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Surveyor General Inn
 

Berrima
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 district.

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 Governor Bourke.

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 in NSW.

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 respectively.

The road traffic, the thick scrub and hilly terrain attracted bushrangers. Ben Hall and his gang were active in the area.

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.

 

Courthouse Museum
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) 4877 1505.

 

 

Berrima Gaol
 

Berrima Gaol
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.

 

Lambie's Well
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. on weekends.

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) 4877 1399.

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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Berrima