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Berrima, NSW

Berrima Gaol

Holy Trinity Church of England (1849)

Berrima Court House

Surveyor General Inn

No visit to the Southern Highlands would be complete without a stopover for a bite to eat or a wander around the speciality shops at Berrima. Established in 1831, Berrima is a unique and historic village that is the only example of a largely preserved Georgian colonial village in mainland Australia.

Berrima, like the other towns of the Southern Highlands, is situated around 130km to the south-west of Sydney just off the Hume Highway, so a it is the perfect day-trip destination with not a long of driving but plenty to see.
Bcause it was to be the centre of government administration in the early days of colonial settlement, Berrima had a gaol, courthouse, and residences for government officials. Being on the main road between Melbourne and Sydney, enterprising individuals built taverns and other businesses to take advantage of the local and passing trade. Most of these buildings are still standing, many of them built by convict labour. The Gaol (still operational), and the Courthouse, are obvious to the visitor. The many other historic buildings - some restored, and most in a good state of preservation - are often overlooked because of their present usage.

Brief history: Bong Bong (established 1817), near Moss Vale, was the original centre of European settlement in the Southern Highlands, but Berrima became the focus of development after the 1830s dawned.
The earliest road south from Sydney passed through present Mittagong and over the east of Mt. Gibraltar (now known as the Old South Road) and across the Wingecarribee River at Bong Bong, then south towards Sutton Forest and Goulburn. The road, however, was thought to be too difficult, and in 1829 Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell (later famous as one of Australia's greatest explorers) was commissioned to find an easier route. This new road ran from Mittagong to Berrima (approximately the route of the present road) and then on to Paddys River. Camping on the banks of the river near the present bridge south of the town, he was impressed by the location, and recommended it as a townsite to the then Governor Bourke.
Located in a picturesque valley, with both a good supply of water from the river and the many springs in the area, and plenty of sandstone for building, Berrima was chosen to become the administrative centre for the County of Camden - which then stretched from the Highlands to near the Nepean River at Camden. The plan of Berrima was laid out by surveyor Robert Hoddle (who later became famous as the planner for Melbourne). It was designed on the lines of a traditional English village, with a village green at its centre, public buildings surrounding it, and streets for residences. Although the main road now cuts through the village green, and subsequent building masks the original plan, a walk round the green will reveal Hoddle's vision.
Berrima's promise as a great town did not eventuate. Early settlers were more drawn to the opportunities available in the vast hinterland of NSW, and locally the agricultural and industrial opportunities of other areas of the Highlands attracted more development. Berrima has never had more than a few hundreds of settlers - and for most of its history a good number of these would have been in the gaol.
It is for this reason that Berrima is such a unique and well preserved example of early colonial architecture today. It is difficult to imagine today that most roads in the country, including the Highlands, were always rough dirt tracks. Indeed, except for major roads, most in the Highlands were only bitumenised by local governments in and after the 1950s.
The advent of the railway was very important to the region. When the main line south from Sydney was in the planning stages in the 1850s, Berrima lobbied heavily for the route to pass through it, in the hope it would stimulate development. Unfortunately, when the railway arrived in the 1860s it followed more closely the original route south through the Highlands, and Moss Vale was to become the centre of growth with a major railway station and works. Berrima was to remain a sleepy town again.
Industry did come to Berrima. There was a coal mine not far south of the village at Medway the turn of the century. A cement factory was established nearby in the late 1920s, but a new village - New Berrima - was built for its workers (about 3km south east of Berrima). From the 1950s through to the 80s Berrima was a whistle stop on the main southern highway in NSW. Hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks rumbled their way through the main street on their way between Sydney and Melbourne. Luckily the big petrol stations were located at Mittagong and further south at Goulburn, so the village remained unscathed by development. However, cafes and tourist shopping flourished to cater for the 'carriage trade' - as it had done so before in the past.
In the 1960s, there was sufficient local concern to preserve the heritage of Berrima, that a local society was formed to ensure that the beautiful buildings and the integrity of the village could be saved for future generations. About ten years ago, with the arrival of the freeway in the Highlands, Berrima was by-passed again. Instead of fading away, the village has prospered as a favoured tourist destination for hundreds of thousands of people who now were only less than 2 hours drive away on the Freeway. Today, only twice as many live in the village than did 100 years ago. The main industry is tourism, which enables the local people to maintain and preserve the beautiful old buildings - both grandiose and humble - which make the whole village a unique and living testament to our historical past.

Buildings of note

Berrima Gaol
Built between 1835 and 1945, Berrima Gaol is one of the few remaining compounds dating from pre-1840. It is an early example of the application of model prison layouts. The Gaol compound was constructed of sandstone, probably quarried locally, by convict Work Gangs to a design by Colonial architect James Barnet. Sandstone was used for the construction of the gatehouse when the facilities were extended in the mid 1860s. The buildings within the compound were dismantled at the end of World War II and the stolen bricks were reused to construct the present building.

Berrima Post Office
The post office, located on the site of the earlier 'Old Tollbar', was built in 1866. There is some doubt about the early days of the Berrima Post Office. Apparently the Berrima Office was moved from Bong Bong in June, 1838. A post office was opened at Bong Bong at least as early as 23rd December 1829. John Lowe, Clerk to the Chamber of Magistrates was given the responsibility of looking after the post office.
On 6th September 1858 the Berrima telegraph station was opened and in 1860 a building was bought for use as the telegraph station. At this time the Postal Department and Telegraph Department had no connection at all with one another. The Berrima Post Office occupied several premises until the 1880's. In 1883 the post office was located in the Glad Tidings building. The telegraph office was nearby. The telegraph business was now being carried on over a telephone line probably to Moss Vale. This was strongly objected to by the residents for the reason that the telephone system was then in its infancy and shouting into the receiver was necessary. Anyone handy to the post office could hear every word.
In June 1881 a petition was received from Berrima residents asking for the provision of a new post office. It was suggested that an ideal site would be land owned by the Government, where the old Toll Bar used to be. It was also pointed out that the Commercial Bank authorities were about to build a new bank nearly opposite the site. The Postal Department approved the erection of a new post office on the old Toll Bar site but finance was not available and the matter was shelved. As a result of further resident agitation and the dilapidated condition of the current post office building the tender of RN Matthew's & Sons was accepted 22 April 1886 for 777 pounds. The postmaster was moved into the new office on 17th August 1887. Because of the decline of revenue, Berrima was made a semi-official office and Mrs. C Reynolds took charge of it on 9th January 1909.

Berrima Court House
Designed by one of the foremost architects of his day, Mortimer Lewis who was the Government Architect. He designed numerous courts in similar style throughout the state. The first court was held in April 1840 and the first Circuit Court, 14th April, 1841. The first trial by jury in the colony was held here in 1843. Among the important trials were those of Lucretia Dunkley and her lover Martin Beach (who murdered Lucretia's husband with an axe and buried the body - both died at the scaffold in 1843, Lucretia the only women ever hung at Berrima Goal), and John Lynch (hung for the murder of at least nine people). Was used for only 7 years for its intended purpose - the problems involved in bringing the increasing numbers of prisoners long distances to court became so great that in 1848 the Court of Assizes were moved to Goulburn and Berrima was used only intermittently until 1889.
Designed in 1836 (completed 1838) the building is characteristic of the greek-revival style courthouses Mortimer Lewis was building throughout the state. The central double height clerestory-lit courtroom is flanked by a matching pair of single storey pavilions containing offices for Magistrate and Police with cells and a caretaker's flat continuing as extensions to the rear. The central high courtroom section is also carried forward in the form of a giant portico supported on four large stone columns of the Tuscan order. The building is constructed of dressed ashlar sandstone with little surface ornamentation.

Surveyor General Inn
The Surveyor General Inn stands today as Australia's oldest continuously licensed hotel still operating within its original walls. Ironically, it came close to closing a few years ago before its most prosperous period, when in 1960 the Licensing Court ordered extensive alterations. However, the NSW Government passed an act exempting historic inns from some of the conditions and time was allowed for renovations.
Built in 1834 of sandstone and rendered sandstock bricks with shingled roof, it was named in honour of the Surveyor General, Major Mitchell. The first licensee was James Harper, whose family held the licence for almost 100 years. A balcony, added in the 1890s was the scene of many large afternoon tea parties when the hotel had permanent boarders and visitors at holiday times.

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