The Surveyor General Inn was established in 1834 and is Australia’s oldest continually licensed Inn. It was constructed with locally sourced sandstone and was built with convict labour. A lot of convicts were sent to Berrima to build the court house and the gaol and it was possible for private citizens to also have convict labour assigned to them.
James Harper, the son of convicts, wanted to build an Inn in a town that was perceived to have a lot of promise. He applied for convict labour and it was granted. When the Inn was built, the gaol was still under construction so the convicts were locked up each night in the basement of the Inn. These rooms still exist and the bars on the windows are still in place. Today these rooms are used for storage and cellaring.
In the early days the Inn was visited by some notorious bushrangers however once the court house and gaol were completed, the bushrangers moved on. Today the Inn has a bistro named after that part of the Inn’s history.
In the 1890’s a verandah was added to the front of the building and this became a popular place for guests to sit and enjoy afternoon tea. The Inn’s reputation spread far and wide and became a place for holidaymakers. However, with the new railway bypassing the town, Berrima fell into a decline. Many of the other Inns were forced to shut their doors but the Surveyor General somehow managed to stay open. Business returned to Berrima in the 1930’s with the popularity of the motor car. The Harper family continued to own the Inn for nearly a century.
By the 1960’s the Surveyor General had gone into a sad decline and was condemned to be demolished. But the community rallied and funds were raised to preserve and restore the building.
The current owners have sympathetically extended the building to include The Bushrangers Bistro and today the Inn receives more visitors than at any other time in its history.
When we arrived in Berrima I immediately noticed the Inn. It’s an impressive building that clearly is as old as the town and I guessed it must have been built with convict labour. The door to the Inn is narrow by today’s standards and when you walk inside the hallway is also narrow, the floors are creaking and the doorways are so low, Carl had to stoop or get a bump on his head.
The front bar is gorgeous and full of old-world charm and it appears that little has changed since it opened nearly 200 years ago. There is a large open sandstone fireplace that was warming the room and a few patrons were poking at it and adding more wood.
We walked through to another bar and dining area where you can bar-be-cue your own steaks. We ordered a drink from the bar and given the convict history of the building, Carl had a James Squire One Fifty lashes. My white wine didn’t have the same Aussie history attached to it.
After a drink where we sat at a table with the sun streaming in through the windows, we climbed the old and creaking staircase to see the accommodation. There are four rooms available with two shared bathrooms. The accommodation is basic but priced accordingly.
The original owner of the Inn, James Harper, built a home for himself further up the hill from the Inn. Today it’s known as Harper’s Mansion and is in the hands of the National Trust. You can tour the house and the gardens on weekends. Unfortunately, we were there mid-week so missed the opportunity to see the home however, we now have good reason to return to Berrima.
Surveyor General Inn: Old Hume Highway, Berrima NSW 2577
Ph: 02 4877 1226
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