The History of Bathurst

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Bathurst City

The City of Bathurst is located on the central tablelands of New South Wales, around 200km west of Sydney by road. Australia's first inland settlement has much to offer the visitor all year round from gold rush to colonial history, farmstays and outdoor activities, shopping and festivals, to the world famous Mount Panorama Racing Circuit. Bathurst's main streets are a mixture of old and new, highlighted by the charming cast iron lamp posts adorning busy shopping centres.

Aborigines - The Original Inhabitants

Before the arrival of the white man, the Macquarie Valley was home to the Wiradjuri (or Waradgery) Aborigines, the largest semi nomadic tribe in NSW. As this well watered area nestled between three rivers - Wambool (Macquarie), Kalare (Lachlan) and Murrunbidgeri (Murrimbigee) - it provided a good source of fish, duck, kangaroo, emu and various edible plants. They had a typical aboriginal social system based on kinship and totemic lore. The first white settlers found them to be timid and harmless, although subsequent settlement caused later conflict culminating in martial law being declared in 1824 for a short time.

Bathurst Becomes a Settlement

The first white man to walk the Bathurst plains was George William Evans, Assistant Surveyor of Lands. Evans and his exploring party set out on 19th November 1813 to confirm and extend the earlier discoveries of Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, as ordered by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Evans found and named Evans Sugarloaf, the O'Connell and Macquarie Plains, the Fish, Campbell and Macquarie Rivers, the Bathurst Plains and Mount Pleasant. On his return Evans reported that his exploration found good country, which encouraged Governor Macquarie to order William Cox to take a team of convicts and build a road west of Emu Plains into this new territory. Cox finished the road in January 1815 and where it terminated on the banks of the Macquarie River he set up his depot. On this site on 7 May Governor Macquarie assembled the whole population, raised the flag, ordered a volley to be fired, and proclaimed the site of the future town of Bathurst, named after Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and Colonies.

Land grants were first made on the eastern bank of the Macquarie River from 1818. The village of Kelso arose there to cater for the needs of the settlers. At this early stage no-one was allowed access to the western bank of the Macquarie except officers, soldiers, and convicts. In 1826 these restrictions were lifted and the plans for Bathurst were drafted by Assistant Surveyor J B Richards, with the first sale of town blocks being held in 1833.

Anglican Church

The Holy Trinity Anglican Church at Kelso was the first church built west of the Blue Mountains. The foundation stone was laid in 1834 and the building was completed in 1835. Rev Samuel Marsden conducted the first service in 1835 and in 1836 Bishop Broughton, the first Bishop of Australia, consecrated the building.

Discovery of Gold

Gold had been found in NSW prior to 1851 but news of these earlier finds had been suppressed, as the authorities feared that it would bring lawlessness and disorder to the new settlement. In 1851 the discovery of payable gold by Lister and Tom at nearby Ophir led to the gold rush, converting Bathurst into a boom town. Although the initial find was closer to Orange than to Bathurst further discoveries in the Turon River kept flagging interest alive. In 1862 Bathurst became a Borough and was declared a city in 1885.

Further Important Finds:

  • June 1851 gold was found in the Turon River, and the town of Sofala was later established.
  • 28 June 1851 gold was found at O'Connell.
  • July 1851 W H Suttor produced a nugget weighing 102 pounds.
  • July 1851 'gold fever' had reached its peak.
  • 19 October 1872 the 'Holterman Nugget' was unearthed at Hill End. It remains the largest intact specimen of gold ever unearthed even to this day. It measured an average thickness of 4", height of 4'9" and width of 2'2".

Early Transport

Poor transport was a serious problem in the new settlement. In 1862 James Rutherford moved the Cobb & Co. operations from Victoria and Bathurst became the national headquarters for the New South Wales and Queensland operations. Cobb & Co. used American designed coaches, as they were lighter, faster and more comfortable. A fully restored Cobb & Co. Coach is on permanent display at the Bathurst Visitor Information Centre.

The extension of the western railway line from Lithgow to Bathurst in 1876 was a very important event bringing with it a more reliable and faster method of transporting supplies. It did, however, mean that the coaching industry declined in the area.


By the end of the 19th century, there was a growing sense of involvement in issues beyond the boundaries of Bathurst. This was reflected in the People's Federal Convention held in November 1896, as the nation moved towards federation. Bathurst was also put forward as a site for the future capital of Australia.

20th Century Bathurst

Throughout the 20th century Bathurst continued to grow and prosper with the expansion of the rural industry and the introduction of secondary and tertiary industries such as Edgell's (now Simplot Australia), Uncle Ben's and Devro. In the 1960s the Department of Lands moved their offices from Sydney to Bathurst, making quite an impact on the city.

Education played its role in the development of Bathurst with the establishment of many private and public schools, a technical college and teachers' college - later becoming a campus of the Charles Sturt University. Bathurst is considered a centre for excellence in education.

Many citizens of Bathurst served in the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries and in 1940 an army camp was established on a local property on the Limekilns Road at Kelso. This camp was originally built to accommodate the 1st armoured division but it was later decided that it would become an infantry training centre. Many units were trained in Bathurst before being sent overseas to such vastly different destinations like Singapore, the Middle East and New Guinea.

At the end of the war the Army camp became a Migrant Reception and Training Centre (Migrant Camp) for European refugees and displaced persons. It was one of the major migrant centres in Australia, accepting around 100,000 migrants between 1949 and 1952.

Bathurst was once the only gateway to the west and has developed a rich and interesting background, reflected in the buildings and history of the city. It continues to grow due to its economic diversity and relatively youthful population.

To find out more about the history of Bathurst including people, buildings and places visit the Bathurst Visitor Information website


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