The Cumberland Plain was the first part of the colony of NSW to be settled by Europeans as they moved inland from Sydney Cove. The area extends from Sydney west to Penrith, south to Campbelltown and Camden and to Windsor in the north-west. Up to the early 1820s, the Blue Mountains marked the westward perimeter of this spread.
A small, privileged group of the new arrivals came with promises of farm and grazing land from the British Government; their ambitions for wealth and influence would have been impossible to achieve in their places of origin. They were allocated land without regard for its Indigenous occupants, the Gadigal and Dharug peoples of the Eora nation.
Most early settlers came from provincial parts of Britain. They had grown up with inherited attitudes about status and social hierarchies embedded in a centuries-old class system based on property ownership and agriculture. The men were often associated with the British Army or Royal Navy, or came to NSW as merchants and civil servants, accepting the offer of free land grants with alacrity.
Once established in NSW, they became known collectively as the ‘gentlemen of the colony’, the ‘exclusives’ or, less politely, the ‘pure merinos’ after the flocks they grazed. Their names — Blaxland, Macarthur, King, Macleay, Piper, Wentworth — and those of their properties — Newington, Camden, Homebush, Rhodes, Vaucluse, Annandale — are still part of Sydney life, even if many of the original associations have been long forgotten.
The exclusives quickly set up networks to develop and protect their colonial interests. By 1900, after two or three generations of living in Australia, they had become a powerful elite underpinned by patronage, property ownership, marriage and personal relationships. They cemented their influence through business, legal and trading connections, board and club memberships, and political positions.