In late 1821 three young men travelled through the Braidwood district on a journey of exploration. They were William Kearnes, Henry Marsh and William Packer, all 'currency lads’ (born in the colony); accompanying them was an unnamed Aboriginal guide.
The exploration was arranged by Charles Throsby, with the aim being to investigate the possibility of a track between the Limestone plains (the current site of Canberra) and Batemans Bay.
Land hungry colonists soon followed
After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had pension obligations to a large number of now redundant officers that she was only too happy to quit with for land grants in the colonies. Ditto local governors who wished to reward past service, patronage and satisfy 'class' connections.
Consequently, many of the early properties of the district were owned by military men (eg. Major Elrington whom Majors Creek is named after), medical officers from The Navy and Army (eg. Dr Braidwood Wilson was a naval surgeon) and free settlers from England and Scotland with capital. They all formed a type of 'gentlemen’s class' that could here afford the acreage that would have been well beyond their aspirations at home.
Our memory of these times and people is often excessively romantic. Theirs was a tough lifestyle. Life tended to be short, childbirth was dangerous, drought alternated with flood - and booms often ended in severe economic depression.
Here is the snapshot of the Braidwood district around 1840, before gold changed everything.
ARN PRIOR (1828) Stewart Ryrie was in charge of the Government Commissariat in Sydney, a senior post. His eldest son, William, received a grant in what is now called the LARBERT area. Building ARN PRIOR on 25 acres, William frequently employed Aboriginals but never more than twelve or fifteen at a time for a day or two because of their un-European work styles. Old Billy, Stupid Tommy and Frying Pan Jack often camped near Arn Prior.
Another of Stewart’s sons owned a further 2560 acres at Durran Durra. The Ryries 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. ARN PRIOR was bought by the government to be part of the proposed Welcome Reef dam.
ST OMER (1827) The seat of the Bunn Family. Descendents still reside there today.
FARRINGDON (1836) The home of Dr Robert and Isett Huntley and their 8 children. Braidwood Doctor till 1853.
BENDOURA (1840) Dr Thomas Bell
ELRINGTON (1827) Right on the Shoalhaven River in the shadow of The Great Dividing Range, Major William Sandys Elrington took up his grant. His rank suited his position as a magistrate on the limit of settlement. He is alleged to have been a martinet with a bad temper. His treatment of convicts who transgressed was harsh. The Major continued to acquire land right up to the edge of the Araluen valley.
Majors Creek is named after him as is the local pub. He sat out and survived the 1840s depression. When prices recovered, he sold and returned to England in 1845. He died at Southsea in 1860 having enjoyed 15 years of material comfort. His original timber house no longer exists. But a truly splendid colonial bungalow of terrific charm (probably built by Sir Charles Nicholson) remains, virtually untouched since the mid 19th c. The house, garden and setting are well worth a drive-past. It is private property and not open to the public.
STRATHALLAN (1822) 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' to be stationed at Strathallan. He sold most of his land to John Coghill (Bedervale) and some to Dr Braidwood Wilson at the height of the boom. He returned to Scotland to write THE AUSTRALIAN EMIGRANTS GUIDE. His 16 years in Australia had been extremely successful.
JINGLEMONEY (1828) Duncan Mackellar Junior.
GINGAMONA (1836) John, the son of Duncan Mackellar, inherited this property from his father. He married Ann Roberts of EXETER FARM and so became linked to many of the other landed families around Braidwood.
BRAIDWOOD FARM (1833) The man after whom Braidwood is named, Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson, surgeon RN. 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. He threw himself into everything. He contracted to build the Court House in 1837, continued to acquire land till it totalled an immense 12,000 acres and was a keen experimenter in crop, fruit and vegetable growing. His extroverted 'can do' personality earned him the nickname 'Bonny Dr Tom'. But tragedy struck. His baby son died the year before his wife in 1838. Next the depression struck. He 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 MADDRELL family changed the property’s name to MONA. Mona is now an up-market accommodation and function complex. A wonderful place to stay.
BEDERVALE (1842) 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 1830s he built up his holdings to become the largest landowner in the district (taking over from Mackellar and Braidwood Wilson). He commissioned John Verge to design a new home at BEDERVALE. Verge was the architect of Elizabeth Bay House, 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 by appointment only.
EASTFIELD – Ralph Hush’s property.
BALLALABA (c. 1840) the original owner received a grant of 1420 acres because he was the son of an Anglican clergyman, Thomas Molyneux Royds (himself the son of the Rev. Royds of Brereton Rectory, Cheshire) bought in the depression of the 1840s, starting the Australian branch of the Royds dynasty at the young age of 28 (when he died as the result of a fall from his horse). The Royds family now 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.
DURHAM HALL Settled by Ronald Hassall (a descendent of the famous/infamous Samuel Marsden, depending upon your point of view). In 1834 he married Thomas Molyneux Royds’s widow. Her son, William Royds, inherited the property where his descendents still live today.
DURHAM HALL was the home of ARCHER .This lovely period property participates in The Open Garden Weekend.
NITHSDALE (1833) Settled by the free-settler John Wallace who named the property after the Niths valley in Scotland. The four Wallace brothers were 'doers' in the district and beyond. Hugh Wallace became a MLA and Dr Francis Lascelles Wallace was on the Colonial Medical Board, a lecturer in phrenology and a trustee of the Gas Company.
The 1838 house is built of handmade bricks fired on the property and is a good example of a Georgian country bungalow. During the bushranger period (Robbery Under Arms is said to have been written about Nithsdale country) barracks for a squadron of mounted police were built to help in the hunt for the Clarke gang (see BUSHRANGERS). The refurbished gaol is now a self-contained B&B. The house and garden are open for inspection by appointment (bus tours only).
MANAR In 1841 Hugh Gordon married Mary Macarthur (daughter of Hannibal Macarthur). He 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 (which can be seen during the Open Garden Weekend).
The Gordons (who still live there) had a founding father who was admired as 'kind and considerate, firm and honest'. That tradition continued as can be seen from this extract published in the deep depression of the 1890s. KICKING UP YOUR HEELS THE SHEARERS BALL AT MANAR, 1891 as reported in the 'BRAIDWOOD DISPATCH'
The whoolsheed 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'.
TALLAGANDA (1828) A two hundred acre grant to the emancipated convict John Tarlington. Tallaganda is thought to be the Aboriginal name for all of the valley within 20 miles of the rising of the Shoalhaven River.
ORANMEIR (1838) William Tarlinton (without the g) took the name of his stepfather (above) and purchased the 870 acres down the road.
KRAWARREE (1840) Captain Grant ( H.M. 61st Regiment of foot).
JINDEN (1831) George Curlewis grant of 2560 - link to bushrangers.
FAIRFIELD A 2560 acre free grant to John Burke, a merchant from Rio de Janeiro, the 'man of capital from Brazil’.