Historic Berrima

Berrima was established in the 1830s during a time of great exploration and expansion in New South Wales. In 1829 Surveyor General Major Thomas Mitchell camped near the site of the present bridge over the Wingecarribee River while surveying the route for the Great South Road. He advised Governor Bourke that here was an ideal town site, and surveyor Robert Hoddle submitted a plan for the village which was approved in 1831.

By 1840 Berrima had a Court House and a Gaol, and it became the administrative centre for the southern districts. A stone arch bridge spanned the Wingecarribee River and traffic on the Great South Road increased as carts, drays and coaches passed through on their way to and from Sydney. The village prospered as it became a convenient stopping point for the passing traffic. Through the 1840s and into the 60s, there were thirteen inns in and around Berrima and the population rose to around 400.

Berrima in 1912 - view shows Post Office, Surveyor General's Inn, Superintendent's House and the Gaol.

Berrima in 1912 – view shows Post Office, Surveyor General’s Inn, Superintendent’s House and the Gaol.

Settlement and development further south led to the circuit court being transferred to Goulburn in 1848. From that time, only local cases were heard at the Berrima court. During the 1860s, however, hopes for Berrima’s prosperous future were raised by the planned construction of the southern railway. Locals believed that when the line reached Berrima it would become one of the important centres of the colony.

The railway reached Mittagong in 1867, but it then bypassed Berrima. All new settlement occurred along the planned route of the line through Bowral and Moss Vale, then down through the southern villages in the district. One by one, Berrima’s inns closed until only the Surveyor General remained. Over the years the population shrank and by 1914 there were fewer than 80 people living in the village. The gaol had closed in 1909, but it was re-opened in 1914 during World War I. For several years it was used to house mariners and internees, plus a number of prisoners of war from the German raider SMS Emden. After the war it was abandoned until 1948 when it became the Berrima Training Centre, a minimum security correctional centre.

The mid-1900s was a time of massive re-building and development in Sydney and many of the surrounding regions. Fortunately, the ‘improvements’ made to other towns and villages weren’t inflicted on Berrima so that, in the later 1900s, sensitive restoration was able to return many of the buildings and attractions to their former glory.

berrima-mapFor the first-time visitor, historic Berrima is best experienced by taking a walk through the village streets followed by a walk along one of the river tracks.

 

 

slab_cottage

One of the early stone and slab cottages remaining in the Berrima district. Eucalyptus tress provided the early settler with abundant large straight slabs to use vertically or horizontally in the wall construction of his slab hut. The roof was either great sheets of bark or split shingles. The first dwellings used by the shepherds and stockmen were usually made entirely of bark.

rectory

The former Church of England Rectory sited away from the town, overlooking the Wingecarribee River and Berrima Common. The dressed sandstone house was built for Rev J Hassall in the 1850s and passed into private ownership in the 1900s. The superb grounds with retaining walls, established trees and exotic plants extend down to the river. The property, bequeathed to the National Trust, is not open to the public.

parsonage

 

Inset: An early photograph of the grounds of the Parsonage with the ruins of the coach house and stables which Rev J Hassall had renovated for a denominational school for Young Ladies.

Main image: All that remains today.