NP & SF
NP & SF
In late 1821 three young 'currency lads' ( men born in the new colony ) set out on a journey to map a passage from the Limestone Plains - the current site of Canberra - to the coast. These three were William Kearnes, Henry Marsh and William Packer. The expedition was arranged by the well known explorer Charles Throsby, and the men were assisted by an Aboriginal guide - who while no doubt invaluable to the team, nevertheless never had his name recorded. These three young explorers are credited as being the first Europeans to discover Braidwood.
Land hungry colonists soon followed.
After the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th Century, Britain had pension obligations to large numbers of now redundant officers that it was only too happy to satisfy by sending them off to the colonies with land grants. Local Governors also 'gave out' land as a way to reward past service, patronage and satisfy 'class' connections.
Consequently many of the early properties in the district were owned by military men, medical officers from the Navy and Army, and free settlers from England and Scotland with capital. They all formed a type of 'gentlemen’s class', able to afford vast acreages that would have been well beyond their aspirations back at home.
While the land grants were generous, it was a tough lifestyle. Life was short, childbirth was dangerous, drought alternated with flood - and booms often ended in severe economic depression.
Who were these early settlers? A snapshot.
The property: 'Arn Prior" (1828)
The owner: William Ryrie was the eldest son of Stewart Ryrie, who was in charge of the Government Commissariat in Sydney, a senior post. William received a land grant for 25 acres where he established 'Arn Prior', frequently using Aboriginal labour. Another of Stewart's sons owned a further 2560 acres at Durran Durra.
The Ryrie’s have been district residents for many generations, marrying into other landholding families such as the Mackenzies and Wallaces. Alexander Ryrie was a MLA for Braidwood 1880-1889 and MLC from 1892-1902. Ryrie Park in Braidwood is named after him. His son, General Sir Granville Ryrie served with distinction in both the Boer and First World Wars. He became Minister for Defence in 1920.
While 'Arn Prior' was bought by the government to be part of the proposed Welcome Reef dam, the homestead still stands and is regarded as a historically significant site today.
The property: Elrington (1827)
The owner: Major William Sandys Elrington took up his grant right on the Shoalhaven River, in the shadow of the Great Dividing Range. Elrignton was also a local magistrate, and is reputed to have had a bad temper - he was not afraid to punish harshly any convicts who transgressed the laws of the time. The Major continued to acquire land right up to the edge of the Araluen valley.
Major’s Creek is named after him as is the local pub (The Elrington). He sat out and survived the 1840’s depression, and when prices recovered sold, and returned to England in 1845, where he lived a materially comfortable life until his death at Southsea in 1860. His original timber house no longer exists but a truly splendid colonial bungalow of terrific charm remains, virtually untouched since the mid 19th century. The house, garden and setting are well worth a drive-past, but it is private property and unfortunately not open to the public.
The property: Strathalan (1822)
The owner: Captain Duncan Mackellar was a skip master who stayed at sea before returning to his property in 1829. He became the largest landowner in the district and arguably the most important resident magistrate. In 1833 the Government allocated him a police constable and a 'scourger' ( the man whose job it was to carry out the floggings ) to be stationed at Strathalan. Mackeller sold most of his land ( to Dr Braidwood Wilson and John Coghill ) at the height of an economic boom, and returned to Scotland to write the successful book 'The Australian Emigrants Guide'.
The property: Braidwood Farm (1833)
The owner: Dr. Thomas Braidwood Wilson (Surgeon RN) is, of course, the man whose namesake became the town Braidwood. As Surgeon Superintendent of convict ships he made a remarkable nine voyages between England and Australia - two involved him being shipwrecked. Wilson was an energetic man of optimism and philanthropy, throwing himself into everything. He contracted to build the Court House in 1837, acquired land til it totalled an immense 12,000 acres, and continually experimented in crop, fruit and vegetable growing. His extroverted 'can do' personality earnt him the nickname 'Bonny Dr. Tom'. But tragedy struck when he lost his baby son and wife within a year of each other in the late 1830's, soon followed by an economic depression. Dr Braidwood Wilson battled on, helping to build The Wool Road to the coast, and starting on a new two storey stone home. In 1841, 128 people were resident on Braidwood Farm. But his level of debt became a major worry as the depression intensified. In 1843 he died after a short illness, aged 51.
The new owners, the Maddrell family, changed the property’s name to 'Mona'. Mona is now an up-market accommodation and function complex, and a wonderful place to stay.
The property: Bedervale (1842)
The owner: Captain John Coghill was another mariner and part-owner of a convict transport. He was granted (and acquired) land in Berrima and Camden before moving south after selling his interest in his ship. During the 1830’s he built up his holdings to become the largest landowner in the district (taking over from Mackellar and Braidwood Wilson). He commissioned an architect named John Verge to design a new home at Bedervale. Verge was the architect of Elizabeth Bay House in Sydney, Tuscullum (Potts Point), Camden Park and Elizabeth Farm Cottage - all beautiful buildings.
In 1842 the new house was completed and is now National Trust listed; well worth a visit to see both the house and the outbuildings and stables that flank it. Open once a month or by appointment.
The property: Ballalaba (1840)
The owner: Thomas Molyneux Royds bought this property during the depression of the 1840's, starting a great Australian dynasty. While Thomas died at the young age of 28 after a fall from his horse, the Royds family continued to prosper and today has several major properties in the district, including Jinglemoney, Jillamatong, Durham Hall and the jewel in the crown - Bedervale. The fine mid 19th century three storey cheese dairy can still be seen from the Cooma Road.
Ronald Hassal married the widow of Thomas, and settled nearby at Durham Hall. This property was the home of the famous racehorse 'Archer', the winner of the first and second ever Melbourne Cup. William Royds, the son of Thomas, inherited the property where his dedcendents still live today. This lovely period propery participates in the Open Garden Weekend program, and is well worth a visit.
The property: Nithsdale (1833)
The owner: Settled by the free-settler John Wallace, this property was named after the Niths valley in Scotland. The four Wallace brothers were all active in the district and beyond. Hugh Wallace became a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Dr. Francis Lacelles Wallace was on the Colonial Medical Board, a lecturer in phrenology and a trustee of the Gas Company.
The 1838 house is built of hand-made bricks fired on the property and is a good example of a Georgian country bungalow. During the bushranger period barracks for a squadron of mounted police were built to help in the hunt for the notorious Clarke gang. The refurbished gaol is now a self-contained B&B. The house and garden are open for inspection by appointment (bus tours only).
The property: Manar (1841)
The owner: 1841 Hugh Gordon married Mary Macarthur and set out to build her a home in the style to which she was accustomed. The result was a fine brick home, stucco rendered and of charming proportions. Four generations of Gordon women have made the garden a magnificent one, it can be admired by visiting during the Open Garden Weekend program.
For a wonderful insight into life at 'Manar', have a look at the following account of a Shearer's Ball held there during the 1890's. Published in the 'Braidwood Dispatch' and titled 'Kicking Up Your Heels, the Shearers Ball at Manar' it shows that even in the midst of a depression, the good folk of Braidwood still knew how to have a good time!
'The woolshed was decorated throughout with oak, laurel and other greenery and such flowers as survived January’s heat. The shed was lit by candles distributed along the beams and walls and the ladies of the home station were greatly complimented on their achieving such a beautiful effect. Dancing commenced at 8 o’clock and continued until past daybreak. The musicians, on violin, piano and tambourine, performed throughout the evening with skill and unflagging energy. There were many handsome dresses, which, when combined with the smiling faces and bright sparkling eyes made the spectacle a most brilliant and joyous one'.
* Image Acknowledgement - credits page
Braidwood & Villages Tourism Inc.