The Campbells of Cromla
Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Campbell descendant Jeanette Bradley
The Cromla estate in later years
In 1969, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article “Four Families Share the Stout Stones that were Campbell’s Kingdom”:
On the left hand side of the southern approach to Roseville Bridge is a group of grey old buildings first visible through the trees from the expressway. Further along there are two stone posts. These marked the gateway to Cromla, built in 1889 for John Campbell. An early observer, whose record is preserved in the Mitchell Library wrote:
“When Mr Campbell built his house he had in mind the fortalice of some Scottish chieftain, for it is unlike anything else in the district … it has an old-world look, partly of a small fortress, and partly of a monastery. The main building is like a keep; it has no pretension of any kind of elegance or ornament, standing four-square and strong against all the winds and rains of heaven.”
Eighty years have changed all that. First, the approaches: instead of the wharf where retainers met John Campbell sailing from the city in one of his fleet of ships (the wharf posts are a few yards upstream from the Roseville Baths) the four families now living in four separate sections of the original building use cars and the expressway. The address is no longer Cromla, but the Kingsway. And Cromla itself?
Well, the stables have been converted into a charming home by Mr and Mrs Adrian Cox. Mr and Mrs W.S. Duffield live in a multi-level house built for them by architect Mr Eric Towell, built partly from concrete bricks and partly from the stone of a servants’ cottage. Mrs and Mrs I. Berkelouw’s house has its original slate roof and, except for the brick columns added along the tiled verandah, seems practically unchanged in outline. Next door, Mr and Mrs R. Meth live in the square section of the fort, under a high-pitched roof. These last two buildings were joined in 1889 by stone arches.
Part of the 30-acre estate contains a well, roofed over with stone, and named by John Campbell, St Columbia’s Well. The owner of this section lives in New York ... The stone walls of all the houses are a foot thick, and in the Duffield’s home is another reminder of the way that even outbuildings were built to last. The mantelpiece in the study is a solid piece of cedar, one foot square in section, which was the lintel over the cowshed door … [In the Berkelouw’s house] the rooms are large; so large, the two front ones, that a small cottage would almost fit into each one.
Sometime after this article was published, John Campbell’s granddaughter, Lili Muire Granger Winney (nee Campbell), sent a copy along with details of her own memories of “Cromla” to a radio broadcaster:
This lovely home “Cromla”, built by John Campbell (my grandfather), a Scot from the Isle of Skye, for his wife and ten children was very different when I spent week-ends there as a child. Standing in 25 acres of land overlooking Middle Harbour, I recollect the dams in which we swam our horses, the walks around large rose gardens and through long archways of grape. There were ten bedrooms, six bathrooms, and a huge kitchen with a good cook always busy. The huge dining room (now, I believe, four rooms) contained chairs with ornamental carvings of a Scotch thistle and the name “Cromla”. At one end of the room was a lectern holding a Bible from which John Campbell read to his family every morning before breakfast was served. On Sunday we were all given a gold coin for the Church offertory. John Campbell’s name was on the board at the entrance of the original St Stephen’s Church as being one of the main benefactors. The Rev. John Ferguson was his friend. The daily transport to business, grain Merchants in Sussex Street) was by the family coach and “greys” to Roseville Station. Another later trip was made by the coach to transport the ladies wishing to go to town. There was no bridge over Middle Harbour – we used to row across to the other side where the wide flowers grew prolifically – especially flannel flowers and waratahs – and of course we were free to pick them.
In recent times, part of the “Cromla” property returned to Campbell hands. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1996:
Blood is thicker than dough. Historic Cromla, built in 1865 for pioneer flour merchant John Campbell, is back in the family. Scott Campbell, the great-grandson, and his wife Susan bought the 3100 sq m Roseville Chase property from fitness equipment business couple Steve and Kristina Shepherd, ahead of its scheduled auction …