THE ESTATE: A Convict History

The history of Coolangatta Estate stretches back to the early 19th Century.

It was in 1822, that partners Alexander Berry and Edward Wollstonecraft settled on the foothills of a mountain named Coolangatta, after obtaining a grant of 10,000 acres and 100 convicts from the NSW Government. The date 23 June 1822 has since been recognized as the first European settlement on the South Coast of NSW. Alexander Berry wrote:

“For my headquarters I fixed on the north side of the river at the foot of a hill called by the natives ‘Collungatta’. I located the 10,000 acres grant in this locality”

‘Collungatta’ was the Aboriginal word for fine view, a description that Berry found difficult to dispute.

On 1 July 1822, Alexander Berry climbed Mt. Coolangatta to view his vast estate. He spent the night atop this ancient mountain, pondering the future of his settlement and possible uses of its fertile land.

 

Coolangatta quickly developed into a self-supporting village boasting mills, workshops, tradesmen and artisans. Within years Coolangatta was exporting thoroughbred horses to India, Cedar to Europe and cattle, tobacco, cheese and wheat to Sydney.

In order to provide boat access, Alexander Berry had Hamilton Hume and a party of convict labourers cut a 209-yard canal linking the Shoalhaven River to the Crookhaven River. Completed in twelve days it was the first canal constructed in Australia. After its construction, Berry set up shipbuilding facilities, completing his first vessel as early as 1824. In fact, the town of Coolangatta in Queensland is named after Berry's vessels ‘the Coolangatta’ which was wrecked off Point Danger (QLD) in August, 1846.

Five years after arriving at Coolangatta, Berry married Wollstonecraft’s sister Elizabeth (cousin of Mary Godwin- author of 'Frankenstein') and in 1836, Berry’s three brothers John, William and David and two sisters arrived from Scotland to live at the Settlement.

Alexander died on 17 September 1873 and was buried with wife Elizabeth, in the vault at St. Thomas’s cemetery at North Sydney. It was at this stage the Estate (which had grown to approximately 60,000 acres in size) was passed to Alexander’s brother David.

When David Berry died unmarried at Coolangatta on 23 September 1889, it was the end of an era and the will was probated at £1,250,000. However, David Berry had directed bequests totalling £250,000 which were made and directed to St Andrews University in Scotland where Alexander Berry had been educated (£100,000), the endowment of a public Hospital at Berry (£100,000) and £50,000 to the Presbyterian Church.

The Hay family were tasked with the duty of raising the cash for these bequests through the sale of land breaking up a great agricultural empire. The operation of the estate continued with the Hay family where it remained until the late 1940’s. During this time, Coolangatta Estate had fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair and centuries of history looked certain to be lost.


Photo: Vice Regal visit to Coolangatta Estate in 1903. The main group includes Sir John & Lady Hay & Sir Harry Rawson, Governor of NSW with Lady Rawson, all seated

In 1947 Colin Bishop purchased his first couple of hundred acres of farming land at Coolangatta. In 1950 he began to use the land for dairying and often wandered through the dilapidated historic buildings. The idea of one day restoring these buildings was always a wild fantasy but at the time seemed an impossible task.

Yet in 1971, in the face of advice to the contrary, the intractable Colin Bishop began major restoration work to restore the old convict-built buildings to their former glory. His dream of converting the once thriving convict village into a historic resort was being realised.


The Cottage & Billiard Room - before and after restoration.


The Great Hall - before and after restoration.


The Plumbers Shop
(before restoration).

The Cottage
(before restoration).

Coolangatta Estate is now thriving once again. Despite that shipbuilding, logging and tobacco growing remain in a bygone era, the Bishop family continue to capitalise on the fertile land, re-establishing vineyards in the late 1980’s.

The entire photographic history of Coolangatta Estate is available for public viewing in the Cellar Door, open 10am – 5pm daily, along with self-guided tours of the estate.

…. However, these days you are more likely to see tourists rather than convicts walking the grounds of this historic property.


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