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Christina Campbell of Yarralumla

Updated on December 27, 2016

Christina Campbell of Yarralumla : her life story

Here you will find information on Christina's early life, her time at Yarralumla, the house which later became the governor-general of Australia's residence and her memorial is at St Johns Church in Reid.

Photo with permission of National Library of Australia. The caption reads: Frederick Campbell (seated right) with members and friends of the family, probably pictured during the 1890 visit to the district by photographer C.H. Kerry. Mrs Christina Campbell is holding baby Charles, while Jean, daughter of Frederick Campbell's first marriage stands beside her father.

Christie McPhee as a child
Christie McPhee as a child | Source

Early life

Christina McPhee was born in 1861 in Ipswich, Queensland. Her parents were John McPhee, a Scottish crofter and Anne McPhee (nee Cameron). Her father was employed on a sheep station by Mr. W. Scott of Taromeo one of the oldest pastoral properties in Queensland. Anne McPhee died of Kidney failure in 1866, leaving Christina without either of her parents by the time she was 5 years old. Christina and her sister moved to Queanbeyan in New South Wales and was cared for by an aunt Mary Hope nee Cameron.

It is interesting how details can be obscured by time and distance. Christina's son in law, Charles Newman, wrote of her history in his book, stating that her father was killed by Aborigines. The death certificate clearly says accidental death. A newspaper account of 7 April 1864 details the circumstances of John's accident. Returning to the station one night in 1864 he accidentally ran into a tree, receiving fatal injuries. John is thought to be buried on Taromeo station, one of four graves of staff who worked on the station were dug outside the family graveyard. The stone walled graveyard is famous for being only one of two stone walled family cemeteries in Australia.

Restoration of cemetery at Taromeo Station

The Queensland floods in 2011 devastated the cemetery, with 95% of the wall destroyed and all of the family graves knocked over. Two years later, the cemetery was reopened after a lot of work from stonemasons and volunteers from the community.

A love match

Christie McPhee was Fred Campbell's second wife. In 1880, his first wife Frances, died as so many women did in those days after the birth of their daughter, Sybil Jean Campbell. Christie was governess to Fred's daughter Jean.

In 1889 Fred married Jean’s governess, Christie. They were married at St Paul's Anglican Church, Redfern by Bishop Mesac Thomas of Goulburn. Christina's 1889 diary gives details of their travels through the Pacific, North America, and the British Isles. In Britain they visited the graves of her ancestors near Fort William, Scotland .

Christina is mentioned numerous times in the book Gables, Ghosts and Governors-General.

Christina is described as "... a fine looking woman with a clear skin and erect carriage."

Fred's marriage to Christina "was a marriage of love that caused 'great talk' at the time because many thought that Campbell had married beneath his station"

Yarralumla homestead

At Yarralumla, the couple's first son, Charles Bruce, was born in March 1890.

In 1891 Fred pulled down the old house and built the one that stands there today as part of the present Government House.

Christina and Fred had three more children, Kate, Walter and Jack. Jack was an invalid and passed away in 1917.

Charles was a second lieutenant in the 48th squadron of the Royal Flying Corps and was reported missing in action, presumed dead, in November 1917 aged 27, near Cambrai in France.

Christina did not easily accept the news and never gave up hope that her son was still alive. She made Fred provide a trust fund for Charles if he ever returned. After 15 years, this money was distributed to charity.

The Campbell's regularly entertained neighbors, friends, and relatives. Some years later, Christina confided to her daughter, Kate, she felt that the visitors came to meet and view her as she was a local girl who had married her employer. After Fred's cousins visited Yarralumla and were clear in their admiration and respect for her, criticism ceased.

Christina was an active member of the Women's Liberal League of New South Wales, and president of its Queanbeyan branch until 1913.

Resumption of Yarralumla by the Commonwealth

Canberra was selected as the site for the nation's capital. This meant the resuming of a number of properties in the district. Yarralumla was one of them. The Campbells were given 5 weeks notice to leave Yarralumla. They rented Bishopthorpe, the residence of the Bishop of Goulburn for a time. After a fire destroyed the house and left them with only the clothes on their backs and a few sticks of furniture stored in the stables, they moved to Sutton Forest.

In 1914 Frederick purchased Red Hill station near Tumut, NSW from Pat Kiley, coincidentally another relative of mine, although not related to Christina. Red Hill station is thought to be the place written up in Banjo Paterson's poem 'On Kiley's run'.

Governor-Generals residence, Yarralumla, Canberra.

The house once owned by Fred and Christina Campbell is now the Governor-Generals residence. Photo taken 2007.

Mrs. Christina Campbell. 65, late of Yarralumla, in the Federal capital territory, died In Tumut Hospital, after a short Illness. She was the widow of the late Frederick Campbell, formerly owner of Red Hill Station, 28 miles from Tumut. For several years Mrs. Campbell had been residing with her son, Mr. Walter M. Campbell, at The Glen, Brungle, 12 miles from Tumut. She was well known for her work for charity.

— The Sydney Morning Herald Friday 19 May 1933

This plaque was erected by Christina's family after her death. The plaque is on the Lych gate at St. John's Church in Reid.

The first peoples of Canberra

Featured on ABC TV's Stateline program. In the 2nd excerpt from The Stakeout of Canberra, Richard meets descendants of the Ngunnawal Ngambri Aboriginal tribe.

Ngambri country

There are numerous significant sites around the ACT, including Black Mountain and Sullivans Creek.

There have been disputes between Ngambri and Ngunnawal as to which group of people have traditional ownership of this area. This is just one example of the complexities that are part of Aboriginal society today.

Ngunnawal country

"It is believed that the Ngunnawal people are the original inhabitants of the region known as Ngunnawal country"... So starts this resource which is part of an Aboriginal Curriculum Unit aimed at teachers. This resource aims to foster understanding of cultural beliefs and practices.

Reader Feedback - Do your have other information on Christina Campbell?

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    • ashroc profile imageAUTHOR

      Jen Wood 

      24 months ago from Australia

      Thankyou for your comment Campbell.

      Charles Newman, wrote of his mother in law’s history in his book, stating that Christina Campbell’s father was killed by Aborigines. On reading this I decided to investigate this statement.

      Christina McPhee, my grandmothers third cousin, was born in Queensland. Her father, John was employed on Taromeo, one of the earliest sheep stations in Queensland and died on the station when Christina was three years old. Two years later, Christina’s mother Anne died of disease. Christina and her sister Margaret were sent to live with their aunt Mary Hope in Queanbeyan, NSW.

      I obtained a copy of the death certificate. It clearly says accidental death. Next, I found a newspaper account of 7 April 1864 which details the circumstances of John's accident. “Returning to the station one night he accidentally ran into a tree, receiving fatal injuries.”

      The article in the newspaper was followed by another story which described the death of another man who was killed by Aborigines.

      Christina was a child when her parents died. She was then raised by an aunt hundreds of miles away from where the incident took place. It’s possible she overheard her aunt talking about the tragedies which occurred at Taromeo and the surrounding area. Christina may not have understood which of the stories related to her father.

      I am only going by the evidence that I have found in my research.

    • profile image

      Campbell A. Newman 

      2 years ago

      Hi Ashroc, Thank you for your interesting article. When my grandfather gave the account of my great-grandfather being speared in the back when mending a fence near Ipswich he was quoting directly from my grandmother, who had it in turn directly from her mother, Christina, the subject of your biography. Moreover, my grandfather was well aware of the concocted newspaper report which he thought was an attempt to avoid any act of reprisal. I think it is important to set this record straight, as I am sure my father's grandmother would have wished. As a sympathiser with the rights of oppressed minorities of all kinds, Christina would have been the least likely person to have doctored the truth. As her parents were both deceased when she was five years old, she may not have learned the of the full circumstances of her father's death, but in outline I would trust her rather than any newspaper report. Newspaper editorship has changed little down the years, and if anything had even less to do with truth in the 19th century than it does today. Those who have studied the era will be aware that a guerrilla war was being waged in the Ipswich area of the time, with real casualties on both sides, some of whom would now be termed 'collateral damage'. I would be sad if the truth of the Ipswich fencer's death was hidden because of a 'detailed' but fallacious newspaper report. Kind regards, Campbell

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am fascinated by the early history of Canberra and found this a very interesting read - thank you

    • Nancy S Oram profile image

      Nancy Oram 

      9 years ago

      Very interesting story. Blessed by a new Squid Angel.


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