Friday, June 19, 2020

History on the Hume: Berrima snapshot (1984)

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'.

Surveyor General Inn: Although substantially altered, the basic form of this inn (1835) survives, and it has the distinction of being the oldest continuously licensed inn within the same walls in Australia. It was built by William Harper, who had been Assistant Surveyor to Major Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General, in whose honour he named the hotel. The inn remained in the Harper family for almost a century. The observant eye will see where the sandstone blocks ran out and sand stock bricks were used to complete the walls. Hume Hwy. (Pic: DNSW)

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.

Berrima Court House. Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis was a great admirer of the Greek Revival style and used it to great effect in Berrima courthouse (1833-38). the town's most handsome building. The simple Doric columns support a Classical pediment, and the cedar doors are shaped from solid planks. A contemporary praised the interior as being 'fitted up in the first style of elegance'. The building stands on a slight rise, the golden stonework complemented by the mature European trees. (Pic: Berrima Historial Society)

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.

Source: Explore Historic Australia
by Margaret Barca 1984

MORE: History on the Hume series

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