Cooma: European History

Early Cooma

It was in March, 1849, that a survey for a reserve, or a village, to be known as Cooma, had been completed. On 29th October, 1849, Mr. T. L. (afterwards Sir Thomas) Mitchell, Surveyor General, wrote to Mr. T. S. Townsend, Surveyor at Tarcutta, by letter No. 49/600, as follows:

“in reference to your letter of the 30th March last, wherein you forwarded a plan of your survey for a village at Cooma, I have now to inform you that the design for a village at that place has been approved of by His Excellency the Governor in Council, and to forward herewith a copy thereof for your information and guidance while acting in the Monera and Murrumbidgee Districts.”

It was this design which had been laid before the Executive Council on 2nd June, 1849, and which was returned to the Surveyor-General on 21st June, 1849. It had been transmitted to the Colonial Secretary for approval by the Clerk of the Council, vide letter 29/247, and approval had been conveyed in the Colonial Secretary’s letter dated 27th June, 1849, No. 49/293.

Notification of the design had been made in the Government Gazette for 1849, Folio 1238, and a letter from the Colonial Secretary, dated I 11th December, 1849, drew the Surveyor-General’s attention to the Government Gazette. From particulars available from the Colonial Secretary’s office, by letter 10th December, 1849, it appeared from the report of the Surveyor-General that Mr. Kirwan’s premises were excluded from the reserve, and were permitted so to remain until he obtained a lease of his Run, and with it, the authority to purchase, as intimated to him in a letter of 23rd September, 1849, from the Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands. Mr. Kirwan is shown as holding an area of 160 acres, -which he afterwards purchased.

The first sales of the village lands were held in 1850, and Mr. Alexander Montague purchased a block, being Lot No. 5, of Section No. 5 ‘ fronting a reserve, for a market. Upon this he ereted a store (with a residence attached). This was probably the second store built in Cooma, the first and earliest being that of Mr. Kirwan, attached to his hotel at Cooma Back Creek. Prior to building his hotel, Mr. Kirwan had very successfully carried on a hawking business.

In 1855 the Police Act was extended to Cooma, according to a -Gazette of that year-Folio 588

On 30th September, 1869, a permanent Common was approved of, and dedication took place on 18th February, 1870. The boundaries of the Police District were defined in the Government Gazette-dated 22nd August, 1871.

Cooma was proclaimed a Municipality in November, 1879, and the town boundaries were notified on 20th March, 1885. They were amended in 1924, consequent upon the curtailment of the municipal area.

Cooma, called by the blacks Coombah, is an aboriginal name to which two meanings have been ascribed. One, generally accepted, is “Big Lake,” the other, and in view of the formation of the country, more probably the correct one, is “Open Country.”

The design of Mr. Surveyor Townsend is endorsed, “Plan for the Village of Cooma, at Monera, in the County of Beresford, 1849.” It is of interest in that it shows thereon two groups of buildings. The first of these, at the southern end of Lambie Street, comprises Mr. Lambie’s house and right alongside of it the office of the Commissioner for Crown Lands. A short distance away a building, described as the “Old Lock-up,” is noted. All these buildings, together with a boarding school, are situated within the boundaries of what is termed Mr. Lambie’s paddock, which was then part of Kirwan’s “Cooma Run.” The position of the buildings may be roughly indicated as at the rear of Messrs. Hain and Co.’s store, where today remains of some of these old time houses may be observed. Mr. Lambie’s paddock, before referred to, embraced a good deal of what is now the Showground, and its boundary crossed the spot where the bridge over Cooma Back Creek in Sharp Street was afterwards erected. The second group, consisting of an inn, a stone store, a blacksmith’s shop, stable and stockyards, together with a large paddock running north on either side of the Cooma Creek, after it had been joined by the Back Creek, was described as “Kirwan’s Improvements.” It was within the boundaries of a block of 160 acres which, on three side”, was surrounded by the Village Reserve. The map also noted a block called ‘Kirwan’s Cultivation Paddock,” situated within the Village, and comprising a good area of sections 19 and 20 of the present town, on the Royal Side, where the properties of Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Ryall now are.

The map shows clearly the old track from the Sydney Road, along the southern bank of the Cooma Creek, between the present gaol and the Nijong Reserve to Kirwan’s Inn, which stood near where Mr. Quodling’s residence is to-day. From there it led, almost by what is the present stock route which is really the old Kiandra Road – out to Coolringdon. Another track followed the Cooma Back Creek southerly for a short distance, twice crossing a small creek that ran across Lambie Street before getting on to the present Cooma-Adaminaby Road. Sharp Street at that time was not known except as a proposed road. All the business of the place was transacted with-in the area between Kirwan’s Inn and the Commissioner’s office. It was not till after the proclamation of the village, and the consequent land sales in 1850, that buildings were erected, in what is today the business part of Cooma. In the latter area the first store, of slabs covered with bark, was that of Mr. A. Montague, erected between 1850 and 1851, on the block purchased by him running through from Sharp Street to Massie Street, and forming one of the boundaries of the present Centennial Park.

Cooma from the Railway Station – 1925

In the meantime settlement had been increasing, particularly in and about Lambie Street. There the Court House and Lock-up were erected, the building still being in existence, and occupied by Tracker Brindle, of the Police Force. Chief Constable Wilson, who later in 1854 was appointed Bailiff of the Court of Requests, resided not far away, and a little lower down, near the corner of Kirwan and Lamble Streets, where Mr. Ryall’s house now is, were the premises occupied by Charles Walters-Postmaster and Poundkeeper. Mr. Walters succeeded Mr. Rimington on 15th May, 1854. The latter gentleman, who seems to have managed the Post Office from Kirwan’s Inn, died on 5th May, 1854. An earlier Postmaster, Mr. J. J. Ryall, had a residence on the east side of Cooma Back Creek, in a paddock now owned by Mr. Albert Hain.

By March, 1854, Samuel Shannon had opened a store, built of slabs and covered with bark, on land now owned by John Mack, near the then reserve for the Roman Catholic Church situated in Bombala Street, and Joseph Ward, who carried on Kirwin’s Inn after the licensee was shot, was occupying premises in Sharp Street, known as the Graziers’ Inn.

In the early part of 1855 James Hain had completed the erection at the northern end of Lambie Street of a brick building roofed with iron. In respect of this he obtained a general publican’s. An unhappy incident attached to the opening of these premises. One of the room was regarded as damp. In order to dry it off a charcoal fire was lit in it. Mr. Hain’s three sons slept in the room, and the door being closed, were found next morning overcome by the fumes. One of the sons died as a result.

In Lambie Street, at its southern end, Dr. Winsor Merryweather was at this time practising his profession in a house to-day occupied by Mrs. Greville, and Samuel Shannon had opened a second store, built of slabs and thatched roof, in the same street, on a spot known as Mudhouse Flat, to be followed in January, 1857, by Abraham Levy with a similar store, situated on the old Coolringdon track opposite Tumut Street, at the bend of the creek which some two or three hundred yards lower down crosses Lambie Street.

A number of stores commenced to spring up in other parts of the town, and the buildings were more substantial. Mr. Montague, in this year took off his bark roof and substituted iron. He must have built faithfully, for his building stood in good condition and was quite sound until November, 1891, when it was sold for demolition for 15pounds to one, E. Evans.

Amongst the newer stores of the late fifties were those of Hinton Bros. and J.J. Wright, in Sharp Street.

With the discovery of gold at Kiandra in 1859, and the rush in 1860, settlement increased more rapidly, and the number of buildings in the village quickly multiplied.

From Lambie Street the Post Office had been removed to a site in the Market Reserve. There it was conducted by Ann (afterwards Mrs. Carroll), the daughter of Charles Walters. It was at the end of 1856 that steps were first taken in connection with this removal. From the Reserve the next move was to Shannon’s Buildings at the corner of Bombala and Sharp Streets, from there to premises where today is the bar of the Prince of Wales Hotel. A report from the Sydney Morning Herald” of 20th October, 1860, states that on 16th of that month, telegraphic communication was opened between Sydney and Kiandra. In 1862 the Postmaster-General advised Mr. J. T. Garrett, M.L.A., of the acceptance of a tender for the conveyance of mails between Cooma and the junction of the Numeralla and Big Badja Rivers. In 1869 the “Manaro Mercury” of August 14 has an advertisement by A. Benke describing the situation of his premises as in Massie Street, adjoining the Telegraphic Office.

The Market Square was growing in importance and several businesses were established there in later years. Where the Commercial Bank is today, Mr. Hewison conducted an hotel, and on the spot where the Bank Garage now is was a hall, once used for dances, and which also served as the first School of Arts.

Away up on the Sydney Road, about where the late Mr. Shannon’s houses are erected, Joseph Ward, after leaving the Australian Hotel, became licensee of The Plough Inn, more often known “The Dead Finish.”

It is recorded that the Cooma Creek, during the time Mr. Montague’s mill was working, consequent upon a fortnight’s rain, followed by a heavy thunderstorm, rose so high that flour was washed out of the mill.

In 1862 Cooma had no official Postmaster, an had not been declared a Money Order Station. Mr. T. Garrett, M.L.A., in that year suggested memorialising the Colonial Treasurer on the matter, saying that he felt sure the existence of a Bank at Cooma, and “the contiguity of that place to the Kiandra Goldfield would secure the granting of the prayer of the memorial.” Mr. Garrett also wrote in November, 1862, a vote could no be obtained for the Cooma telegraph, but that if as in the case of Queanbeyan, three responsible names were given in as a guarantee for the working expenses and interest, the necessary vote would be proposed early in 1863.

Mohandas Gandhi

“God has no religion”