On June 21, 1864, the NSW Governor, Sir John Young, and some members of the government ministry commenced a journey by road from Picton to Wingello.
As told previously, the Sydney and Goulburn papers reported extensively on the vice-regal visit. The party inspected the Fitzroy Iron Works at Mittagong and the following day made a stop at Berrima before proceeding to Wingello to attend a sale of alpacas. As the Berrima stop was not an official visit, little advance notice had been given to residents.
After his tour of the Iron Works, the Governor was reported to be highly satisfied with progress there. This was 15 years after Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy (Governor-General 1846-1855), had visited the local area in 1849 and after whom the fledgling iron works was named.
Many readers will be aware that the Fitzroy Iron Works operated with varying degrees of success from 1848 until the 1880s, being the nations first iron smelting venture. Very briefly, its history is that a deposit of iron ore was discovered during excavations for the Southern Road through the district in 1833.
A syndicate was formed in 1848 by four enterprising businessmen who set about extracting the ore at a site near the location of the present-day Mittagong RSL Club. With smelting works established nearby, the venture had great possibilities as, at the time, the colonys iron was supplied from Europe.
A heritage trail installed by Wingecarribee Shire Council at Mittagong in 2015 provides a history of the works and links its two major sites. One of these, established in 2007, is in the carpark under Woolworths Highlands Marketplace, where extensive remnants of the early works are on permanent display with interpretative story-boards. The other main site is a cairn erected in 1948 at Ironmines Oval, being the site of the works second stage, where a blast furnace, workshops and foundry were erected in the 1860s.
Despite much jubilation at the firing up of the blast furnace, it did not function to expectations and was shut down in 1877, the iron and steel industry then becoming established at Lithgow. When the blast furnace was inspected on June 21, 1864 by the vice-regal party, it was being converted to hot-blast and success seemed assured.
The following day His Excellency and entourage departed Mittagong on the Great Southern Road. The Goulburn Herald described how the Governor was met two miles out of Berrima by a number of magistrates, the clergy and several of the residents who escorted him into the town. Notwithstanding the shortness of the notice, several flags and banners were displayed at the public buildings, at one or two of the hotels, at the post office, telegraph office, and at the towns entrance, where a display of bunting stretched across the road, with a large banner containing the word welcome. An address, hastily got up, was intended to be presented, but it was understood that His Excellency, intending his tour only to be a private one of pleasure, preferred that no demonstration of the sort should be made.
Arrived at Berrima, His Excellency paid rather a lengthened visit to the gaol, and was understood to have expressed himself pleased with its well-kept and cleanly condition, although he was heard to remark that he considered certain further arrangements and additions to the building were necessary. From the gaol His Excellency proceeded to the court house, which he inspected, and then proceeded, with his party, to remount their horses on their journey onwards. However, he suddenly changed his mind and went into Breen's hotel to lunch, on which occasion His Excellency was pleased, through his ministers, to invite the clergy and magistrates, and a few other gentlemen who had gone out to meet him, to join him. After partaking of luncheon, His Excellency and suite, at three o'clock, proceeded on their journey to Wingello.
The paper also noted that Mr Moore, manager of the Botanical Gardens, who also formed one of the party, would attend the sale of alpacas as agent for the Acclimatisation Society. The Governor, after attending the sale, intended to visit the Shoalhaven gullies and return to Picton by the old South Road, not again passing through Berrima.
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society compiled by PD Morton. Part 2 of a 3-part series. To be continued
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