'Captain Charles Sturt was entitled to a grant of 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) from the Crown for his exploration of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers from November 1829 to May 1830, one of the most notable journeys of exploration in Australia. From a colony chiefly bound to the coastal plains, the vision of the colony was lifted to the vast reaches of land lying beyond the Great Dividing Range as far as the mouth of the Murray where the colony of South Australia was to be founded, its settlement directly influenced by Sturt’s reports of the region.
Sturt did not take up a grant of land immediately. He was posted to Norfolk Island and then returned to England to convalesce from the effects of his journey of exploration. In 1837 he made a visit to Murray of Yarralumla. On that visit Sturt chose as his grant a site at the junction of the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee Rivers. He named the property ‘The Grange’. It is not recorded that he visited the site but it is possible that he did, particularly as the land leading up to it on either side of the Molonglo was held by ‘Yarralumla’ and by acquaintances of the Murrays. Tradition has it that he visited Fairlight on the eastern banks of the Murrumbidgee opposite ‘The Grange’ where he is said to have planted seeds of trees including a Medlar. (Pers. Com. Peter Webb). However he never occupied the land or farmed it.
In 1838 Charles Campbell of Duntroon acquired the land and farmed it, naming it ‘Belconnen’. It is thought that Campbell gave it this name after an incident at the property when an aboriginal man used the word ‘Belconnor’, meaning ‘I cannot find’ (Shepherd, 2005). Campbell then decided to use that term for the property. The name has been variously spelt as Belconnel, Belconon or Belcomon. The property adjoined the districts known as Ginninderra and Weetangera. The general area was not known as Belconnen until the name was applied to the naval transmitting station when it was built nearby in 1938/9.
Campbell had a two-roomed stone house built at ‘Belconnen’ c. 1850 (Shepherd, 2005).
From 1877 Frederick Campbell, Charles’ son, managed Duntroon in his father’s absence overseas. On Charles’ death in 1888 the estate passed to Frederick. In 1881 Frederick Campbell acquired ‘Yarralumla’ adding ‘Belconnen’ to it. In the 1880s ‘Yarralumla’ (including the land on the south of the Molonglo, the present ‘Huntly’ and ‘Belconnen’) was cleared and divided into 86 paddocks. The total estate was 39,000 acres (16,783 hectares).
The land was used for sheep and crops, oats, barley and wheat. Richard Vest, employed as an overseer on Yarralumla, is thought to have lived at Belconnen from 1882 to 1888. Other employees of Frederick Campbell to have lived there include D. McDonald from 1888-89 and Duncan McInnes from 1890-1904. Fencing, stables and yards were erected in 1880-90 and later the property was connected to Yarralumla by a private telephone line.
In July 1893 a deposit of galena (the natural mineral form of lead sulphide) was found on the property but has not been exploited, nor its worth ascertained.
By 1911 ‘Belconnen’ included the stone house and a slab sided detached kitchen with an iron roof and stone chimney, attached by a small timber room to the two-roomed house. Animal enclosures, including a stockyard, poultry run and pig sty and a stable were close to the house. There were large sheep-yards to the south and a house and woolshed to the north.
The woolshed was in the part of the property remaining in New South Wales after resumption and was later moved around 1928-1930 (Shepherd, 2005).
‘Yarralumla’ including ‘Belconnen’ was resumed by the Commonwealth in 1913. It was subdivided and was advertised for lease ‘under instructions from Colonel David Miller, Administrator’. Miller was the first administrator of the new Federal Capital Territory. He himself acquired ‘Belconnen’. Three rooms for shearers and a galvanized iron laundry were built near the stone house. This is thought to have been occupied by Miller’s son Selwyn and a worker, with Colonel Miller occupying a tent to the south west of the stone house. Selwyn worked the property and in January 1916 it was reported that he had produced 700 bags of wheat from a 70 acre crop and 300 tons of oaten and wheaten hay from a paddock of 100 acres. Colonel Miller left the district in 1921 but continued to lease the property till 1922 when Selwyn and his family left the district.