The busy Hume Highway winds like a black ribbon through the very heart of this small Georgian village, but so forceful is the town's character that it scarcely impairs Berrima's charm.
(Ed: Berrima was subsequently bypassed in 1989)
Official parties, including explorer Dr Charles Throsby. sent by Governor Macquarie to explore the land south of Sydney in 1818 reported in glowing terms on the excellence of the land and the quality of the pastures. Throsby and nine other Free Persons were granted permission to take up land in the district, and when Macquarie toured the southern counties in 1820 he found the countryside 'particularly beautiful and rich-resembling a fine extensive pleasure ground in England'.
In 1829 Surveyor-General Major Thomas Mitchell chose a 'fine romantic part of the river' (the Wingecarribee) as the most suitable spot for a town. By 1832 the townsite for Berrima was marked out. Convicts started work on the gaol in 1834, labouring in chains, hewing the stone from the river banks. The Regency style courthouse was completed in 1838, and a cluster of inns and hostelries vied for trade as a steady stream of traffic moved between Sydney Town and the south. Berrima looked set for a busy, prosperous future. Then the government decided to move the district court to Goulburn in 1850, and in the 1860s the rail line bypassed Berrima. As the passing trade slowed to a trickle, the town's trade disappeared and people moved away. By the First World War the population had dwindled to eighty.
|Source: Explore Historic Australia|
by Margaret Barca 1984
In recent years, however, the golden stonework of the old inns and houses glows again, as craftsmen and potters have taken up residence; restaurants, galleries and tearooms have opened, and the Berrima Village Trust is ensuring the careful preservation of a remarkable town.
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T HE Berrima district was first seen by Europeans in 1798 when Governor John Hunter sent out an exploratory party to dispel a wild rumour circulating amongst the convicts of Sydney that China lay somewhere to the south of Botany Bay. The group failed to find China but carried back to the Governor glowing reports of high-quality pasture land they had crossed.
The early colony of New South Wales lacked the resources to open up this promising land, and further official exploration of the Berrima region had to wait until 1818 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie sent Hamilton Hume, James Meehan and Charles Throsby to survey the south.
The site for the town of Berrima was selected in 1829 by the Surveyor-General, Major Thomas Mit- chell. The government surveyor, Robert Hoddle, was put to work on laying out the town. It was on the route of the new main road south from Sydney so it was named 'Berrima', from an Aboriginal word said to mean 'to the south'.
Another surveyor, William Govett, looked over Berrima in 1837 and declared that it 'wore a melancholy aspect'. His desolation was to be shared by the builders and inmates of Berrima gaol, one of the colony's most notoriously brutal institutions. A visiting bishop in 1835 described a chain gang hewing their future home from local sandstone: 'They are fettered with heavy chains, harrassed with heavy work, and fed on salt meat and coarse bread; their faces are awful to behold and their existence one of desperation'.
|Former Colonial Inn (highlandsnsw.com.au)|
Berrima, with its substantial gaol and imposing courthouse, was set to become the central administrative town to the south of Sydney. Then several crucial decisions were made district court would move to Goulburn in 1850 and the railway would bypass Berrima and stop at Mittagong. Berrima's fortunes flagged after that and at one stage the population declined to a mere 80.
|Former White Horse Inn (highlandsnsw.com.au)|
Text source: Reader's Digest 1982
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|MORE: History on the Hume series|