We all know the Highlands has a rich history.
But do you know the real history behind the historic facades?
Members of the National Trust Southern Highlands branch took a look back in time with a tour of some of the shire’s most historic inns.
Heritage consultant Sarah Farnese presented plenty of fascinating facts about each of the inns visited.
Find out just what those on the tour learnt during the trip across the Highlands below.
The history of the Briars Inn dates back to the first explorations of the area south of the ‘Cowpastures’ (the area in and around Camden).
This led to the granting of land to explorer Dr Charles Throsby at Moss Vale in 1819 (later named Throsby Park) and the selection of land adjacent to the Wingecarribee River at Bong Bong by Governor Macquarie, for the establishment of a government town in 1821.
On the slope above the town of Bong Bong (and on land known today as the Bong Bong Common) William Bowman established an earlier establishment, the Argyle Inn, in 1827.
The Bong Bong township did not last and was abandoned in the 1830s due to lack of water in dry periods and flooding at other times.
Most of the major services were relocated to Berrima after its establishment in 1831, with the last to move being the post office in 1837.
Charles Throsby (the nephew of Dr Charles Throsby) purchased the Bong Bong land from Bowman in 1844 and the following year built the Royal Oak Inn further up the hill and closer to the Old South Road.
After Charles Throsby’s death in 1854, the Royal Oak Inn and surrounding land passed to his sixth son, Patrick Hill Throsby who converted the inn to a residence for his family in 1874 which he renamed The Briars.
In the 1880s Patrick Throsby added a verandah to the front elevation of the building which was later removed.
The Briars remained in Throsby ownership until 1905 but Patrick Hill Throsby was the last Throsby to live there.
He moved from The Briars to Throsby Park in 1891.
After his death a few years later The Briars passed to his son Francis Henry Throsby.
From 1896 The Briars was used as a preparatory school for boys but was presumably not successful as the property was advertised for let in 1899.
In 1905 The Briars was purchased by Captain Arthur Fisher Lloyd who lived here with his family until 1915 when he sold it to Mary Cruickshank, a widow from Moss Vale, and her son-in-law, James Henry Marks, solicitor.
Mrs Cruickshank lived here with her two daughters and four sons until 1932 when she leased it to George Albert Evans who remained in the house until the mid-1940s.
During this time the house became quite dilapidated.
In 1940, Mrs Rabie Emily Sanderson, wife of Henry Talbot Sanderson of Wongabri bought the house.
When George Evans moved out, the property was renovated to convert it to three flats.
The work was undertaken by the then foremost local builder, Mr Alf Stephens, a prominent member of the Bowral Cricket Club and who at one time employed Don Bradman’s father, George, as a carpenter and fencing contractor.
Changes that occurred during this time included: the demolition of the original kitchen building with its baker’s oven, the relocation of the kitchen to the rear of the building, the removal of the verandah and replacement with a small portico with verandah above, and the painting of the brickwork a dusty pink and the shutters a light dove grey.
In 1958, The Briars on 118 acres was purchased by the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School (SCEGGS) to extend their existing campus at Austermere (on the southern side of the Wingecarribee River).
The building was altered by the school and used for teaching of home science.
There were also around 15 boarders who lived upstairs.
SCEGGS Moss Vale closed its doors in 1974.
In 1976 The Briars now on 115 acres was sold to the Myerson family who, in early 1979, opened a bistro in the building and then after reviving the his- toric liquor licence, opened it as an Inn in December of that year.
It was at this time the front portico was removed and the original façade design reinstated.
The lodge component of The Briars was opened in 1988.
In 1995 eight country townhouses were built on land west of the lodge and sold individually.
Since that time the Inn has changed hands several times and has long been a favourite destination for locals and visitors alike.
The Surveyor General
In the course of surveying the new road south from Liverpool, in 1830, the surveyor general of NSW Major Thomas Mitchell selected the new town ofBerrima to replace the government village of Bong Bong.
Surveyor Robert Hoddle laid out a town on a standard grid pattern with a central market place.
The official approval for the town was given by the governor Sir Ralph Darling in 1831.
In 1832, James Harper, chief constable at Sutton Forest, son of convicts and married to convict Mary Anne Robinson, bought two lots in the new village of Berrima on which to build an inn.
The Surveyor General Inn is built of sandstock bricks and locally quarried sandstone and was reportedly built with the assistance of convict labour.
The roof was originally shingled but is now clad in corrugated iron.
The building is built on a rock shelf and the stone cellars are still used by the hotel but in the early days were reportedly used to keep chained convicts.
James Harper obtained his licence in 1835 and held it until 1839 during which time he had built a successful inn and a grand and elegant Georgian home on high ground on the northern side of the village.
Harper became an influential citizen and was nominated to the Berrima District Council in 1844.
However, he died suddenly in 1845, aged just 39.
Mary Ann Harper, with her new husband James MacDermott, her son-in-law John Atkinson and her only surviving son John Harper each held the licence for the Surveyor General Inn on and off until 1877 when John Harper died at age 34.
His widow Jane Harper (nee Moore) then held the licence for some time until a law was passed preventing a married woman from holding a publican’s licence (Jane had remarried, becoming Jane Daly).
Her 27 year old son from her first marriage, James Robert Harper, was nominated as the new licensee in 1895.
James went about making several improvements to the inn required by the Licensing Board including raising the roof to provide more headroom to the upstairs rooms.
Although Berrima at one time had been named as the county seat of the County of Camden by Governor Bourke, the township was bypassed when the decision was made to route the rail through Bowral and Moss Vale in the 1860s.
Berrima then began to decline and in 1908 following the closure of Breen’s Commercial Hotel (still surviving as Eschalot Restaurant on the Old Hume Highway to the north), the Surveyor General Inn was the last remaining inn in a town that once boasted many.
James Robert Harper was the last of the Harpers to own and be licensee of the inn.
He held the licence until 1904 and sold the hotel in 1927 to the Southern Portland Cement Company (which became Blue Circle Southern Cement, now Boral Berrima).
In 1942 the Licensing Court refused to renew the inn’s licence because the building was considered too old and in 1960 an order to demolish the premises was made.
The then owner, Graham Percival, obtained a stay of the demolition order and made moves to have the building’s history recognised.
He also commissioned architect Orwell Phillips to draw up plans for the interior and exterior alterations to the inn.
Public pressure saw the liquor licensing laws changed to allow for hotels to be listed as heritage buildings.
The Surveyor General Inn was the first of its kind to be exempted from certain provisions of the Liquor Act which required buildings to meet certain standards.
The building was bought by by Mrs Etta Charles D’Arrietta of Mosman in 1968 who restored the exterior façade including the removal of the second storey verandah added in the late 19th century and the reinstatement of the single storey verandah.
Despite changes over time, the Inn still holds much colonial charm and is a very popular spot, particularly in the warmer months under the verandah or the shady courtyard.
The Fitzroy Inn
The Fitzroy Inn was built in 1835 by James Foster and was first licensed as the Kangaroo Inn by George and Ann Cutter.
However, due to George’s criminal record, he was not able to operate the inn.
A publican, John Burstott (sometimes Burtoft), ran the inn in 1837 but left soon after due to difficulties with George Cutter.
William McGrath then took over the licence but he also had a run in with George Cutter who stabbed him in the chest.
Cutter was convicted of attempted murder and transported to Van Diemen’s Lane (Tasmania) for 15 years in 1839.
Ann took over the licence until 1845 when the lease was given over to a former convict, Alexander Brand, with whom she managed the inn until 1851 when George Cutter returned, demanding to see his wife.
An altercation arose resulting in Alexander being shot in the chest by George and both being arrested.
However, Alexander was held in custody awaiting trial while George was released.
Brand was eventually released.
Possibly due to all the troubles surrounding the Kangaroo Inn (and the pugnacious George Cutter), Ann Cutter and Alexander Brand renamed the inn to the Fitz Roy Inn and leased it to Bartholomew Rush in 1853.
Ann Cutter died in 1858 in Camden and George Cutter remarried in 1859 but died the following year.
Rush was a wealthy businessman, builder, innkeeper, champion runner and telegraph and fencing contractor.
He came as a young child with his mother to Australia from Ireland as a free settler to join his father who had been transported for bank note forgery.
He had an interesting childhood as he had not been able to join his family who took a position with a gentleman and was instead accepted into the Male Orphan School in Cabramatta.
He was apprenticed to a tailor in Parramatta for seven years.
He married Anne Bennett in 1849 with whom he fathered 10 children.
Bartholomew Rush was quite a prominent local businessman.
As well as holding the Fitz Roy Inn licence, he purchased the Prince Albert Inn (established in the early 1840s) in 1860 from the mortgagee and built Braemar Lodge opposite the Prince Albert Inn in 1876.
When the railway came through Rush’s land at Braemar in 1867, the stop on the line became known as Rush’s Platform but was renamed Braemar in 1892.
While the Fitz Roy Inn was bought and sold several times, Rush stayed on as licensee until giving up the licence in 1869 when he retired to The Prince Albert Inn.
It was at this time that the Fitz Roy Inn ceased to be a public house when it was bought by Harry (Henry) Edmund Southey who moved his school from Throsby Park to the inn naming it ‘Oaklands’.
English Master Mr Fletcher was employed by Southey who also brought knowledge of the rules of the new game of tennis.
Southey subsequently established what is likely the first tennis court in the district on the site in 1875.
The school boasted 80 boarders in 1879.
In 1888 after years of financial struggle to keep the private school afloat, Southey sold ‘Oaklands’.
Much of the 100 acres of the original property surrounding ‘Oaklands’ had been subdivided for building blocks and in 1906 ‘Oaklands’ was situated on just 17 acres.
By 1911 had been whittled down to just 5.5 acres.
From around 1910 the property was used as a boarding house then later as a guest house.
It became a private residence in 1972 and was restored by the Aloi and Lovell families in 1999.
The fine sandstone in the cellars was said to have been pilfered from the building of the Berrima Gaol by the builder who also built the Fitz Roy Inn.
The cellars also boast a convict cell with iron shackles.
Information sourced from:
- Shylie Brown. 2014. Life Behind the Bar: Inns and Hotels in the Southern Highlands 1824 to 1924. Berrima District Historical Society, Mittagong.
- Sally Darling. 2005. The Briars Inn. Self-published (out of print)
- Chris Cusack. 2015 (3rd edition). The Surveyor General Inn 1834: Mystery or History. Self-published booklet.
- Ann Beaumont. 2013. A Light in the Window. National Trust of Australia (New South Wales), Millers Point.
- Linda Emery. 2008. Pictorial History Southern Highlands. Kingsclear Books, Alexandria.
- James Jervis. 1986. A History of the Berrima District 1798-1973. Library of Australian History, North Sydney.
- Wingecarribee Shire Council. Bong Bong Common Precinct Plan of Management. 2010 (Reviewed 2012).