History Lesson – James Ainslie and Robert Campbell

Loose Brown 20 July 2008 14

When the Duke of Wellington’s army faced off against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, one of the casualties was a Scott, James Ainslie. He was hit in the head with a sabre and severely wounded, but managed to survive.

Ten years later it was 1825 and James Ainslie was on the outskirts of Canberra. His employer Robert Campbell had tasked him with finding good grazing land for 700 of his sheep. With the help of local Aboriginies, he reached the Limestone Plains and applied for a grant to farm the land. When this was received, he named the land Duntroon Station after his family castle in Scotland.

In twelve years, James Ainslie had increased the size of the sheep flock from 700 to 20,000. Duntroon Station extended from Duntroon all the way to today’s Glebe Park. Quite the scandal was his living with a local Aboriginal woman, and having a daughter with her who they named Nanny. He headed back to Scotland in 1835, where he promptly disappeared from the pages of history.

By 1833, Robert Campbell had built a one storey stone house with wide verandahs and a large two-storey extension was added by his son George in 1862.

‘Duntroon House’ became the centre around which revolved the life of the many employees of Duntroon Station – the manager, servants, stockmen, gardeners, carpenters, horsebreakers, shoemakers, masons, brick makers, tailors and tenant farmers.

Today Duntroon House is the Officer’s Mess of Canberra’s Royal Military College. The building is an awesome example of colonial architecture and one of the oldest buildings in Canberra.

Blundell’s Cottage, St John the Baptist Church, and Yarralumla House were all built by either Robert Campbell or his family.

The suburbs of Ainslie and Mount Ainslie are named after James Ainslie, and the suburb of Campbell is named after Robert Campbell.

And as an amusing bit of trivia – the two metal sheep relaxing in Civic are a tribute to the work of James Ainslie.

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14 Responses to History Lesson – James Ainslie and Robert Campbell
Thumper Thumper 9:03 am 28 Jul 08

There’s heaps of good historical stuff in canberra if you know where to look.

Mugga Mugga, Lanyon, Duntroon House, St John’s Schoolhouse, Blundell’s Cottage, Rosebud Apiary, Weetangera Cemetary, St john’s Church in Reid, All Saints in Ainslie, Tuggeranong Homestead, etc…

Lots of good stuff…

Granny Granny 11:40 pm 27 Jul 08


el el 9:28 pm 27 Jul 08

Just don’t drive too slowly through the Causeway.

Granny Granny 8:31 pm 27 Jul 08

A perfect circle would have been kind of cool. I can’t say I blame the guy for quitting. Why did they bother to accept his plan if they couldn’t afford to build it?

I never realised there was so much I didn’t know about my own city, or that there was even anything to know.

I might take a drive out there one day and have a look around. I have always had an affinity for antiques and historical buildings. They seem to have more soul to them somehow.

heinous heinous 7:03 pm 27 Jul 08

The Causeway as we know it now is a suburb next to the new Kingston Foreshore development. Its roads are laid out in a grid like manor much like Hall and the centre of Queanbeyan are. This layout was the standard model for cities in those days. Originally Griffin called the area Eastlake along with adjacent Narabundah, Kingston and Griffith. The government later renamed the areas, however residence of the Causeway sometimes stated their postcode as Kingston as the Causeway did not have a good reputation.

The Causeway was created to house the workers to build the new capital of Australia and this is why the Causeway, the Power House and the end of the train line are so close to each other. The houses were low cost wooden building, relocated form other areas. Before being relocated, the purpose of the houses were as decoy villages for expected bombing raids during the war. Eventually the houses were replaced with brick ones. Most of the houses are government owned.

The light rail to civic was a temporary line built on a temporary bridge. It did not last long as it was made of wood with poor foundations. The bridges piers were incorrectly aligned against the river flow and so the first flood washed away all of the piers. The train tracks survived the flood and spent some time suspended in mid air with all of the sleepers still attached. Eventually it came down as well. They never rebuilt the bridge. They used the same excuse that they still use today in that they believe nobody will use it.

Hugo, I did some digging and found that the light rail bridge and the foot bridge were separate constructions. The foot bridge was “a raised footpath supported in the marshy spots by a steel frame”. You are lucky to have seen this part of Canberra’s history. It seems now days if something is more than fifty yeas old then it needs to be torn down, unlike more mature cities that chooses to preserve their history for future generations.

Granny Granny 3:45 pm 27 Jul 08

Gosh, I didn’t even know there was a place called the Causeway, let alone a bridge. From the map I can’t even work out where they would have put it. I didn’t know there was a rail link to Civic either.

Hugo Hugo 2:23 pm 27 Jul 08

The Causeway was a wooden footbridge. Whether this was the remanent of the rail link to Civic I am not sure, but I think that was further down the river and washed away in a flood. I remember a weir close to where the King’s avenue bridge is now, that also always seemed to get washed away. I remember the footbridge because we used to swim in the river there, regardless of the toxicity and I got a huge splinter in my foot from the old wood, which was bravely removed with his pocket knife by my mate Billy. There was another weir across the river just below Black Mountain, a good place for picnics.

heinous heinous 2:16 pm 27 Jul 08


According to Wiki: “generally a causeway refers to a roadway supported mostly by earth or stone, while a bridge supports a roadway between piers…”.

If you look as Griffins’ original plan, he wanted Eastlake (East Basin) to be a perfect circle in shape. To achieve this he needed to build up an embankment on the eastern side of the body of water. He also wanted the embankment to act as a weir, forming a new lake on the current Jerrabombra Wetlands area.

He liked grand avenues with symmetry connected by round-a-bouts or hexagons. The road which he named the Causeway formed one of these avenues connecting Russell behind the Australian American Memorial (Eagle on column) and the round-a-bout next to the Diplomat Hotel. The line of symmetry would have been between Mt Ainslie and along Telopea Park. The Causeway would form the mirror of the Federal Avenue (later renamed Kings Avenue). He planned for a road and rail path along the Causeway. Because of the cost of building the embankment the Government ditched Griffins’ plan. This probably contributed to the reason why he quit.

Granny Granny 11:14 am 27 Jul 08

I still don’t know what a causeway is and I looked it up in the dictionary. Is it like a bridge?

heinous heinous 10:00 am 27 Jul 08

did you know that there was actually a wooden causeway across the Molonglo?

Hugo, when you say a wooden causeway are you talking about the light rail system that ran between Civic and the Powerhouse?

Hugo Hugo 8:48 am 27 Jul 08

In the thirties and forties, Ainslie was definitely the suburb for the working classes although one up on the Causeway (did you know that there was actually a wooden causeway across the Molonglo?)and was looked down upon by those sniffy snobs in Forrest. Now that lovely old lady (vide CT today)will be able to move out after 60 years there leaving a nice little earner, thank you. There must be hope for Palmerston yet!

caf caf 9:51 pm 26 Jul 08

Aye, Duntrune Castle was the home of the Campbell family at the time. It’s said to the be oldest continuously occupied castle in Scotland, has a bagpipe tune named after it, and is said to be haunted by a piper!

Granny Granny 2:19 pm 26 Jul 08

I just don’t get those two metal sheep.

There’s a vaguely disconcerting lewdness about them. I can never decide whether I’m being too crude or too naive. Either way, I can’t imagine Ainslie would be terribly happy about it.

Makes me want to giggle now I think about it….

heinous heinous 10:39 am 26 Jul 08

Correct me if I am wrong but I thought Duntroon was Campbell’s family castle not Ainslie’s, and Robert Campbell named it, not Ainslie.

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