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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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