History of the Gloucester Area
The Worimi people originally occupied the Gloucester area. European explorers arrived in the 1820s and named it after the English countryside it resembled.
A sheep and dairy outstation was established to export wool and agricultural products to England. Most of the town was built during the early part of the 20th century, after the railway line arrived in 1913.
Gloucester, known as the gateway to the Barrington Tops, is a charming country town nestled in a valley under a range of impressive monolith hills called The Bucketts. It is situated on the Gloucester River 96 metres above sea-level and is located 271 km north-east of Sydney on the Bucketts Way which heads northwards off the Pacific Highway 18 km from Raymond Terrace, passing through Stroud and, at Gloucester, veering east to rejoin the highway at Nabiac. To the east of town is the Mograni Range and just to the north of town, the Gloucester, Avon and Barrington Rivers meet. Gloucester has a population of around 2600. It is the principal town of a cattle-raising, dairying and mixed farming district. Local industry includes, a coal mine, an important cattle market and a tourist industry based on the area's fine natural attractions.
Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by the Kattang Aborigines. The first European known to have passed through the area was the explorer Henry Dangar in 1826. Hot on his heels was Robert Dawson, the first manager of the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) which had been formed in England in 1824 with the object of raising fine wool and agricultural products for importation to England. The AAC had been granted one million acres on the northern side of Port Stephens and, impressed by the 'romantic scenery' of the river valley, Dawson established an outstation which he named 'Gloucester' after the English town as the landscape reminded him of the terrain in Gloucestershire. The Gloucester and Avon valleys were soon full of AAC sheep and a dairy was established on the estate c.1831 for the supply of AAC employees.
In 1851 churchman John Dunmore Lang observed that 'Gloucester is one of the best sites for an inland town, I have ever seen in the colony. A range of picturesque mountains, called by the aborigines, the Buccans, of about 1200 feet in height, bounds the horizon to the westward. Along the base of these mountains, the River Gloucester wends its way to the northward, leaving a large extent of alluvial land on its right bank, which the Company has cleared and brought into cultivation; the site of the buildings that form the station, including a house of accommodation for travellers, being on a rising ground to the eastward of the alluvial flats. It is altogether a beautiful spot in the wilderness'.
Drought killed off many sheep in the early 1840s. The end of transportation in the 1840s and the goldrushes of the 1850s caused labour shortages for the company which imported Chinese hands. In addition, the sheep flocks suffered as Dawson had chosen inappropriate terrain, attempts to grow grain proved disappointing, the paddock fences were in a parlous state and half the cattle and horses were astray, lost or stolen. By the 1870s the Gloucester estate was overrun with brumbies and 1500 were shot.
In the late 1850s the AAC sold or removed all the sheep and reduced its landholdings in the area. Attention turned primarily to cattle with the Gloucester estate proving home to a large and excellent herd. Coal, iron ore and limestone deposits were discovered by the AAC but plans for their exploitation never came to fruition.
In 1856 Arthur Hodgson, the general superintendent of the AAC, observed that 'the town of Gloucester is laid out with great judgment. The road from New England passes through a part of it. There is a house of accommodation about one mile from the township'. Although Gloucester was the head station, the term 'town' is probably misleading as there were few buildings. In 1861 the only structures were a slab-and-bark hut occupied by the resident constable, a wooden hotel with a shingle roof, an Anglican church (built in 1860 at the expense of the AAC) and a blacksmith's shed. Elsewhere on the estate there were cattle yards, which held up to 4000 head, an overseer's house, and a brick residence for the usage of the general manager who moved to Gloucester from Stroud in 1860. A store and two houses were added to Gloucester in the 1860s with another two residences, a post office, an hotel and a police station being added in the 1870s.
In the 1850s and 1860s there were still many Aborigines in the area. They camped and held corroborees on the future townsite and helped the early settlers at harvest time. Once each year they gathered at Gloucester before proceeding to Stroud where they were issued with a blanket apiece.
Notorious bushranger, 'Captain Thunderbolt' (Fred Ward) hid out at Gloucester Tops in the mid-1860s. When the police discovered his hideout in 1866 he escaped, though his wife, his two children and another woman were taken to Gloucester and on to Maitland where the women were released. The two children were sent to a government institution.
Alluvial gold was discovered to the west of Gloucester, at present-day Copeland, in 1872, but it was kept secret until 1876 when a rush started. Subterranean mining commenced in 1877 and, at the height of the rush (1877-80), there were some 3000 people in the area working 51 reefs which yielded 566 kg of gold. Half of that amount was uncovered in 1879 alone.
In 1903 the AAC sold its property to the Gloucester Estate Syndicate which cleared the land, drew up the town subdivision and sold allotments. In 1905 two hotels were built, a school of arts was completed, the 'Gloucester Advocate' went into print and construction began of other businesses and residences. At that time cattle and timber were the focus of local industry although dairying was on the rise. In 1906 the Barrington Butter factory opened and the Gloucester Shire Council held its first meeting. A Presbyterian Church was built in 1907 and the courthouse was erected in 1908. A cordial factory operated from 1910-1918 and the railway arrived in 1913, enhancing the town's role as a service centre to the surrounding area and precipitating a period of development.
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