Mater Dei and Wivenhoe Historic House are situated on a 600 acre property that borders the Nepean River and has extensive areas of bushland and pasture. It is close to both Cobbitty and Narellan and stands on a ridge overlooking Camden Valley and Camden Airport with views to the Razorback Range.
The property is part of the original grant of land made to the Cowper family by Governor Macquarie in 1812. Sir Charles Cowper, later to become Premier of New South Wales, built the original (Camden stone) house. The house is attributed to the architect John Verge, who also designed such famous houses as Camden Park and Elizabeth Bay House. Wivenhoe is of both State and National Heritage significance and is the only extant example of a bell cast roof that was carved from a single beam.
The Wivenhoe Stables were built in 1834 in preparation for the house, which was completed in 1837. Both buildings are still in good condition. These stables are thought to be the most intact early colonial stable complex surviving in New South Wales and the only surviving farm out-house designed by Verge.
Sir Charles Cowper was a member of Wentworth's Committee, worked for the abolition of transportation, helped to found Sydney Grammar School and was known as "Father of the Railroads", He died in 1875 at Kensington in England a very poor man, after consenting to the sale of Wivenhoe on 9 August 1873.
On 1 February 1875, Henry Arding Thomas purchased the property and the Thomas family lived there for some years. Henry died at Wivenhoe in 1884 and Caroline, his wife, died in 1903.
The third resident of Wivenhoe was Colonel Walter Watt who acquired the property in 1904. Colonel Watt, the well-known airman, improved the parklands and the long avenue of trees and built the conservatory in 1904. The west wing and the new staircase were built in 1906 together with many more internal changes.
In 1910, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan purchased the property. An orphanage named Mater Dei was established and Wivenhoe was used as a convent from this time until 1992. The orphanage accommodation was built in 1922 as a Government work scheme, and a chapel connected to Wivenhoe by arched cloisters was built in 1928. In 1957, Mater Dei became a boarding school for girls with an intellectual disability. In 1981, the school was co-educational and students aged 5 to 18 years lived in dormitories, in houses at Camden and Narellan or with their own family and attended as day students.
In 1993, Wivenhoe Vocational College was developed in the original residence for training students in skills for the hospitality industry from Mater Dei School and elsewhere. Premier John Fahey officially opened the College on 15 July 1993. This College continued until 1995 when promised funding never eventuated. From 1995 until 1999, Wivenhoe was used as a function centre under the auspices of Mater Dei School.
"Wivenhoe" by Wendy Le Breton
"The Life and Times of Wivenhoe" by Robert Bader