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Springfield transformed: Family collection into national treasure

Paper presented by Carol Cooper, Registrar, National Museum of Australia
Collecting for a Nation symposium, National Museum of Australia, 21 March 2006

CAROL COOPER: This is definitely a success story in terms of a collection which comprises not only objects, but a very rich contextualisation in terms of the archival material that goes with it - and this includes a lot of books, documentary material and also a very extensive collection of photographs. When Mike Smith asked me if I would like to give a presentation at the Collecting for a Nation symposium today I thought initially of the title ‘Transforming Springfield’, and I thought of speaking about the role in this transformation of the National Museum. However, after giving it further consideration, I realised that it was the momentous decision on the part of the Maple-Brown family to give the Springfield collection to the Museum that had in itself immediately transformed a collection of family mementos and memories into something of far broader consequences. It’s something that we at the National Museum believe to be, in a sense, historical treasure. That was certainly the media hype that occurred during the process of obtaining this very significant collection as a cultural gift to the Museum. This collection relates both to colonial settlement and the development of the pastoral industry in Australia. I want to take you through the background to the Springfield cultural gift and provide some details and insights into this truly remarkable collection.

As the Registrar at the National Museum I have responsibility for the administration of the Cultural Gifts Program. But in some ways it was just purely fortuitous that, because Freda Hanley, the Museum’s General Manager for Collections, was away on leave and I was acting in her position, I gained the great privilege of becoming the Museum’s family liaison officer, working with Jim Maple-Brown, Diana Boyd and their families in assisting to acquire the Springfield collection for the National Museum. In my initial dealings with the families, I hadn’t had access to some of the historical writings by one popular historical author, a man called Peter Taylor, about the Springfield collection and the Faithfull and Maple-Brown families, so I really had to wing it on the first few visits. I was initially incredibly confused by the number of people who had two names but were often called something else, and certainly the number of ladies called Florence. Now it’s all a great deal clearer and I feel that I’m on top of it, although I was misquoted in the press recently as saying that the Faithfull family history ‘was like a soap drama’. It isn’t like a soap, but it is a rich and complex history: there are so many different aspects to the life of this family which through gifting their collection they are sharing with a wider community. The Museum has an enormous job ahead of it to make this collection in its entirety available to the Australian people.

Springfield Station was obtained as an original grant of land of 518 hectares by William Pitt Faithfull in 1827 from the Governor of New South Wales, Richard Bourke, but it wasn’t actually taken up until a year later in 1828. It’s situated on the Mulwaree Ponds on the Goulburn Plains, about 17 kilometres south of Goulburn. One hundred and seventy-eight years and seven generations later, the Faithfull and Maple-Brown family continues to farm sheep and breed horses at Springfield, which is believed to be the first Merino sheep stud in Australia still under the control of the descendants of the original owner.

In 1838 William Pitt Faithfull founded the Springfield Merino Stud when he purchased rams from the Camden flock of Sir William Macarthur. The stud was established not only to supply sheep to those travelling south into what is now Victoria but later in the same year William Pitt sent his first fine wool to London. The wealth of the station was originally developed not just from wool but by providing food such as mutton, flour and vegetables for the gangs of convicts building the new road between Sydney and Melbourne.

By 1844 William Pitt Faithfull had married Mary Deane and, as a result, in 1845 the original modest buildings of the station were extended to include a new stone residence with two bedrooms and an upper floor. In the mid-1850s, an agreement was signed for the production of 150,000 bricks and in 1857 work began on the large and elegant ‘big house’, with two storeys and a square tower over the front entrance hall, which would rise to a third floor.

Springfield is a village really, rather than just a station. Photographs show some details of the early buildings that formed part of a large square at the back of the main house. They include the stables, the coach house, the blacksmith’s and a very fascinating flour mill which dates from the late 1820s, early 1830s, which is still in existence and has been largely preserved by the forethought of Lucian Faithfull, who in the 1870s had it sheeted over with tin to preserve it. There’s an enormous amount of external history relating to the merino stud existing outside the Faithfull Family Museum, which we’ll move on to now.

Photographs taken at the back of the ‘big house’ show some earlier parts of the house, including the very early stone portion built in 1845. This had two bedrooms upstairs which, in the 1850s additions, were joined by a further two rooms. These were originally the quarters of surveyor Edgar Deane, who was a nephew of Mary Faithfull, nee Deane, the wife of William Pitt Faithfull. These rooms were later transformed into the Faithfull Family Museum.

Another photograph shows interior views of the two-room Faithfull Family Museum, which was created in the 1950s after Bobbie Maple-Brown, nee Faithfull, inherited the property and undertook extensive internal renovations. Prior to this, her Aunt Florence, the elder sister of her father Lucian Faithfull, had lived in the ‘big house’ from her birth in 1851 until her death in 1949. So for 98 years she lived in the ‘big house’. Over this period she kept just about everything and shut off rooms as other family members either moved away or died. This is, in part, one of the explanations for this extraordinary collection surviving in the way that it has and, in such good condition. So Bobbie brought all of the family treasures together and, apart from a valuable collection of books and manuscripts relating to the economic development of the Springfield Merino Stud that were transferred to the National Library of Australia, all of the remaining objects, books and photographs were lovingly stored in the museum. Here, specially-built cupboards protected the dresses and carefully written labels captured both family memories and connected Springfield to the wider events of Australian history.

William Faithfull was the founding Faithfull member in Australia when he came to Australia in 1792 as a private in Captain Joseph Foveaux’s New South Wales Corps. An early photograph shows the two-volume set of bibles given by Joseph Foveaux, with other mementos including a fob watch and coin sets and, importantly, a flock of sheep, to William Faithfull in 1801. These items are a tangible connection between the Faithfulls and one of the leading personalities of the early years of the settlement in New South Wales. They also point to the initial impetus that the Faithfull family were given to become pastoral pioneers.

William’s son, William Pitt Faithfull, established Springfield in 1828. He was the elder son of William Faithfull and Susannah Pitt. A photo, which probably dates to the late 1880s or early 1890s, shows William Pitt at centre with his younger son Lucian to his left and his youngest daughter Lilian and Aunt Anne Deane, his wife’s sister, to his left. There is debate about whether the standing figure is in fact Florence, his eldest daughter or, alternatively, a family friend. And the identity of the small boy is unknown.

Many of the historic photographs in the Springfield collection illustrate the Faithfulls’ love of animals. We have an absolutely fabulous collection of photos of stud rams, all with royal titles. They’re either ‘Sirs’ or ‘Princes’ or even ‘Kings’. The family had lots of animals that they were very close to and that were kept in the house as pets. Mary Faithfull, William Pitt Faithfull’s wife, was bedridden before her death in 1889. She kept four caged parrots in her room. These are described in a personal reminiscence written by her niece, Hope Faithfull, describing visits to Springfield in the 1880s, and this is part of the collection. They can also be glimpsed perched on arms or chairs. Before the 1890s the long exposure times of the wet plate photographic techniques resulted in people always looking grave, formal and rather stilted because they’re trying not to move, while young children, dogs and, as it turns out, especially birds, turn into enigmatic blur. Part of the collection is a beautiful, green stuffed parrot. It was quite common for birds to be imported at that time, so we’re wondering whether the stuffed taxidermy parrot in the glass case might in fact be one of Mary Deane’s favourite pets.

Moving on, William Pitt’s youngest son, Lucian Faithfull took over the management of the merino stud in 1871. He was only 16 when he took over management of the stud flock, still under the watchful eye of his father who was then a very healthy 65. Over the ensuing years Lucian made a name for himself as a stud breeder and the fortunes of the family continued to increase despite the general depression of the 1890s and his father’s death in 1896. Denis Shephard, who is one of the curators who has worked most extensively on the Springfield collection, has done a lot of work on the Springfield stud side of the collection, which will shortly be showcased as part of the National Museum’s gallery redevelopment project.

Another photograph from the Springfield collection shows Lucian’s daughter, Bobbie, when she was aged about 50 years, at the wedding of her daughter, Diana. Diana is one of the two major family members who gifted the Springfield collection to the National Museum. The photograph includes Irwin, Bobbie’s husband. And this was the point where the Faithfulls became the Maple-Browns. Lucian and Ethel had three daughters and, on Lucian’s death in 1942, the second of these, Florence Ethel, known as Bobbie, who had married grazier Irwin Maple-Brown in 1923, inherited Springfield. They returned to live at the station in 1944, and after the death of Aunt Florey in 1949, moved into the ‘big house’ and undertook extensive renovations. These were definitely required as Aunt Florey had remained firmly in the Victorian era. She mistrusted electricity, thinking it was potentially very dangerous, and the ‘big house’ was still powered by gas from the carbide plant and fuel from wood stoves. I believe she had a team of about ten servants who made sure that very large house stayed warm enough for her. But most of the bedrooms had not been used in years and one was still known as ‘Constance’s room’. Constance was Florence’s younger sister who had left Springfield to live abroad at the end of the nineteenth century.

Returning to the photograph which shows Bobbie and Irwin at the wedding of their daughter, Diana, in 1952 after the recently completed renovations, Diana has spoken about how these renovations were completed just before the wedding. One of the great things about this collection is that the donors are all still alive. They all have a great knowledge of the history of Springfield. They’re very willing and able to talk to Museum staff to make sure we understand the details. As I noted above, it was Bobbie’s sense of family history which led to the creation of the Faithfull Family Museum over this same period in the early 1950s.

Another photograph shows Jim and Pamela Maple-Brown. Jim married Pamela Calder in 1947. They have lived in Springfield since their marriage but they didn’t move into the ‘big house’ until 1983. When Irwin Maple-Brown died in 1963, Jim took over the running of two properties that they had at that time, Springfield and Fonthill stations. Twenty years later in 1983 when the ‘big house’ became too large for Bobbie to manage on her own, Jim and Pamela moved in allowing Bobbie, then aged 84, to retire to a renovated cottage close by. In her Springfield entry in the Captivating and Curious exhibition catalogue, curator Cinnamon van Reyk has stated:

The impressive Springfield collection donated to the National Museum is mainly due to two remarkable family members, WP Faithfull’s elder daughter Florence, ‘Aunt Florey’, and her niece Bobbie Maple-Brown.

This was owing to Florence having hoarded most of the collection initially and obviously Bobbie then having preserved it by creating the family museum in the 1950s. But I’d also like to extend this recognition to include Pamela Maple-Brown. Pamela got on very well with her mother-in-law, absorbed a great deal of family lore, cared for and preserved the collection and is now accepted by the family as the custodian of the family tradition. After Bobbie’s departure from the ‘big house’ Pamela was certainly was the official keeper of the Faithfull Family Museum.

You can see from the photographs in the Springfield collection how information was relayed on from generations because all around the family museum these photographs were just propped up on chairs - that was how we found them,- and they were obviously talked about and discussed a lot. From the early 1950s the Faithfull Family Museum was a place where extended family members and friends could come to browse and learn about a range of fascinating photographs and objects which related to the Springfield Station and the many people who had lived and worked there. And don’t forget that Springfield was like a village with at one point over 100 families. Up until the Second World War a huge number of people lived on the property, not just the Faithfull and Maple-Brown families. In a photograph taken when William Pitt Faithfull’s younger daughter Lilian Faithfull Anderson returned from her wedding in 1898, you can see a sign which says, ‘Home, always welcome’. There were over 100 families who lived and worked on Springfield and a lot of the descendants of those people have also come forward and contributed information about the property.

The Faithfull Family Museum documented highlights of family history, such as the Foveaux gifts to William Faithfull which I mentioned earlier. It also documented all the major events in the history of Springfield and the Faithfull and Maple-Brown families, but the majority of the material relates to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The National Museum is very fortunate that both Pamela and Jim Maple-Brown, and Diana Boyd, have been extremely generous in providing a great deal of contextual information about the collection.

One of the important stories, and which was one of the reasons why we came to know about Springfield, was the bushranger incident of February 1865. The four elder Pitt-Faithfull sons - Percy, George, Monty and Reggie - were on their way to Goulburn when they were attacked by the local bushrangers Gilbert, Hall and Dunn. Instead of surrendering their horses and the dray to the bandits, they returned fire and then fled back to Springfield and managed to escape unharmed. Mementos of this fray include the breech loading rifle that successfully defended the boys, as well as Gilbert’s dropped pistol. There are welcome home banners; a painting dated 1867 that commemorates the boys’ bravery locally; a letter dated 1876 from the Colonial Secretary’s Office officially in recognition of the deeds and, a gold medal, which is also in the gift. Indeed, there is more than one gold medal, there are in fact four, because William Pitt Faithfull, who was proud and fair and I suppose wealthy enough at the time, had three more struck so that each of the sons could have one.

The Springfield clothing collection is very extensive, and many of you will hopefully have seen the costumes that were on display in the Captivating and Curious exhibition. There’s also a dress in the Horizons gallery settlers display, as well as the lovely little green parrot. I should have said that there are some 450 costumes and accessories. There are also a large number of other objects. The domestic material includes some important items that have larger significance. There’s a fitted wooden dressing case from the explorer and later Goulburn settler William Hovell, and a belt that was reputedly owned and mistakenly left at Springfield by the gold rush publicist, Edward Hargraves.

Again, it’s important to remember the location of Springfield: it’s on the main road between Sydney and down to the South Coast via Braidwood. Even though the collections relate mainly to a personal history, the family was well connected and the lines of history trail out into the broader economic and social life of the day. The girls went off to dinners at Government House in Sydney, for example. There were many social occasions when they wore those beautiful dresses.

The Springfield collection also contains large objects like the landau carriage which was ordered from Brewsters in New York in 1889, and is a fascinating object. We have documentation that includes the exact specifications needed for the carriage. It had to be taller than normal because William Pitt was a very tall man; he was over six feet tall; and he used to always wear his top hat when he was out in the carriage.

It’s a reminder that the Faithfulls’ economic success was no accident. The family read widely, and paper records in the collection, including a lovely scrapbook belonging to Lucian, attest to their desire to search out the best value, especially in terms of operating their farming enterprise. One might have expected that they would have gone back to the old country, to England for example, for a stylish carriage. But, no, American companies produced a product that was far more suitable for Australian conditions, and that was why the landau was ordered from New York. One of my favourite photographs shows the landau carriage bringing back Lucian and Ethel from their honeymoon in 1895. There’s also a wide range of books, ephemera and photographs in the Springfield collection.

The Springfield cultural gift came out of research that mainly Dennis Shephard was doing for the Outlawed exhibition. This research led him to go to Springfield to see the collection. The National Museum’s Conservator Eric Archer was invited to Springfield for lunch one day and saw this amazing collection. So there was knowledge at the Museum about Springfield, and also knowledge at Springfield about the National Museum, which was good. I have to say that the Museum’s Director, Craddock Morton, and the executive have been fascinated by the Springfield story and totally supportive of this cultural gift. They have done everything possible to give us the staffing and other resources that we’ve needed to be able to take in the collection.

The Springfield pick-up was in retrospect a fantastic event over several weeks. During the pick-up we worked outside for various reasons and there’s a photograph showing us picking up the last things from the stable complex. It was too far from the stable to work in the ‘big house’. I would like to acknowledge a great deal of appreciation on my own behalf to Registration staff members Maria Ramsden and Patrick Baum, who helped extensively with planning the pick-up of the collection. We documented the collection and bar-coded as we went. Curators and conservators were an integral part of the process. It was a fantastic experience. We took several truckloads of material back to the Museum where they were all pest-treated, and they’re now being accessioned by a special team of people. So the Museum funded a special portable cabin so that we could have a dedicated space to prepare and accession the collection material back to Canberra. I would also like to acknowledge George Serras, the Museum’s photographer, who has done some very creative work in documenting the collection.

On 9 December 2005, a little over one year after the Springfield collection had been brought back to the National Museum - documented and prepared for valuation and accepted by the Committee of the Cultural Gifts Program in September 2005, items from the Faithfull Family Museum went on display in the Museum’s Captivating and Curious exhibition. Since then a whole module of the Horizons gallery, within the Museum’s permanent exhibition space, has focused on the settler history of the William Pitt Faithfull family and the Springfield station. I came into the Museum yesterday to do a bit of oral history work myself by snooping around and listening to what people were saying. Hearing, as I have been privileged to, both the family’s response to the National Museum’s displays, which is one of pride and pleasure, as well as observing the public’s reactions to the objects and their interpretations, which appears to be one of both pleasure and intrigue, I think we can all agree that the Springfield collection will continue to be transformed and, in the process, interest and inspire many Australians about our shared history. Thank you.

FACILITATOR: Thank you very much, Carol, for so warmly evoking both the people and the objects of Springfield.

MIKE SMITH: Whenever the National Museum has absorbed an existing collection, we acquire not just a collection of things but a collection of things with values someone else has ascribed to them, a set of decisions about what to keep and what to discard. I’m interested in the family’s rationale for this collection. At one level, at face value, it’s perhaps a celebration and a positioning of a pastoral dynasty. But what did they choose to keep, what did they choose to discard, who used it, how did they use it, how did they use it to cement their position in this squattocracy? Just playing devil’s advocate, one could suggest that perhaps the Museum has been inadvertently enlisted in an enterprise begun by William Pitt Faithfull to position this family?

CAROL COOPER: Well, you might think that. I’m not sure that very much was discarded, to be honest, But it’s very complex, and I’ve just skimmed over the surface of the collection, but you’re right. One of the things that Jim Maple-Brown said in the press quite a lot was that one of the reasons for donating the collection was to keep the family history together, rather than allow it to be dispersed amongst family members. I probably should have explained earlier that Springfield Station has gone up for auction, and negotiations are very much under way for the sale of the station. The family had to come to that decision, because the land in that area is now far too valuable for sheep farming, especially as sheep farming is no longer as economically successful as it was. The family really wanted this historical collection to be kept together and, as they were leaving the property, the best way to do it, they saw, was to give it to a museum because otherwise it would have either been fragmented or dispersed to the wider family, or through sale, as we’ve seen out at Gidley Station near Bungendore recently through public auction, so that it could never again be brought together.

So the family have thought very carefully about this and they do still retain quite a lot of influence over the collection. Their comments are taken on board. They certainly want to keep some personal link with this collection, although legally they no longer have any control. They are exceptionally interested to see what the National Museum might discover and draw out of their collection, because really it’s such a large amount of material. It has a very personal story, which is their reason for wanting it kept together, because it’s a great success story of which they are justifiably proud. There is also the weaving of the many threads of Australian history, in the way that events and ideas can be drawn out from it and linked up to other parts of our collection as well. So I think it’s a challenge to the curators to use the collection to its fullest extent. We have the opportunity to do a lot more oral history with the family but we also have to look beyond just the family museum and the station and see what broader interpretations and uses for the collection that there might be.

Date published: 13 September 2007