In l836 William, second son of Colonel Gibbes, married Harriet, daughter of Sir John Jamison, of Regentville. The Gibbes family frequently stayed at this famous estate, where some of the most lavish entertaining in Sydney took place.
Sir John Jamison had graduated as a Doctor of Medicine at Dublin and Edinburgh and had been appointed a surgeon in the Royal Navy. He served under Nelson in the battles of Aboukir Bay and Trafalgar, where there was plenty to occupy the surgeons. In l808 when he was 32 years of age and on service in the Baltic, Jamison was called upon to stamp out an outbreak of scurvy in the Swedish Navy. His work was so meritorious that King Charles XIII of Sweden conferred on him the order of Gustavus Vasa, and in 1813 Prince George, then Regent of England, created him a Knight Bachelor. From his father, who came out as Surgeon's mate in the first fleet and became Principal Surgeon of New South Wales, he inherited a considerable amount of property in Sydney, and in l814 he came out to take possession of it.
Part of the property, a thousand acres in extent, was on the Nepean River, near Penrith. Jamison considered it too small for his stock, and applied to Macquarie for Emu Island (now Emu Plains) but, although he was in favour with the Governor, his request was refused. When, in l8l5, Macquarie made his first journey over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst Plains, Jamison accompanied him as his guest. Macquarie breakfasted with Jamison at his Nepean residence and the journey started from there. The Governor named the Jamison Valley after him. In l8l7 Jamison was one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales. In that year Macquarie described him as "truly and liberally interested for the Public Benefit", and granted him land adjoining his property on the Nepean. Jamison named this "Regentville", after Prince George. His holdings at Penrith then amounted to 4,220 acres with a frontage of 2½ miles to the Nepean River.
With his outstanding qualifications and personality, and his wealth and title, Jamison soon became a leading figure in the small community. In addition to his Nepean land, he inherited property in Sydney which he augmented by purchase. His town mansion was where what is now the corner of George and Jamison Streets, and here he entertained lavishly. The Governor and Mrs Macquarie often attended balls and dinner parties as his guests. The mansion was surrounded by a considerable amount of ground, and when he subdivided and sold it in 1831, it was from this subdivision that Jamison Street came into existence.
In November 1824 Jamison was included in the list of ten men recommended for a Colonial Council, but about a year later Brisbane withdrew his nomination on account of charges Jamison had made that Brisbane and Major Goulburn had countenanced immorality among convicts at Emu Plains. The charges were held to be baseless, and in September 1826 Darling was instructed that Jamison was not to be given any civil offices. He was restored to the magistracy in 1831, and in October l837, was appointed a member of the Legislative Council. He continued as a member of the Legislative Council from 1837 to l843, in which year, partly owing to his efforts, representative government was instituted here.
An interesting glimpse of social life in Sydney in the year 1824 is presented in extracts from letters written by Assistant-Commissary G. Boyes, at Sydney, to his wife in England:
At the moment (Captain Piper's) invitation arrived Sir John Jamison, who is almost the richest man in the Colony, was asking me to make "Regentville" my home whenever I could visit the Nepean ... he has also the finest house in Sydney and, when down, has all his friends about him. And what is better than all, the Governor (Brisbane) cannot get him to Government House.
Several weeks later, Boyes wrote:
Last Thursday, Sir John Jamison gave a ball and supper. I think we sat down about 140. He has a famous large house, and one room contained the whole party ... About a dozen carriages conveyed the party to the house by about 9 p.m. Though all the servants were convicted felons, I heard but of one robbery - d'Arcy Wentworth the chief of the police, lost a diamond brooch of some value ... the whole thing, with that exception, was conducted in the most orderly way, and might be quoted as an example of the most fashionable routs in the English metropolis. The women danced tolerably well, and all preserved. I returned pretty sick of it by 3 a.m., but a large proportion kept it up till daylight.
Sir John put his Nepean land to the best use - agriculture in various forms, with orchards and vineyards, and for winemaking and the growing of wool. Here in 1824 he built a magnificent residence, a large two-storeyed building of dressed stone, surrounded by a verandah, with an iron balcony over that, from which could be seen a superb view of mountains and river. It contained 15 rooms, of which 9 were bedrooms There was also a billiard room, employees' quarters, outhouses, wine-cellars and presses, stills and huge stables, with lofts 160 feet long. Sir John was a generous host, and was known as the "hospitable Knight of Regentville". On one occasion 300 guests were entertained at a fancy dress ball. Distinguished visitors to the colony were invariably entertained at "Regentville", which had its own racecourse, and Sir John Jamison was described as "the country gentleman to perfection".
A description of Regentville in 1838 is given by Maclehose:
This splendid mansion, vying in magnificence of structure with the princely residences of some of the nobility of Great Britain, is situated about 35 miles from Sydney and a quarter hour's ride of Penrith. The wealthy founder of this beautiful edifice is Sir John Jamison, a member of the Legislative Council, and one of the oldest and most respected of the colonists of New South Wales.
The beauty of the surrounding scenery, being situated at the foot of the Blue Mountains, cannot fail of riveting the attention of the stranger on first beholding "Regentville" - heightened, as it is, by a well-cultivated garden and a well laid-out park, and splendid agricultural improvements.
On this valuable estate, also, there is the largest vineyard in the colony; and it is to the patriotic exertions of Sir John Jamison that Australia is indebted for the early manufacture of wine - some of the examples of which have been of the very finest quality. It is to be hoped that others of the wealthy class will follow his meritorious example in this particular, by which means the unwholesome, as well as pernicious, liquid imported into New South Wales as "Cape Wine" will, for the future, cease to be brought to our shores.
Not contented with the energetic promotion of agriculture, Sir John Jamison extended his operations to the manufacture of tweed. For this purpose he erected at "Regentville", in brick a huge four-storeyed mill (like barracks). He imported not only machinery but the operatives for the mill, carders, weavers, dyers etc , and their families. For a long time the mill was the scene of a busy industry.
For so many years this is the building that was an object on the landscape to those looking down on the Nepean from the Mountains.
The fate of "Regentville" and the mill may be briefly told. In l844 Sir John died, and in l847 "Regentville" was sold. In l869 it was destroyed by fire and by degrees most of the ruins disappeared. The mill ceased work, and no further use being found for it in such an isolated spot, the machinery was removed. Gradually the big building, though still standing high, became a picturesque ruin.
In 1818, at his own expense, Sir John Jamison led the first party through the Warragamba gorge, up the Warragamba to the Cox River Junction. The boat they embarked in was 12 ft. keel by 5 ft. beam. Of this journey he kept a record which is now preserved in the Mitchell Library. Two miles from the starting point of the gorge he saw a small stream of running water which he named Glen Brook, and it was from this that the railway station a few miles away got its name. The following month he sent another party, consisting of his collector, Thomas Jones, and three natives, Bob, Joe and Jack, to trace the Cox River back to the Warragamba. Of this Jamison recorded:
After proceeding 5 or 6 miles they suddenly came on the savage tribe of Condanora natives; the terror of meeting seems to have been mutual, with the wild natives having advantage of the use of their limbs, for they are represented to have run up the mountain like kangaroos. Whilst Bob and Joe stood speechless, grasping at the gun for defence, and raving in despair that they were about to be the immediate victims of cannibal massacre, the natives demanded to know who they were and how they were there. Joe spoke to them and discovered that he knew two of them; this encouraged them to come down (Jones says wild looking fellows they were) one sprang, at a jump, from the foot of the mountain where they stood, about 14ft descent, which alarmed and astonished Jones so much that their panic subsided only with their distant separation from the unwelcome visitors.
Sir John Jamison was a founder and President of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, the Sydney College, the Sydney Turf Club (1825-7), and the Australian Racing and Jockey Club (founded 1828).
By an odd coincidence, in 1839, there were to be found living on Regentville a newly arrived immigrant named Henry Parkes and an infant named Thomas Bent, the one to become Premier of New South Wales and the other Premier of Victoria.
Though Sir John Jamison was noted for his hospitality, his fetes, parties, and balls, each given at great expense, if Henry Parkes can be relied upon, he was parsimony personified with his workmen. Writing to his friends in England under date of 1st May, 1840, Henry Parkes stated:
At length, being completely starved, I engaged as a common labourer with Sir John Jamison, Kt., M.C., to go 36 miles up the country. Sir John agreed to give me £25 for the year, with a ration and a half of food. This amounted to weekly: 10½ lb. beef, sometimes unfit to eat, 102 lb. rice, 2 lb sugar, ¼ tea inferior, ¼ soap, not enough to wash our hands, 2 figs tobacco, useless to me. This was what we had to live upon, and not a leaf of vegetable or a drop of milk beyond this. For the first four months we had no other bed than a sheet of bark off a box tree, and an old door laid on two cross pieces of wood, covered over with a few articles of clothing. The hut appointed for us to live in was a very poor one. Morning sunshine, the noontide shower, and the white moon- light of midnight, gushed in upon us alike. You will perhaps, think, had you been with us you would have had a few vegetables at any rate, if you would have made a bit of a garden and cultivated them for yourself; but you would have done no such thing; the slave-masters of New South Wales require their servants to work for them from sunrise to sunset, and will not allow them to have gardens lest they should steal a half-hour's time to work them.