History of Varroville

Robert Townson is a familiar name to most Campbelltonians. Not only is Townson Avenue a major road in Leumeah and Minto, but a large primary and high school in Raby is named in his honour as well. But who was he?

Dr Townson, born in 1763, was arguably the finest scholar and scientist ever to set foot in the early colony. And the farm(PDF, 50KB) he established on the hills north-west of Campbelltown has given birth to the modern suburb name of Varroville.

Fluent in Latin, Greek, French and German, Townson boasted a brilliant mind, and his zest in natural history was widely admired. One of his closest friends was Sir Joseph Banks, and at home in England he had everything at his beck and call.

But the unmarried scholar was increasingly intrigued by tales of Australia, sent to him by his brother, Captain John Townson of the NSW Corps.

When the good doctor decided to emigrate to Sydney, the British Government almost knocked him down in the rush to get the paperwork approved, as he was just the type of man needed to bring a touch of class to the roughneck colony.

But shortly after his arrival in 1807, Dr Townson fell foul of Governor Bligh and was soon conspiring his downfall with John Macarthur and officers of the NSW Corps. This intrigue culminated in the famous "Rum Rebellion" of 1808, which saw Bligh deposed from power.

But Townson soon turned on the new rebel administration and his vocal attacks continued until the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1809.

Macquarie not only confirmed a large land grant for Townson at Botany Bay, but also gave him an additional 1000 acres (400ha) in the local area. This huge estate was named Varro Ville by Townson, reputedly after the ancient Roman agriculturalist and author, Marcus Terentius Varro.

The Varro Ville homestead was constructed of rendered sandstone bricks on a stone foundation. The frogs of indentations to hold the mortar in the bricks are in the shape of diamonds, spades and hearts. The cedar joinery indicates the early age of the house, but other additions suggest some alterations around the 1870s.

A second cottage, thought to date from 1810, and the old coach house are still standing.

Dr Townson had already fallen foul of English society, Governor William Bligh, and the rebel administration of 1808-09. Now it was Macquarie's turn.

Following a war of words with Governor, Townson angrily shut himself away from day-to-day colonial matters and devoted almost every walking hour to the improvement of his farm.

It was only after Macquarie's departure in 1822 that he re-entered Sydney life, became a foundation member of the NSW Royal Agricultural Society and was appointed a magistrate in 1826. Townson also helped to establish the Sydney Dispensary which gave free medical attention to the poor.

His library was the most extensive in the colony and dinner parties at his home were always intellectual debating forums. When he died in 1827, Townson left behind a thriving vineyard and sheep/cattle farm.

Varro Ville became the property of Thomas Wills, a brother of Sarah Redfern, and in 1837 in was purchased by one of the greatest Australian explorers, Charles Sturt. He had moved to the Campbelltown area from Mittagong because of the bushranger problems in that region. But he didn't stay at Varro Ville for long, accepting a top government job in the colony of South Australia in 1839.

The new owner was James Raymond, who was to become the NSW Postmaster-General. Supreme Court judge, Alfred Cheeke became another owner, and by the turn of the century the estate was one of the region's leading dairy farms.

But Varro Ville, which was often abbreviated to Varroville, fell into disrepair earlier this century. Purchasing the estate, Mr and Mrs A.C.M. Jackaman established beautiful gardens surrounding the homestead. It should be noted that at this time there was no suburb or locality called "Varroville". If any address was given for the old homestead or other farms in the area, it was "Minto".

The house was later held by the National Trust, and is now being painstakingly restored by new owners.

In April 1972, the entire area was "preserved" as part of the new Central Hills Scenic Protection Lands - better known today as "The Scenic Hills".

Only a few months later, the Jackamans applied to subdivide the core of the old Varro Ville farm into two portions. This was rejected by Campbelltown Council, which continues to guard the minimum lot sizes allowed in the area, in an effort to protect the rural view.

In 1976 the name Varroville was officially approved as the suburb name, encompassing the entire area between Raby and Denham Court.

Varroville's main thoroughfare is St Andrews Road, which follows the path of the old farm track that once skirted the St Andrews property of Dr Townson's nearest neighbour, Andrew Thompson. The only other roads in the suburb recall the names of two other saints - St James and St David.

The entrance to Varroville today is dominated by the Mount Carmel Novitiate. When the foundation stone of this chapel and Carmellite friary was laid in 1966, the Campbelltown-Ingleburn News noted the "Mt Carmel" name came from Palestine, where the order was founded many centuries ago. The adjoining Mount Carmel Catholic High School opened in 1986.

In 1995, Varroville still enjoys a reputation for beautiful hills, sweeping views and old farms. As long ago as 1959, Alderman Guy Marsden had lobbied to build a park and lookout "the equal of Echo Point in the Blue Mountains" in the area. The site he had earmarked was on the ridgeline off St James Road, but almost four decades later, his dream remains just that - a dream.

"Campbelltown's Streets and Suburbs - How and why they got their names" written by Jeff McGill, Verlie Fowler and Keith Richardson, 1995, published by Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society.

Reproduced with permission of the authors.