Creating a Grand House – the Camerons’ years at Newnham Hall, 1835-1857 

Creating a Grand House – the Camerons' years at Newnham Hall, 1835-1857 

(Part 1)  by Anne Batt. 

In 1822 Martin Mowbray Stephenson was granted 500 acres on the east bank of the Tamar. In the early 1830s Stephenson subdivided the land and sold 250 acres to Lieutenant Matthew Curling Friend with Friend’s property named Newnham Estate. Friend built a classic Colonial Georgian house overlooking the river at Stephenson’s Bend, and various farm buildings. As Port Officer he was required to be resident in George Town so he advertised Newnham for lease in June 1835. Friend auctioned his farm animals, produce, tools and household furniture at this time. 

Arriving in Hobart Town in April 1823, the 17-year-old John Cameron helped his brother-in-law, John Swan, establish a very successful drapery and furniture business. At the age of 22, John Cameron moved to Launceston with a cargo of drapery and other household goods to set up his own shop, Manchester House in Charles Street, later moving to Brisbane Street as Mr. Cameron’s. 

In June 1835 this young Launceston merchant announced his intentions to travel to England. Cameron paid Friend £1000 and drew up bills of exchange totalling £2800. The bills of exchange were to be honoured between January 1836 (Cameron departed on 3rd February) and 1840. With the construction of Griffith’s Tamar Street bridge in 1833, and the survey for the George Town Road, Cameron must have decided that it was practical to live at Newnham, while continuing his busy life in Launceston. The house comprised four main rooms on each floor, and an unfinished attic floor. 

John Cameron returned to London to find himself a wife. He married Eliza Milburn Snell in London on 25th February 1837. For the 19-year-old bride from London, Launceston with a population of about 4000 people must have been quite a shock.  

Prior to moving to Newnham, the Camerons lived in Brisbane Street. Their first daughter, Emma Jane, was born on 7th January 1838. By August 1839 the Camerons were settling into life at Newnham. John advertised for a working overseer and his wife to take charge of a small farm and an indoor servant.  

Eliza gave birth to a second baby on 23rd May 1840. Sadly, baby John Swan Cameron lived for only 11 days and died on 4th June. (Six subsequent pregnancies all resulted in stillbirths). At about this time, Eliza’s parents and her two sisters embarked from London on the barque Cecilia, arriving in Launceston on 19th August. Eliza, now 22, must have welcomed the presence of her family. 

The Snells leased a haberdashery store in Longford in February 1841. This was not a good time for local retail. This venture lasted until August, when Joseph William Snell was declared insolvent and all shop stock, household effects, livestock and the balance of the lease all up for auction. The store was taken over by James G. Carr, and Mr and Mrs Snell and one Miss Snell departed for London on the Ina in February 1842.  

John was very busy with Mr Cameron’s store, his liquor wholesale business, several rental properties, exporting agricultural produce, as churchwarden at St John’s, and his role as an assignee for various insolvents. He was also an active citizen. 

Having John move into the area was to prove beneficial to other residents.  In November 1838, he called a meeting at Mr. Cameron’s to discuss the condition of the George Town Road. This was the first of many meetings and John became a trustee for funds allocated to the George Town Road (26th Sept 1849), and eventually became a trustee of the Dorset Road Board. He proposed the establishment of the George Town Road as a toll road, with a toll gate at Invermay. He made his Newnham waterfront grounds available for the Tamar regatta in 1849. He assisted with the establishment of a church at Newnham advertised the times for services (26th April 1851) and advertised for a teacher for a parish school (7th August 1850). Money was collected at services to buy land and erect buildings for a church and schoolhouse. Cameron, William Gardner and William Henty were trustees for the fund and Cameron eventually sold one acre of his land to the trust for £10 (deed 04/0781, 19.01.1855).  

In commenting on John making the Newnham grounds available for regatta spectators at short notice, Goodwin in the Cornwall Chronicle (10/01/1849) described him as an ‘influential and warm hearted friend of the district’. 

 In September 1843, John announced that he was leaving the colony and that all his household furniture and effects, his horses, farm implements, and his small dairy herd would be auctioned in November. He was not planning to be away long, as he had been buying more agricultural land, owned the Cornwall Chronicle, and was appointed a Justice of the Peace in October.  

Leaving his drapery shop in the care of James Thompson, Mr and Mrs Cameron, and Emma, now 6 years old, and Miss Snell set sail for London on 23rd March 1844 on the barque Tasmania, a ship specifically built for the colonial trade, with accommodation for passengers described as ‘superior’.  

Goods arrived on three ships in December 1844, advertised at Mr Cameron’s as being selected by him personally from the ‘first houses in England’. 

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