Harper's Mansion | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Harper's Mansion

Item details

Name of item: Harper's Mansion
Other name/s: Harper's Hill
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: House
Location: Lat: -34.4855885111 Long: 150.3396011360
Primary address: Wilkinson Street, Berrima, NSW 2577
Parish: Berrima
County: Camden
Local govt. area: Wingecarribee
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Illawarra
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT5 DP258420
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Wilkinson StreetBerrimaWingecarribeeBerrimaCamdenPrimary Address
Hume HighwayBerrimaWingecarribee  Alternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
National Trust of Australia (NSW)Community Group 

Statement of significance:

Harper's House is one of the most archetypal colonial Georgian houses surviving in NSW and a significant element in the historic town of Berrima. It is representative of a Georgian house and is of rare quality in the region and possibly NSW. It is associated with the Harper family and the Roman Catholic Church and the development of Berrima (LEP, 1990).

Harper's Mansion is one of Berrima's best known buildings. Harper's Mansion is recognised for its Georgian design and history relating back to 1834. The house was built by James Harper for his family and was for 120 years the property of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite its long use by the Church it has retained Harper's name and is known by most people as Harpers Mansion and mid nineteenth century description use the name Harper's Hill. The property has always retained its promience in Berrima (National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1984).
Date significance updated: 02 Apr 07
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Builder/Maker: James Harper
Construction years: 1834-1844
Physical description: Harper's Mansion is a two storey, Georgian styled brick house set in two acres of grounds (Le Sueur, 2013).

The house is five bays wide by two bays deep with a hipped roof now sheeted in corrugated iron. Stone quoins and an elegant front door distinguishes the house with fan and sidelights. The house originally had a single storey verandah its main front. This later had a balcony added but all has now disappeared and only the stone flagged terrace remains.

Internally the house retains the majority of its original joinery and plasterwork. The door are six paneled and the chimney surrounds have roundels. Behind the house there was once a detached brick kitchen and stables and a privy which still remains.

There is remains of the squared cottage garden in front of the house with axial path and evidence of fence and gatepost. (The National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1984).

The two acres of grounds include a modern but sympathetic garden, with many plants common in 19th century rural gardens. A feature at the rear (north) of the house is a maze (Stuart Read, pers.comm., 3/2013).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition is good.
Date condition updated:28 Jul 00
Modifications and dates: About the turn of the century a balcony was to the front verandah and the centre window converted to a door. Probably at this time iron replaced shingles on the roof. The two - storied verandah became derelict and was taken down probably c. 1945 and a crude window installed in the doorway. A crude porch was added to shelter the front door. It is probable that the kitchen finally fell in about this period and what remained of the other outbuildings was taken down.
Further information: The house retains all its original finishes and details although extensive restoration is required. There is strong evidence for the original front door but not enough to reconstruct it. There is however enough information to reconstruct the 19th Century.
Current use: House museum; tourist attraction
Former use: Aboriginal land, residence with 100 acres and garden, Presbytery


Historical notes: Berrima is the second oldest (European) settlement in Wingecarribee Shire and the oldest continuing settlement in the shire. The first town settlement in the district was in 1821 at Bong Bong, 8km south-east of Berrima on the Wingecarribee River (Webb, 2008, 9).

The site of Berrima was selected by Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1829 on a visit planning the route for a new road alignment from Sydney to replace the old Argyle Road, which had proven unsatisfactory due to a steep hill climb over the Mittagong Range and river crossing at Bong Bong. In 1830 Mitchell instructed Robert Hoddle to mark out the town based on a plan Mitchell's office prepared, along the lines of a traditional English village (with a central market place and as many blocks as possible facing onto the WIngecarribee River), and using the local Aboriginal name. The new line of road came through the town (Allman Johnston, 2007). Berrima was to be established as the commercial and administrative centre for the County of Camden.

Following the approval of Governor Bourke in 1831, the period 1824 to 1841 saw significant flourishing development as mail coaches changed their route to this new line of road. Early town lots were sold in 1833, predominantly to inn keepers and around Market Square, including the first town Lot sales to Bryan McMahon (Webb, 2008, 9).

Governor Bourke designated Berrima as a place for a courthouse and gaol to serve the southern part of the state (Webb, 2008, 9). With construction of the Jail from 1835-9 and its Court House in 1838 to serve the southern part of the state the town flourished into the 1840s as mail coaches called, public buildings including churches in 1849 and 1851, establishment of many hotels and coaching houses to service local resident needs and passing trades, persons and commercial travellers. Its 1841 population was 249 with 37 houses completed and 7 more in construction. Research has indicated there were some 13 hotels or grog houses in Berrima at the one time in the early days before the coming of the Southern Railway to the Moss Vale area, which by-passed Berrima (Allman Johnston, 2005).

Harper's Mansion:
Ann Beaumont's recent (2013) book 'A Light in the Window: Harper's Mansion, Berrima - the place and its people' corrects some misunderstandings and untruths about the site's history, including that the house was built by assistant surveyor William Harper. Research in the 1980s by local historians discovered that the house had actually been built by James Harper, son of convicts William and Margaret Morgan. The couple married at Parramatta in 1803 and their only child, James was born there in 1805. He was educated at Parramatta and could read and write (Le Sueur, 2014).

James Harper and his wife Mary bought his first block of land in Berrima in 1832 on which he built the Surveyor General Inn in 1834, becoming its licensee in 1835. He was publican and Chief Constable of the Sutton Forest district until 1835. In 1834 he purchased the 100 acres on which he built what is now called 'Harper's Mansion', which was most likely built in 1835-36 (Le Sueur, 2014). The house was built with a single storey verandah and a detached brick kitchen. By 1844 there was also a stable block and a fenced garden (Webb, 2008, 10).

The 100,000 clay bricks were made on-site and the Trust believes that the stone was quarried locally. At the time, tradesmen were building the court house and jail, and James may have used them. The Trust thinks that the house was built from the pattern book of a Georgian townhouse, which was common in the colony (Savage, quoted in Speed, 2017, 44).

Following James's death, in 1845, his mortgagee, William Hutchinson in 1846 took possession of the house. Harper's widow Mary married James McDermott and moved into the Surveyor-General Inn, which her family owned until the 1920s.
Hutchinson presumably leased it to the Roman Catholic Church (in 1847: Le Sueur, 2014) who needed a presbytery following the construction of the (Sir Francis Xavier) Church across the Wingecarribee River at Berrima in 1849 - 51. "House and nearly 100 acres" was advertised in the 'Sydney Morning Herald'. In 1850 when Hutchinson's trustees tried to sell the house it was leased to a Roman Catholic Priest, the Rev. W, McGucty. At this time the house was well established, with mention of flower garden with fruit trees, gardener's cottage, well, and horse paddock (ibid, 2008).

The 1851 census showed the number of buildings remained the same but the population had dropped to 192. During the 1850s Berrima experienced another boom period after the discovery of gold. When the Great Southern Railway bypassed Berrima in 1867 the town again began to decline as Mittagong, Moss Vale and Bowral developed. Berrima remained virtually unchanged for the next 100 years, preserving the town as an almost intact colonial village (ibid, 2008).

The Church bought the house from Hutchinson's Trustees in 1856, and owned it until 1970. It served as presbytery until the 1880s and was home to 16 priests and 2 bishops until c. 1900. Beaumont's research included into the sixteen priests, two archbishops and a cardinal who stayed in the house/presbytery over those years (Le Sueur, 2014).

In 1903 the Catholic administration moved to Moss Vale, whence the nuns from the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart lived here, running a school. From 1910 it was tenanted until 1968. Tenants' surnames included Evan, Hayse, Burton and Mrs. Johnson as the last tenant. The house had became increasingly derelict although it remained occupied.

The Church in 1968 sub-divided the property into 4 lots. Lot 1 of 26 acres with house on it being purchased by Wilby George Ernest and Valerie Lenice Williams. The Williams subdivided the property and sold the house and almost 2 acres to the National Trust (National Trust, 1984) in 1970 (ibid, 2014), all in poor state.

In 1948 the Berrima Training Centre, a minimum security correctional centre opened at the Berrima Gaol. In the 1960s the National Trust of Australia (NSW) started to classify and seek to protect heritage properties (ibid, 2008, 22).

Since the classification of a number of buildings in Berrima by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in the 1960s, the popularity of Berrima has increased, particularly as a tourist destination. Recent developments in the town have seen the emergence of bed and breakfast accomodation facilities, reflecting the early years of the town's development that provided accomodation for travellers through the construction and operation of various inns (ibid, 2008, 10).

Harper's Mansion property (the remaining 2 acres) was rescued and restored by the National Trust in 1979 (Le Sueur, 2013)/1978. It was in poor condition but was structurally sound (Savage, 2014).

Aline Fenwick, chair of the National Trust of Australia (NSW)'s Berrima Branch for several years from 1982, led the team making possible the site's restoration. Restoration took 7 years and it was a house museum from 1985-99 (NTA).

From 1999-2006 local landscape designer Michael Jackman leased it and lived here, creating today's expansive and sympathetic garden and maze (the maze is where there was once only paddock (Speed, 2017, 47)). The garden featured a squared path with axial front path and the Trust's aim was to recreate a garden that might have been here in the 1830s, using plants known to be available at that time. A Sydney newspaper advert for the sale of the property noted it boasted an acre of land in front of the house 'handsomely laid out as a flower garden with a carriage road from the principal entrance...'(Kerr-Forsyth, 2008).

In 1992 the Sydney to Canberra Freeway (F5) bypassed Berrima (Webb, 2008, 22).

In 2007 the property was officially re-opened to the public and an enthusiastic band of local volunteers was entrusted with the task of further developing the garden. The NSW Historic Houses Trust (now Sydney Living Museums)' Colonial Plants Database list was used as a basis for determining the species most likely to have been among the original plantings. The (height of the) maze was lowered to let in more light (to the house), wide borders of daffodils (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus cv.s) were planted and a collection of tree paeonies (Paeonia suffruticosa, P.lutea, hybrids, cv.s) and a herb garden were established. The soil has been improved by fortnightly donations of premium mulch from the WIngecarribee Shire Council Resource Recovery Centre in Moss Vale (Savage, 2014, 17). It is run by volunteers and is one of the Trust's most visited properties in NSW (NTA).

On 26/2/2008 the National Trust (NSW) entered into a memorandum of understanding with the NSW Department of Corrective Services for the care and maintenance of the garden. Work will be undertaken by inmates of Berrima Correctional Centre under supervision of an overseer from the Correctional Centre, a trained horticulturist. In exchange the Trust will pay TAFE for a series of training modules for the inmates as part of the Certificate 1 TAFE horticultural courses. Each module lasts several weeks resulting in a certificate being awarded to the inmates having completed it. One of the first tasks done was to map the dimensions and plantings of the 'produce garden' on graph paper, to enable better planning of this part of the garden. This will allow the team to decide where further plantings are possible, which trees and shrubs should be moved or remove (Southern Highlands Visitors Guide, 2008).

In 2011 it was decided to replace the main perennial bed to the east of the house with heritage roses. Species chosen include many that entered the commercial market in the early to mid 19th century. Over 70 rose varieties have been planted and labelled, including 'Aimee Vibert (1828), 'Belle Isis' (1845), 'Bullata' (1809), 'Chapeau du Napoleon' (1828), 'Charles de Mills' (pre 1790), 'Hermosa' (1840), 'Konigin von Danemark' (1816), R.bracteata (the Macartney rose), R.gallica 'Officinalis' and R.laevigata. There are plans to add a collection of old camellias into the garden, some of which are thought to have come from Camden Park where camellias were planted by the Macarthur family. Cuttings were taken in 2011 and since 2013 the Southern Highlands Branch of the Australian Garden History Society has been distributing them to camellia collections accessible to the public. Camellias in the Harper's Mansion garden collection include 'Chanleri', 'La Graciola', 'Mrs Harriet Beecher Sheather', 'Prince Eugene Napoleon' and 'Paolini Maggi' (Savage, 2014, 17).

In 2012 the Trust received a $19,500 grant to publish a book about the history of Harper's Mansion. Historian Ann Beaumont led a team, researching and writing its history. When work began to verify or discount the scant details about James Harper, his convict father WIlliam and the origins of the house, a very different story to that passed on to the Trust in 1979 began to emerge. Much of the new research is based on primary sources. (Le Sueur, 2013). This was published by the National Trust (NSW) and called 'A Light in the window, Harper's Mansion Berrima - the place and its people' (Silink & Hayes, 2014). The book won a National Trust Heritage Award in 2014.

Beaumont donated her time and the proceeds, now over $9000, which are now being put towards an archaeological dig of the former kitchen garden site, built in the 1830s and demolished in the 1940s. Completion of a new garden cum storage shed will allow for opening of further rooms int he house to the public. A formal opening of the Heritage Rose Garden is planned in November (Silink & Hayes, 2014).

A week in September 2014 revealed the remains of the kitchen. This was probably built at the same time as the house, sometime in 1835-6. As was usual in those times, the kitchen was sited outside the houe in case it caught fire. In the 1930s it collapsed and became a dump pile, which garden volunteers occasionally disguised with pumpkin plants and the like. Twelve volunteers worked with archaeologist Ted Higginbotham and John van Tilberg over five days. Part of the back wall has always been visible but more courses and a longer length have now been revealed. Also visible is a section of brick floor including the hearth area and a brick partition wall between what was the main room and possibly a cool room at the southern end. The front (eastern) and southern walls are missing but there are traces of a footpath that may have gone along the front wall and linked with the house (Thompson, 2015, 11).

The floor is well above present ground level accounting for the apparent height of the building in the one old photograph the Trust has. An iron ring that would have held a vertical support for pots and pans is still set into the side of the hearth as is a hole into which a bolt would have gone to hold the main door open. Artefacts found include a small (child's) crucifix (from the period of Catholic Church ownership) and a brick whose markings identify it as having come from Scotland. Several rabbit traps were found. The kitchen will be on display for visitors, improving the presentation of the property and the story it is able to convey. The Harper's Mansion committee have protected the fragile bricks with hay from winter frosts and are considering how best to provide permanent protection so the site can be viewed all the time. The archaeological dig was funded by proceeds from Ann Beaumont's book, a grant from Wingecarribee Shire Council and donations from several local Trust members (Thompson, 2015, 11).

The property with garden and maze are open at weekends, most public holidays and by prior appointment (ibid, 2/2014).

A NSW Dept. of Education and Communities grant in 2015 allowed the installation of a new exhibition and interactive media room at Harper's Mansion (NTA, 2015, 7).

The garden is cared for by keen volunteers and amongst other interest, is amassing a collection of 19th century Camellia japonica cultivars, including 'William Bull' (1878, Australian-raised) and 'Spinola Alba'(1855-6, Italy), both donated in 2016 by Camellia Ark Australia (Camellia Ark Australia, 2016). It contains 80 varieties of heritage roses and plantings focus on cultivating plants listed in the Colonial Plants Database, compiled in part from 1828 records from the Sydney Botanic Garden and early nursery catalogues (Speed, 2017, 50).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing the prosperous - mansions in town and country-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Gentlemens Mansions-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Role of transport in settlement-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship Practising Catholicism-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Harper's Mansion is significant as it represent an archetypal colonial house of the 1830s. It is also a suburban house of the 1830s retaining its full garden curtilage and a rare group of intact 1830s interiors. The historical association with James Harper and the Church is also of importance. John Harper (1806 - 1845) was a local identity who served as district constable at Sutton Forest. The Harper family also built the Surveyor General Inn and James was its first licensee. In 1844 Harper was elected to the Berrima District Council. (The National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1984)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The aesthetic significance of Harper's Mansion is extremely important in the construction and recognition of Berrima as a heritage town. The house and grounds accurately construct space by representing property of the eighteenth century. Harper's Mansion is a prominent site in the townscape of a recognised historic town.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Harper's Mansion contains social significance as it represents a homestead built by the middle class colonialists during the first half of the nineteeth century. Although the house was built for James Harper and his family, the property had a 120 year association with Roman Catholic Church mainly as a presbytery. This adds a religious signifcance to the property.
SHR Criteria g)
Harper's House is one of the most archetypal Colonial Georgian houses surviving in New South Wales and represents a significant piece of history in the settlement of Berrima. (The National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1984: 2)
Integrity/Intactness: The fact that the house with exception of the removal of the verandah, survives virtually unaltered adds to its significane. The Mansion contains original celilings and cornices, painted original plaster to walls, originally ceiling rose, skirting, stairs, floor, and balustrade . These original features add to the integrity of the heritage property. (The National Trust, 1984)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0150001 Mar 02 541450
Local Environmental Plan  12 Jan 90   
National Trust of Australia register  143122 Jul 75   
Register of the National Estate 155921 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Berrima Heritage Walk View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Berrima Heritage Walk View detail
WrittenCamellia Ark Australia2016'Day at Harper's Mansion, Berrima'
WrittenEdward Higginbotham & Associates Pty Ltd2015Report on the archaeological excavation of the Kitchen Wing, Harper's Mansion, 9 Wilkinson Street Berrima NSW 2577
WrittenEric Savage2015'A heritage garden at Harper's Mansion'
WrittenLe Sueur, Angela2013'Setting the facts straight at Harper's Mansion'
WrittenLe Sueur, Angela (book review of book with above title, author being : Beaumont, Ann)2014A Light in the Window, Harper's Mansion Berrima - the place and its people View detail
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)2015'Supporters and Partners', in Annual Report 2015
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)2000State Heritage Inventory form
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)1986Report to the Heritage Council of NSW: hand clearing of Harpers Mansion, Berrima
WrittenSavage, Clive2014'Harper's Mansion transformed'
WrittenSilink, Richard & Hayes, Gerry2014'Harper's Mansion, Berrima'
WrittenSouthern Highlands Visitors Guide2008'Update on Harper's Mansion conservation', in
WrittenSpeed, Alex2017'Restoring Harper's'
WrittenThe National Trust of New South Wales1984Harper's Mansion: Conservation Plan and Plan of Management
WrittenThe National Trust of New South Wales1983Harper's Mansion, Formerly Harper's Hill
WrittenThompson, Chris2015'Uncovering the Kitchen at Harper's Mansion'
WrittenWebb, Chris & Charlotte2008Conservation Management Plan, Coach & Horses Inn, 24 Jellore Street, Berrima

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

rez rez rez rez rez
(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5050765
File number: EF10/23969; EF15/5826;S90/6066

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

All information and pictures on this page are the copyright of the Heritage Division or respective copyright owners.