Highlands History | When Moss Vale was the end of the line

This year, 2017, marks the 150th anniversary of railway services linking Sydney and the Southern Highlands. The historic milestone is being celebrated at Moss Vale and Bowral stations this Saturday, December 9.

EARLY DAYS: The original Moss Vale Station, with northbound train arriving, c1880. The station celebrates its 150th birthday this month. Photos: BDH&FHS.

EARLY DAYS: The original Moss Vale Station, with northbound train arriving, c1880. The station celebrates its 150th birthday this month. Photos: BDH&FHS.

Moss Vale Station is listed on the NSW Heritage Register as having local and state significance. Originally called Sutton Forest Station, it opened on December 2, 1867 on the Great Southern Railway. An overview of its history follows here.

The southern line was built in sections, opening to Goulburn in May 1869. Until Marulan became the rail-head in August 1868, Sutton Forest Station was the terminus. 

For a time it was the only public building in the immediate area, being quiet farmland on the south side of the Wingecarribee River. The old South (Argyle) Road crossed the river at Bong Bong, passed through the area to Sutton Forest village about 10 km to the south, and connected to Berrima.

The section of rail from Mittagong was built through Mt Gibraltar tunnel and then across the Wingecarribee Flats, what is today Bowral and Burradoo, to the Wingecarribee Viaduct near Bong Bong. The next section would take it to Exeter. 

Sutton Forest Station was located 6km south of the viaduct. As steam engines would require water and coal at this point, it was decided to build a station as a supply stop. Spread across the area were three large rural estates, namely those of the Throsby, Hutchinson and Browley families. All stood to gain from having a town develop around the station and so, in anticipation of the railway, the first subdivisions were put up for sale in 1863. 

Furthermore, settlers had taken up in the district’s east on rich farming land around Robertson, Burrawang and Wildes Meadow, and needed direct access to city markets. The new station was well situated for them.

By the time Sutton Forest Station opened, a settlement had already sprung up, catering at first to the needs of railway workers and their families who lived nearby in tents. The fledgling township and its post office were known as Sutton Forest North, until renamed Moss Vale in 1870.

This name is said to have originated from Jemmy Moss, an ex-convict in the employ of the Throsbys who lived in a hut on their land. When surveys took place, he asked Oliver Throsby if his home would be taken away. He was assured that ‘as long as your name is Moss and mine is Throsby, this place is yours’.

The name was officially adopted for the station in 1877. Around it the town of Moss Vale developed as a major commercial hub for the district. 

The 1867 platform building at Moss Vale was of a Georgian-influenced design used by John Whitton, NSW Railways Engineer-in-Chief, at numerous stations including Parramatta, Picton and Mittagong. Moderate in size and restrained in decoration, it was of rectangular shape with hipped roof and posted awnings. It was not long, however, before Moss Vale Station gained numerous additions of Victorian-era design. 

After the railway opened, the Southern Highlands became a popular summer retreat for both ordinary Sydney people and the elite. Moss Vale Station became the terminus for wealthy families and for successive NSW Governors taking a break from city life. 

The Earl of Belmore leased Throsby Park House at Moss Vale from 1868 to 1871, Sir Hercules Robinson visited the area privately and Lord Augustus Loftus preferred the climate of the Southern Highlands to Sydney’s unpleasant summer season. He persuaded the government to purchase Prospect, a property at Sutton Forest, as a country residence, later renamed Hill View. Successive governors travelled to the district using the vice-regal railway coach and alighted at Moss Vale. 

Baron Carrington, Governor from 1885 to 1891, requested that Mittagong’s railway refreshment rooms be closed and a facility built at Moss Vale, as he did not want to be kept waiting while refreshments were taken.

An elaborate, two-storey railway refreshment room was opened at Moss Vale Station in 1890, providing food, beverages and accommodation for passengers. A comfortable vice-regal waiting room and a suite of rooms for the governor were included in the establishment. 

ELABORATE ADDITIONS: New Refreshment Rooms and platform awnings at Moss Vale in 1891.

ELABORATE ADDITIONS: New Refreshment Rooms and platform awnings at Moss Vale in 1891.

The facility served meals when troop trains stopped at Moss Vale during World Wars I and II. 

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 3 of a 5-part series. To be continued.