Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

The Macarthur holdings

In December 1794 John Macarthur started to acquire land in the district by purchasing the holding of James Bain. He then acquired the holdings of the 13 members of the Corps, that of Jenkins and Golding and that of David Kilpack.
An Irishman in the Colony at the time called Joseph Holt, admittedly a man with no great fondness for Macarthur, described the methods Macarthur used to acquire this land as:

“Every soldier got twenty-five acres of land in fee; many of them, when intoxicated, sold their ticket for a gallon of rum. Mr M’Arthur used to supply them with goods, and so obtained from these improvident and foolish men their tickets, by which he acquired an enormous landed property.” 

By 1798 Macarthur had accumulated some 500 acres in this area and then doubled his holdings to over a 1,000 acres within a further four years. This land extended from Dundas through Carlingford, then Beecroft and finally went right the way to near present day Thompson’s Corner. Macarthur called this property his Cornish Hills Farms. The name probably derived from his father-in-law living in Cornwall. 

After having acquired and starting to farm parts of this land Macarthur’ commenced travelling to England during which time he lobbied to acquire the rich, fertile plains around Camden: a task in which he was eventually successful. In achieving this long term goal a condition imposed, to justify the size of the new parcel, by (amongst other things) his surrender of other land that he owned. The most significant holding of land that he transferred to the Crown in 1821 was his Cornish Hill Farms. Western Beecroft near the motorway and across to the golf course, was therefore traded as part of Macarthur’s quest to establish his family’s wealth and a new industry on the back of the merino sheep.  

Murray’s Farm

As noted above, one of the early small holdings acquired by Macarthur to form his Cornish Hills Farm was that of a First Fleet convict.

David Killpack was originally convicted in 1783 when he was about twenty three years of age. He was a sawyer by occupation when he was found ‘making merry’ in the presence of a turkey cock, a cock and two hens, two ducks and a gander. The poultry was not only alive, but stolen. Sentenced to seven years transportation, he sailed to the Americas on the Swift. 13 days out, the convicts mutinied and rowed back to England – from whence he was caught, convicted a second time and now sent to NSW.

He arrived in 1788 aboard the Scarborough. Three years later he married Ellenor McDonald and signed the marriage register. She was about 6 years older than he was. He received his conditional pardon in 1794 and in the same year, his first grant of 30 acres, near present day Carlingford – then called North Brush. His nearby second grant of 50 acres was received in 1795. The entire holding was acquired by Macarthur with Killpack staying on as a manager until his death in 1797. He left 4 children: his son died a few months later but 3 daughters survived to marry. His widow remarried in 1799 having at least one further child. She did not die until 1835 when she was said to be 81 years old. She was buried with David Killpack.

While Macarthur was in England, amongst other things negotiating to acquire his Camden lands, he met a young farm manager Andrew Murray who was the nephew of the great novelist, Sir Walter Scott. Murray was studying horticulture when he came into contact with Macarthur who was looking for someone to help him import different plants to test their commercial viability. Murray cared for the selected plants in a greenhouse erected aboard the Lord Eldon on the voyage out in 1817.

Working for the Macarthurs post arrival he undertook a range of tasks on their property in additional to their plants - including herding cattle at Cornish Hills Farm.

Leaving the Macarthurs, he took on various government posts including Overseer of the Government Garden at Parramatta and other activities. In developing a range of interests he often worked alongside a new found friend, one James Milsom who became a significant landholder on the North  Shore, was of similar age and had also worked on Cornish Hills Farm when he first arrived as a free settler in 1806. While Murray lived at various times in Parramatta or Ultimo he became an absentee landholder in present day Beecroft when granted 230 acres - centred on present day Murray   Farm Road. The Crown grant comprised land that Macarthur had earlier surrendered as part of the negotiated arrangements whereby Macarthur acquired land at Camden.

Murray’s was not good farming land and so was an unlikely selection for someone with his background. Certainly, the land had a connection with his mentor John Macarthur but this doesn’t seem a likely motivation for such a venture. There was another connection with this land.
Just a year after he arrived in the Colony, Andrew married Eleanor – the sister-in-law of his mate James Milson. Eleanor had been named after her mother. Both Eleanor and Milson’s wife Elizabeth were daughters of David Killpack, our poultry fancier, First Fleeter and sawyer. [1]
It is said that Andrew first met Eleanor while out herding cattle at Cornish Hills Farm. It might have been love that motivated our Scottish Presbyterian !

Murray’s holding grew to 600 acres and was largely used for timber getting with small holdings leased to emancipists who farmed them. He died in 1858 and his widow a decade later. Their tombs are nearby to the graves of David and Ellenor Killpack. The Beecroft land was bequeathed to his younger daughter Elizabeth, and stayed in the family until it was subdivided and sold between 1882 and 1885. A sandstone house on Murray   Farm Road dates from the time that the Murray family owned the land.

The Missionary Grants

In April 1792 a number of grants, each of 100 ac were made to missionaries or medical men. The two most easterly of these grants which straddled modern day Pennant Hills Road (and so comprising the north east corner of modern day Beecroft) leading up to present day Thompson’s Corner were to Thomas Hassall and Samuel Marsden.

William Kent Jnr

Along the eastern border of Macarthur’s Cornish Hills Farm 460 ac were granted to William Kent Jnr in April 1803. It is within this land that the Beecroft properties to the east of Midson Road and south of Devlins Creek are located.  

John Savage

To the north and east of Marsden’s grant was one made in August 1804 to John Savage comprising 290 ac.

The Field of Mars Common

To the east of the grant to John Savage, Macarthur’s Cornish Hill Farm and William Kent Jnr’s grants was what became on 11 August 1804 the Field of Mars Common.


[1] The ADB Vol 2 p 232, says Milsom married his employer’s daughter but this cannot be correct as David Kilpack died 9 years before Milsom arrived in the Colony.


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