick building containing eleven rooms and two rooms in wood together with stabling of wood and iron, known as the Queen’s Arms Hotel’.

Extract from record of deceased estate of James Cameron,
23 September 1907
State Records of NSW, courtesy personal collection of Helen Cramp

Today, little trace remains of the Queen’s Arms.

The fronts of these homes at 190 –192 Denison Street are said to retain some of the brickwork from the original hotel.

Next door, 188 Denison Street, was thought by owner Helen Cramp to have been on the site of the stables. The house was rebuilt by Marjorie Cramp in 1989. Daughter Helen remembers it was not uncommon to unearth horseshoes as she was gardening at the back.

Horseshoes, deteriorating with age, from the site of the stables
of the Queen’s Arms.

Helen grew up on Belford Street, next door to the house that had been the Cameron’s family home. She remembers a gracious brick house with steps leading up to a curved front verandah. The house remains, although much has changed.

Chimneys more than a century old can still be glimpsed on the now renovated former residence of James Cameron, in Belford Street, Hamilton.

Who was James Cameron?

James Cameron migrated from Scotland in 1838 aboard the ‘Brilliant’, one of the ships brought to Australia by Presbyterian clergyman John Dunmore Lang, carrying impoverished Scots displaced by the Highland Clearances. Cameron had some experience in farming, and as a butcher. With wealth from the goldfields, he arrived in Borehole in 1856, building the Queen’s Arms soon after. It began trading in 1859.

Cameron was a keen sportsman, encouraging local sporting events like athletics and foot racing. His great love, it seems, was racing – local historian Peter Murray notes that Cameron was President of the Newcastle Jockey Club for 25 years. He bred, trained and raced horses, and the Cameron Handicap was named for his son James George Cameron. [2]

A horse bus service to Newcastle operated from the Queen’s Arms
Unsourced image reproduced from Peter Murray, 2006,
From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee, 1848-1921

When tax was levied on deceased estates, the administration letters provide a list and valuation of every conceivable item belonging to that person. Those listings reveal their net worth and indirectly, their social standing.

James Cameron had invested in real estate in Newcastle and Maitland, and collected rent from his properties. Horse buggies, harnesses and bridles were included in his estate, no doubt relating to the horse bus service he operated. At the time of his death, James Cameron owned another hotel, a two story brick building known as Cameron’s Family Hotel. It was

‘...situated Hunter Street West, Newcastle having a frontage of 40 feet to Hunter Street West by a return frontage of 165 feet to Steel Street in Hamilton West...’[3]

However, it is the list of ‘household furniture and effects’ that I found so moving, as it lays bare the state of family’s domestic life. From the extensive list, it seems the Camerons lived quite comfortably. Among James’s personal assets were a family Bible, an Austrian chair, elephant ornaments, a biscuit barrel, a teapot, a meat mincer, a meat safe, and a piano. How distressing it must have been to have a stranger come into the home  when a family has just lost its breadwinner, to assess every item in the house for taxation purposes.

Listed in the deceased estate of James Cameron – a gold watch, a gold chain, a trinket and a gold ring
Extract from record of deceased estate of James Cameron,
23 September 1907
State Records of NSW, courtesy personal collection of Helen Cramp

James Cameron was survived by five children – a son, James George Cameron, and four daughters. The daughters were Jessie Elizabeth Baker, Elizabeth Ann Sharp, Sarah Sophia Cameron, and Louisa Jane Sharp.

As Helen Cramp was growing up next door to the Cameron’s old home in Belford Street in the late 1960s, she remembers the two elderly ladies who lived there – sisters Elizabeth Sharp and Louisa Sharp. They had married brothers, and came to live out their widowed years in the inherited family house.

Helen’s family was regularly invited into their home to watch television on Friday nights. The Sharp sisters decided what programs would be watched, and no doubt enjoyed the company. In a commercial break they served Helen’s parents tea, and the three children cordial and mixed lollies. I asked Helen if she remembered anything about the inside of the house.

‘Just that it was huge, and dark,’ she told me.

One of the Sharp sisters – Helen can’t recall which one – had had an arm amputated at the elbow, as a result of a fall from a fence.

Now, Helen is researching the Cameron family. Through her work and connection with the land they owned, even the horseshoes she’s dug from the earth, we have a tangible to link to Hamilton’s second hotel, the Queen’s Arms, to its owners and to its past.

Helen Cramp, 2014

If anyone can add to this story, please email

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


Thank you to Helen Cramp for sharing the results of her research, and to Margaret Haigh for providing further information and images.

[1] Personal communication to Helen Cramp from her mother Marjorie Cramp. Marjorie Cramp rebuilt the home at 188 Denison Street, Hamilton in 1989.
[2] Peter Murray, 2006, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee 1848 – 1921, 146-7.
[3] Extract from record of deceased estate of James Cameron, 23 September 1907
State Records of NSW, courtesy personal collection of Helen Cramp