Escape Southern Highlands stays at a charming Georgian hotel and walks in the footsteps of some interesting Highlands pioneers.
By all accounts, George Cutter was not a nice man. He was, however, an industrious one. A free settler from England, he arrived with wife Ann in the new colony of Sydney in 1820, and within six years had headed south and opened a public house and travellers’ stop, the Kangaroo Inn, near present day Mittagong. But within another five years, he was committed to trial for alleged rape, fined for intent to rape, declared insolvent and had lost the deeds to the Kangaroo Inn.
We learn of Cutter’s shady history partly thanks to the work of local historian Dr Leah Day, who received an Order of Australia last year for her contribution to community history. Dr Day was the expert John Griffin, present owner of the Fitzroy Inn, turned to for help to devise a history walk around his property. The walk includes viewing photographs, historical mementos and extensive written accounts, and takes guests through the building room by room, into the past inhabitants’ life and times.
Highlights include the oak panelled smoking room to which gentlemen of the day retired for relaxation, and the ‘dungeon’ which was the building’s original basement kitchen, complete with its freshwater well and barred cell for housing convicts transported from Parramatta jail to Berrima jail. If you appreciate tales of colonial intrigue, even murder, this walk is an illuminating part of a visit to the beautiful 19th century sandstone property. With its Georgian symmetry, wide verandahs and striking ‘Pisa’ terracotta paint colour, it sits serenely on five acres of manicured gardens with an orchard, tennis court and croquet green.
Work began on the travellers’ inn in 1834. Still named the Kangaroo Inn, it opened in 1836 positioned to catch the horse and coach traffic travelling the Great Southern Road, including the new line surveyed by Major Thomas Mitchell that crossed the Wingecarribee River at Berrima and headed south over Paddys River and on to Goulburn. In 1833, iron ore had been discovered at present day Mittagong while excavating the new road. In 1850, the inn was renamed the Fitz Roy Inn in honour of the Governor of NSW, Sir Charles Fitz Roy, who also gave his name to the nearby iron ore mine This mine was the first of its kind in Australia and began operations in 1848.
However in 1839, George Cutter was convicted of the attempted murder of another man, and was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on Van Diemen’s Land at Port Arthur. He returned home from prison in 1846. In 1867 the railway came through the area, diverting the inn from the highway, and in the following years it became the Oaklands School, a guest house and a family home. Today, curiously, it is one of the few sites in the Southern Highlands with charging stations for Telsa and other battery operated vehicles.
National Trust listed, Fitzroy Inn is an attractive boutique accommodation option to consider. Rooms are light, elegant and spacious with queen or king sized beds. The building enjoyed a multimillion dollar restoration in the 1990s by its previous owners, which saved it from dilapidation, but it retains its historic bones. If you like your accommodation marble with a mini bar and room service, this may not be the place for you. If, however, like me, you appreciate the charm of John’s miniature dachshunds, Jack and Jill, and the noise of the trains rumbling past in the night, it may be. And with thoughtful touches like open fires blazing in the sitting rooms, and an impressive wine list promoting local wines from vineyards such as Southern Highlands Wines, Artemis and Tertini, a stay at Fitzroy Inn is one to add to your bucket list. With its 11 guest bedrooms and a charming sandstone dining room seating up to 100. The restaurant opens Friday and Saturday nights with chef Tony Capps, formerly of Eschalot, at the helm, and is a popular venue for weddings and corporate functions. The hotel has also recently introduced theme events, such as Murder Mystery evenings which include a three course dinner. Just remember to leave enough time for the history walk.
Fitzroy Inn Historic Retreat
1 Ferguson Crescent, Mittagong