Part one of a two-part series
IN 1863 Eli and Elizabeth Beer came to the Southern Highlands. In 1866 they acquired a property of 26 acres, which they named 'Mount Gibraltar', located near the northern entrance of the Gib railway tunnel between Mittagong and Bowral, where they built a home.
Like many of Bowral's pioneer settlers they were staunch Methodists. They raised four sons and two daughters. Eli bought more land in 1881 to extend the property.
After a fall in 1885 he had to retire as supervisor with the railways. He planted a substantial orchard on the property which was his pride and joy until he died in 1917. Elizabeth passed away in 1899.
Their eldest son, William, along with a younger brother Daniel, purchased the Bowral Free Press in 1884. Daniel died of consumption in 1891, aged 28. William continued the Bowral newspaper until 1914 and died in 1920. The youngest son Robert moved to Nambucca Heads where he married and raised a family.
The second eldest son, Henry, and daughters Emily and Miriam, none of whom were ever to marry, continued to live at the family's Mt Gibraltar property where several cottages were added. Miriam was active in the Salvation Army.
In 1924 these surviving Beer family members proposed an immediate gift of 10 acres of their Mt Gibraltar property to the Sydney City Mission in return for an annuity.
Further, upon the decease of the last surviving family owner, the whole of the property (about 50 acres plus several cottages) would become Mission property.
The Sydney City Mission, a non-sectarian Christian group, was founded in 1862 to improve the spiritual wellbeing of the poor. Realising that food was as essential as the gospel, from 1894 the Mission established food depots to help people survive the winter months. From 1916 it established children's homes for short-term stays and eventually operated homes at Cronulla, Lawson, Springwood, Hazelbrook and Bowral.
Regarding the Mt Gibraltar property at Bowral, Mission officials undertook an inspection in 1924 and thanked the Beers for their generous proposal, but rejected the offer.
At that stage the Mission had not yet addressed itself to the long-term needs of under-nourished children. By 1930, however, the Mission felt able to accept five acres of the Beer's land as the site for a children's home.
Funds were made available in June that year from the Mission's very successful 'Citizens of Sydney Appeal Fund'.
The handing-over of the property took place on June 23, 1930. The Southern Mail provided a lengthy description from which edited extracts follow here:
"A modest little woman, quietly garbed, and wearing the familiar bonnet of the Salvation Army, stood on an eminence overlooking one of the most charming prospects in Australia. Speaking with deep emotion she told her hearers that she and her brother and sister had been moved to present the site upon which she stood to the Sydney City Mission for use in God's service.
"Her mother had taught her children to pray, and these, her children, had thought it fitting that part of the home should be dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ. The speaker was Miriam Beer, who, with her sister, Emily Jane and her brother, Henry, have presented the magnificent site at Mt Gibraltar as a free gift to the City Mission for the purpose of a Children's Home.
"The three children, who have made this splendid gift, are still in occupation of the old family home. The family is Methodist and the late Mrs Beer was an active church worker in Bowral for many years. Miriam, however, has been associated with the Salvation Army for over 40 years and recently participated in celebrating the 42nd anniversary of the opening of the Bowral Corps of that organisation, with which she is still actively connected. At the dedication ceremony she stated that the property had been first offered to the Salvation Army, but was considered to be too far from Sydney for their purposes.
"The gifting was also due in some measure to the pertinacity and devotion of two other ladies: Miss Pite, a sister in the City Mission and Miss Beer, a worker there, but not related to the donors. These ladies were often guests at Mt Gibraltar and when they heard of the family's desire to dedicate some of their land to a good cause, they urged the claims of the great non-sectarian Mission."
Once the foundation stone was laid, the Mission set about building a two-storey home at the Mt Gibraltar property to house under-nourished city girls.
To be continued
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.
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