The first to take up land where Bowral now stands was Lieutenant John Oxley.
As early as 1816 the explorer and NSW Surveyor-General had sent stockmen and cattle to the area, following the track opened up by a young Hamilton Hume and his brother with an Aboriginal friend as guide.
Oxley's men built a hut and stockyards at 'Wingie Karrabee' but it was to be quite some time before any form of permanent settlement was established.
The cattle run, known as Westow, was the southern outpost of Oxley's main property at Kirkham, near Camden, where he lived until his untimely death at 43, in 1828. Oxley died leaving his family in a precarious financial position.
It was only through representations to Governor Darling that the Wingecarribee holdings, some 4200 acres, were eventually granted to his sons, Henry Molesworth and John Norton Oxley, in recognition of their father's service to the colony of NSW.
The building of the Great Southern Railway from Sydney was the catalyst for the creation of a township.
Planned to pass through Oxley's land, the construction of the railway held out the prospect of great financial gain from the sale of town allotments.
John Norton Oxley set about surveying a township, originally called the Village of Burradoo, and chose street names that were largely of Aboriginal origin. Banyette Street was named for a local Aboriginal girl; Merrigang Street, leading to the Mittagong Range, for the native dog that inhabited the surrounding hill; and Boolwey Street for a property on the Berrima Road.
Wingecarribee Street led to the Oxley home and Bong Bong Street to the village of Bong Bong on the Wingecarribee River.
The railway station that opened on Oxley land in December 1867 was named Bowral, as was the township.
'Bowral' was adapted from Bowrell, which was the Aboriginal word for the nearby rocky peak that was renamed Mount Gibraltar.
The first blocks sold in the sub-division were on the north-east corner of Bong Bong and Boolwey Streets where Emma and John Robinson operated the Wingecarribee Inn.
Several Methodist families came from Camden with the aim of making Bowral a Wesleyan town.
The early business people were strongly connected to the church, including the Harrisons who ran the first store, the Ward and Duprez families, Daniel and William Beer, the newspaper pioneers, and John Campbell.
The Wesleyan cemetery in Burradoo Road is the heritage-listed resting place of many of Bowral's early entrepreneurs.
Bowral began to flourish during the mid 1870s as the opening of the railway as far as Moss Vale made the area accessible to Sydney people and they came in ever increasing numbers.
For guesthouse and hotel proprietors, the 1880s were boom years. Smaller furnished cottages in the township catered for visitors of modest means and on Notts Hill, Mt Shepherd and the slopes of Mount Gibraltar some finer houses were built.
Moss Vale, being the major rail centre, was the premier town at that time in terms of commerce, but Bowral was the residential and social heart of the district.
To cater for the influx of visitors, The Grand Hotel opened in 1888, it was an elegant establishment with four parlours, two billiard and two dining rooms and 'an electric bell in every room in the house'.
Visitors who preferred a more genteel holiday could choose to stay at one of the many guesthouses in and around Bowral where parties, horse riding, tennis, golf and sightseeing were the order of the day.
IN 1881 the Bowral Vigilance Committee was established as a first step toward local governance.
One of its actions was to urge the Minister for Lands to provide land for a recreation ground.
In August 1884 the Committee called a public meeting on the question of establishing a municipality but it would take another five years before the townspeople could be convinced that the benefits would outweigh the burden of property taxes.
Throughout the 1880s the town's population rose dramatically and land prices boomed. New homes were being occupied as fast as they could be built.
Cultural amenities were provided with a new School of Arts opening in 1885, and civic-minded groups formed: a Young Men's Association in 1883, the Young Women's Christian Association in 1888 and three Lodges were also in existence by 1888.
The project that garnered the greatest support from the community was the establishment of a district hospital, first proposed at a meeting in 1885.
With a resident population of about 1,200 and around 240 dwellings, Bowral became a municipality in February 1886.
Words and images provided by Berrima District Historical and Family History Society.