Georgian Colonial Inn
The Surveyor General Inn was built in 1834 for James Harper, and licensed a year later. Built of local sandstone, rendered sand stock bricks, and shingle roof, it was constructed using convict labour.
Berrima was at the time a new village, on the new line of road south surveyed by Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, where the road crossed the Wingecarribee River. It was also chosen by Governor Bourke to be the new administrative seat for the County of Camden.
For this purpose there was to be a courthouse, gaol, and other public buildings, and gangs of government convicts were sent to Berrima to construct them.
It was also not unusual to assign convicts to free citizens, and it is evident that Harper had access to this labour, to build the inn.
The rough hewn local sandstone (taken from a quarry still to be seen behind the village to the south of the Anglican Church) used to construct the inn can be seen in the cellar beneath it, where ale and provisions were stored within the cool basement.
Before the gaol was built, convicts were chained up in one of the cellars beneath the inn. The inn was visited by a number of notorious Bushrangers in the early days, the stories about whom often refer to Berrima. They ceased to be willing visitors, however, after the gaol and courthouse were built.
The inn soon became a popular resting place for travellers on the new South Road, and the Surveyor General was to remain in the hands of the Harper family for almost a century – long after the other inns in Berrima had shut their doors.
Harper’s Inn and Mansion
Harper’s business at the inn, and his other landholdings, made him prosperous, and he had an elegant Georgian mansion built as his private residence further up the hill from the inn.
“Harper’s Mansion”, as it is known, is heritage listed by the National Trust. Extensive gardens and a maze were added after 2000 and the property is open to the public on weekends.
In the 1890s a verandah was added to the front of the inn, and became a favourite place for guests to take afternoon tea. The Surveyor General’s reputation had spread far and wide, and it had become a destination for holidaymakers.
The early 20th Century
By this time, however, Berrima had already gone into decline, as the new railway (1867) had bypassed the town and now connected the new towns of Bowral, Moss Vale, Exeter, and Bundanoon to the travellers and holiday makers of Sydney.
A reprieve for the village, and the Surveyor General Inn, came about in the 1930s with the rise in popularity of the motor car.
Berrima, and its famous Inn, now became a rest stop on the long highway to the south, and day-trippers preferred the larger towns to the east.
Restoration of the Inn
The Harper family had sold up the inn during the 1920s, and by the 1960s the Surveyor General had gone into sad decline.
At one stage it was actually condemned to be pulled down, but happily the 60s saw a group of people keen to preserve the history and heritage of Berrima, and funds were raised to begin the conservation and restoration of important buildings.
A special Act of Parliament concerning Hotel Licensing made it possible to preserve the Surveyor General, and maintain its historic licence.
A New Lease of Life
The business of restoring and conserving such a considerable building presented some challenges to the renovators. The sandstone blocks had weathered badly, and steps had to be taken to repair them. For this purpose, a special silicon treatment was first tried out on the building, which enabled the façade to be conserved, and the Surveyor General underwent a new lease of life. In 1997 the current owners, the Durney family, opened up a new extension at the rear of the Inn to house a new bistro and dining areas. At the same time the original building was renovated to preserve its historic character.
The Surveyor General Inn Today
Builder Paul Maloney has helped make the Durney family’s dream come true, and the elegant extensions, colour scheme, and landscaping with Bundanoon sandstone blend in beautifully with the historic Inn.
Today the Surveyor General is the oldest continuously licensed hotel in Australia, and attracts more visitors any day of the week than at any time in its past.
The Surveyor General Inn has an old world bar, modern bistro, beer garden, and accommodation in the historic building itself. A visit to the Southern Highlands would not be complete without a visit to Berrima and the historic Surveyor General Inn.