|Surveyor General Inn
Important and attractive historic village notable for its
jail and Court House.
The historic village of Berrima is situated in a valley by
the Wingecarribee River 122 km south-west of Sydney via the
F5 Freeway (it is now by-passed) and 650 m above sea-level.
It has a population of 723. Farming and grazing, coal mining
and cement manufacture all exist in the district although
the visitor could be forgiven for thinking that tourism and
handicrafts were the only activities.
The area around Berrima was once occupied by the Dharawal
Aborigines whose language provided the town's name from a
word said to mean 'to the south'. They had, in effect, been
driven off or killed by the 1870s.
The first European party to travel through the district
was led by an ex-convict John Wilson. They arrived in 1798.
They had been sent by Governor Hunter to gather information
about the southlands to discourage convicts who were heading
south in the belief that China was but 150 miles away.
Over the next decade the area was visited by a botanical
collector for Joseph Banks named George Caley. The Hume
brothers, probably in the company of their uncle John
Kennedy, investigated the area in 1814. With pastures around
Sydney becoming scarce John Oxley drove some cattle into the
area the following year, setting up a station in the Berrima
Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell camped on the banks of
the Wingecarribee, near the present bridge, in 1829, while
surveying the route of a new road south which would avoid
the steep climbs over the Mittagong Range. Impressed by the
water supply, the ease of the river crossing and the
availability of building material (particularly stone), he
recommended it as a townsite. Robert Hoddle, who later laid
out Melbourne, drew up a town plan and it was approved by
The town was established, in the manner of an English
village, around a village green. The markets held there
later attracted sellers from all over the district.
Berrima was meant to be the administrative, commercial
and manufacturing centre of the land between the Cowpastures
(Camden) and Goulburn. It was thought raw materials
(particularly wool and leather) would be processed at
Berrima but this did not occur. Being on a main road the
town benefited from the through-traffic but, despite the
healthy sale of town lots, few houses were erected.
The first two inns were built in 1834. Both buildings
still stand and the second, the Surveyor-General Inn, has
never lost its license. It is now the longest-licensed hotel
A bridge over the river was completed in 1836. The
population was recorded as 249 in 1841 but had dropped to
192 by 1851. An 1842 newspaper report depicted a primitive
village consisting mostly of slab and bark huts. Some
handsome sandstone buildings were also erected, many of
which are still standing. Substantial Anglican and Catholic
churches replaced makeshift premises in 1849 and 1851
The road traffic, the thick scrub and hilly terrain
attracted bushrangers. Ben Hall and his gang were active in
The railway, when it arrived in the 1860s, bypassed
Berrima, following a route to the east through Mittagong and
Bowral to Moss Vale. This has left the village relatively
unchanged since 1890. By 1914 the population was down to 80.
Road traffic began to increase with the arrival of the motor
car and the establishment of Canberra.
The town's historic value was recognised in the 1960s
when efforts were made to restore the old buildings. The
National Heritage Council declared the entire village an
historic precinct. Most of the buildings are early Georgian
or simple rural cottages. The early settlers planted plenty
of exotic trees to remind them of England which makes for a
sharp contrast with the surrounding bushland.
Things to see:
Self-guided Walking Tours
There are maps for self-guided walking tours of the town
available from the Berrima Courthouse Museum on the corner
of Wilshire and Argyle Sts, tel: (02) 4877 1505. It is also
possible, at the Courthouse, to obtain keys to certain
historic buildings in the town.
The Courthouse Museum is a good place to start, particularly
as it doubles as a local information centre. Built between
1835 and 1838 it was the site of the colony's first trial by
jury in April 1841. This impressive sandstone building, with
its solid stone columns, fine masonry and cedar joinery
consists of a courtroom flanked by jury rooms and cells. It
was designed by colonial architect Mortimer Lewis and has
been restored to its original state. The foundation stone
was laid by Governor Bourke. It was used as a court of
assizes until 1848 and it ceased to operate as a courthouse
altogether in 1889.
There are special displays, particularly relating to
crime and punishment in the district, including life-size
models depicting the 1843 trial of Lucretia Dunkley who
conspired with her lover to murder her husband with an axe.
There are items used for corporal punishment, letters
written by those about to be executed, newspaper articles
dating back to the 1830s which relate to accused persons who
were tried in the courthouse, and a wide-screen audio-visual
display on the colonial past.
One of the most infamous cases to be heard in the
courthouse was that of John Lynch who was hung in 1842 after
he confessed to murdering ten people. The museum is open
from 10.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. seven days a week, contact (02)
Opposite the courthouse, over Wilshire St, is Australia's
oldest surviving gaol. It was built of local sandstone
between 1834 and 1839 by convicts in chains, although the
present gateway and walls were constructed from 1863 and
1868. The internal buildings were demolished and rebuilt in
1945. On either side of the gaol are the superintendent's
and deputy superintendent's houses (both 1880s). The latter
is on the corner of Argyle and Wilshire Sts.
Thomas Williams, a member of Captain Moonlite's
bushranging gang, was executed in Berrima Gaol in 1885 after
stabbing a fellow inmate. Another gang member, Graham
Bennett, may have spent time in, or even died in, the gaol.
In his novel Robbery Under Arms (published in 1888), Rolf
Boldrewood had Captain Starlite escape from the Berrima Gaol
which he referred to as 'the largest, the most severe,the
most dreaded of all the prisons in New South Wales'. From
1866 the prisoners spent the first nine months of their
sentence in total silence and solitary confinement.
The gaol was used as an internment camp in World War I
for 'enemy aliens' and POW. It has operated as a
rehabilitation centre since 1949. Some inmates now make arts
and crafts and they are sold at the old governor's house on
weekends and public holidays. In recent times the gaol has
become a women-only prison.
|Bulls Head fountain
The northern wall has a fine cast-iron moulding, the
Bulls Head Fountain (1877), which channelled water from the
roof into a water trough for the horses of those attending
the courthouse. Taken together the courthouse and gaol are
major buildings which reflect the government's expectation
that Berrima would become the central town of the district.
At the river end of Wilshire St is a track that leads to
Lambie's Well, the town's first water supply on the banks of
the Wingecarribee. It was reputedly a source of very pure
water in the days before iron storage tanks.
Buildings in the Town
Walk north along Argyle St to the next corner (Oxley St).
The Finlayson Memorial Church was built in 1867. At the time
the lower floor was used as a school of arts and the upper
as a Masonic hall. It was later a Catholic school, then a
concert hall, a residence and a roller-skating rink before
being donated to the Presbyterian Church in 1930.
Turn left into Oxley St. On the right is Bellevue House,
a two-storey sandstone colonial home built c.1850 and named
for its prospect over the valley.
Return the way you came along Oxley St, cross Argyle St
and turn left into Wilkinson St. A short distance along, on
the right, overlooking the town, is Harper's Mansion (1834),
a two-storey Georgian sandstock brick house with
stone-flagged verandah, sandstone quoins and cedar joinery
built by William Harper, at one time an assistant surveyor
to Thomas Mitchell. It was bought by the Catholic Church in
1856 which used it as a presbytery and then as a convent. It
has been carefully restored by the National Trust after
lapsing into decay and is open from 11.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m.
A little further east along Oxley St is the public
school. Part of it dates back to 1869. The well on the
grounds was built by convict labour.
Return west along Oxley St to the old highway and turn
left. On the corner is one of the town's few remaining
weatherboard buildings, Bramber Cottage (c.1860), which once
housed an early post office.
Proceed south along the highway. Not far from
Wingecarribee St is a two-storey Georgian building with red
brickwork, a verandah and stone lintels which currently
houses the Berrima Galleries, specialising in arts and
crafts. It was originally the Taylor's Crown Inn (c.1834).
The slab and stone building at the back was a change house
for coaching teams.
Almost opposite is Old Breens Restaurant, which was built
c.1840 as Breen's Commercial Hotel. It has shuttered French
windows and a stone-flagged timber verandah.
Proceed south along the old highway. The next road to the
left is Wingecarribee St. On the south-eastern corner is the
Old Bakery Tea Rooms, housed in a three-storey building
originally used as a bakehouse. The old ovens are still
there to be seen and a small collection of historical
material. At one time the front section was occupied by the
Commercial Bank of Sydney.
Cross over the highway to the Surveyor General Inn, named
after Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell. It was built in 1834
by William Harper and handed over in 1835 to his son James
Harper, who became the first licensee. That license has
never lapsed and the Surveyor General is now the inn with
the oldest continuously held licence in NSW.
Continue south along the old highway. Just before Jellore
St is the post office, established in 1886 on the site of an
earlier toll house where payment was collected from anybody
who used the bridge.
Jellore St, Bryan St and Market St essentially enclose
the village common, the first item laid out in the town
plan. It is bordered by tall pines and now divided by the
old highway. Just across Jellore St, in the north-eastern
corner of the common, is an oak tree planted in 1890 by Sir
Henry Parkes, the 'Father of Federation'. The stones around
the edge of the park are from the town's first bridge (1836)
which was replaced in 1897.
Head west along Jellore St. On the right is Village
Antiques, a sandstone cottage (1836) which was originally a
bakery but later housed the first bank in Berrima (the CBC
Bank). Just past it are three old inns. The Victoria Inn is
a beautifully restored coaching inn licensed in 1840 and now
a restaurant, the Coach & Horse Inn (c.1835) is a two-storey
stone cottage now a bed and breakfast, and the old Berrima
Inn was the first licensed hotel in town (1834), now a
bakery and coffee shop.
At the end of Jellore St turn left into Bryan St. Near
the corner of Bryan and Market Sts, set back from the road,
is Berrima House (1835), probably the earliest sandstone
residence in town. Ben Hall allegedly slept on the wooden
bench on the verandah in 1864.
Behind it is Riverview cottage. Built in the 1830s it
served as a school house.
Turn the corner into Market St. On the right, in an old
weatherboard cottage, is the Berrima District Historical
Society Museum, open weekends and public holidays from 10-4
or by appointment, contact (02) 4868 2230.
Continue east along Market St to the old highway and
cross the bridge.On the high ground is St Xavier's Catholic
Church (1851), a sandstone Gothic Revival structure on the
site of the convict stockade when the road was being built
in the 1830s.
Return over the bridge to Market St and continue
eastwards. To the right is the White Horse Inn which was
built in the 1840s as Oldbury's Inn. It is now a motel and
restaurant. Structural alterations to the exterior have been
made though the interior has retained a large part of its
original character. There is a two-room cellar where
convicts were once locked at night.
Adjacent is Magistrate's House, built in the 1870s by the
former postmaster. The walnut trees in the garden were
planted in 1880.
Turn the corner and head north. On the right-hand side of
the road is Holy Trinity Anglican Church (1847-1849) which
was designed by Edmund Blacket in the Gothic Revival style.
It is said to have the been his first church. Blacket
closely reproduced the design of a medieval church in
Wiltshire. There is an octagonal bellcote and a hammer-beam
roof in the nave which once covered the whole ceiling. The
church is built of sandstone quarried from the banks of the
Wingecarribee River at the rear of the building. The church
exterior is intact though little remains of the original
interior. The stained-glass windows are from Cornwall in
England and are said to date back to the 15th century. The
old pipe organ has been restored.
In the District
Many of the town's old buildings have been converted into
antique shops, restaurants and craft shops. The Australian
Alpaca Centre, on the old Hume Highway, has plenty of
knitwear and some childrens' toys. The alpacas can be seen
at the shop on weekends and public holidays, contact (02)
Berrima Lavender Farm in Market Place is a cottage garden
nursery specialising in lavenders, herbs, perennials and old
world roses. There are display gardens and a gift centre,
contact (02) 4877 1329.
Horse riding is available at Birrabongie on Greenhills
Rd, contact (02) 4877 1114.
The Three Inns Rendezvous Dining Service will ferry you
via Cobb & Co horse-and-coach to three old local inns,
contact (02) 4877 1505 or (02) 4683 1788.
Amber Park Emu and Ostrich Farm, includes the cassowary
and the South American rhea, the world's four largest
flightless birds. There is a guided tour of the farm which
takes in the various stages of the birds' development, a
souvenir shop, a kiosk, picnic areas and an animal nursery
with birds, kangaroo and donkey. The farm is open seven days
from 10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. on Joadja Rd, contact (02) 4878
5258. To get there turn left into Greenhills Rd at the
northern end of town. Follow it north for 6.7 km to Joadja
Rd, on the left. On this corner is Joadja Vineyards (02)
4878 5236, open for tastings. It is another 3 km along
Joadja Rd to Amber Park and a further 14 km to Joadja (see
entry on Joadja).
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