Sutton Forest is little more than a pub, a few buildings, a couple of antique/gift shops, a riding school and a church. Located 129 km south-west of Sydney and 5 km from Moss Vale, this tiny village can be missed if you blink as you drive through.
The early history of the village is much more impressive than its current size would suggest. The first European party to investigate the district was that of ex-convict John Wilson in 1798.
John Price, from the party, recorded that it was 'most beautiful country, having nothing but fine large meadows with ponds of water in them, fine green hills but very thin of trees'. They climbed what is now called Gingenbullen Mountain to the north-west and Price wrote:'we had a most delightful prospect of the country and in my opinion one of the finest in the world...to the southward a most beautiful country, more particularly to the south-east'.
Over the next decade there were minor expeditions into the district. The Hume brothers, probably in the company of their uncle John Kennedy, investigated the area in 1814. With pastures around Sydney becoming scarce John Oxley drove some cattle into the area the following year.
In 1817 Hamilton Hume and Charles Throsby explored the country west of Sutton Forest. Throsby called the Sutton Forest area 'Cooloorigan'. Throsby returned in 1818 with surveyor-general James Meehan en route to Jervis Bay and again the following year en route to Bathurst. Governor Macquarie awarded Throsby 1000 acres for his efforts and made him superintendent over the construction of a road from Picton to the Goulburn Plains. Visiting the construction site in 1820 Macquarie named Throsby's Bong Bong grant 'Throsby Park'. With him was a working party and six other settlers. One of them, Charles Wright, had arrived in the colony in 1791. After working as a constable at Parramatta he took up the land at Sutton Forest (it now forms part of the Hillview estate) when he was 70 and died there at 93 years of age in 1842.
Governor Macquarie was much impressed with the beauty of the area and the quality of the soil. He named the settlement after Charles Manners Sutton (the speaker of the British House of Commons) on 2 November 1820.
Two emancipated convicts, Edward Shipley and George Sewell, were also given land grants in the area. Shipley, who was 62 years old at the time, established Stonehill (now known as Sutton Farm).in partnership with his wife Mary, another ex-convict, in 1822.
In 1828 James Atkinson of the Oldbury estate recommended the area opposite Charles Wright's Farm, on the Medway Rivulet, as an ideal townsite and the Surveyor-General agreed. Despite instructions to proceed with a town layout the village was not officially established until 1854. However, buildings began to slowly accumulate around an Anglican chapel which was erected in 1829. At the time it was the only church south of the Cow Pastures (the Camden area). A Church of England school was established as early as 1826. A small township began to grow up around three inns which lined the road - the Talbot (1833, renamed the Royal in 1866), the Red Cow (built on George Sewell's land grant) and the Hart (both 1834). The first store also appeared some time in the 1830s. Despite the laying of the foundation stone in 1837 it was 1861 before the All Saints Church of England, designed by Edmund Blacket, replaced the 1829 building.
A visitor in March of 1832 described Sutton Forest as 'a most luxurious spot...There is as much of the English village in miniature about this township as any I know of - a homeliness of scenery that strikes the attention, and induces a second pause to look again at the neat cottages, the snug little church, the light timber with its umbrageous foliage, and the refreshing lagoons on the roadside which incite the weary horse, or bullock to slake his thirst on a sultry summer's day. Nearly opposite the church is the comfortable dwelling of old 'Charley Wright', an old standard in the colony, and one of the first inhabitants in the district, whose hospitality is proverbial'.
In the 1840s it is recorded that a white woman living in Sutton Forest married a local Aborigine who had been baptised - a very unusual marriage in the early history of the colony.
Bushrangers frequented the district from the 1830s to the 1870s. The clergyman's house at Sutton Forest was raided in 1836. One of the most infamous bushrangers, Ben Hall, together with his gang, visited the district in 1865. They stuck up the people at Paddy's River. They robbed the toll collector at Hanging Rock, about 14 km south-west of Sutton Forest then struck again at Kelly's Hotel, about 5 km north of Hanging Rock. With the police in pursuit they withdrew to a vantage point at Hanging Rock and watched the police pass by, then returned to the Paddy's River settlement, gathered everybody there in two inns, forced some musicians to play music, danced till dawn, sent word they were going to Berrima to free everybody from the gaol - then disappeared.
When the railway arrived in 1867 Sydneysiders discovered the bracing climate and beautiful scenery of the Southern Highlands. Sutton Forest, like other towns of the area, became a holiday resort, particularly in the summer months when the humidity hit Sydney. Boarding houses began to appear and wealthy Sydneysiders began to build country retreats.
Among the new commuters were some of the colony's politicians and when eyes were cast about for a country retreat for the NSW governor, Sutton Forest was suggested. The government purchased 'Prospect' in 1882, the country homestead and lands of Robert Richardson, who had the house built after his wedding to a Sutton Forest woman in 1855. Extensive renovations were carried out, at considerable expense, the grounds and interior were greatly improved and Lord August Loftus became the first governor to occupy the house, which was renamed 'Hillview'.
Once Hillview had been established it was commonplace for the governors to travel to Moss Vale by rail. They travelled in a vice-regal carriage and alighted at Moss Vale where there was a special vice-regal waiting room. The retreat was used by all state governors until 1958. It became privately owned but the government re-purchased it in 1986.
Things to see
Hillview, just north of Sutton Forest on the Illawarra Highway, was, from 1882 to 1958, the official country residence of the governors of NSW. The homestead was built in the late 1850s by Robert Richardson. The government purchased the house and estate in 1882 and extensive renovations were carried out, at considerable expense. The grounds and interior were greatly improved and Lord August Loftus became the first governor to occupy the house.
The retreat was used until 1958 when it was sold into private hands, though the government re-purchased it in 1986. Hillview is located on the Illawarra Highway about 2 km north of Sutton Forest. The house is open for inspection, but only occasionally. Ring the Southern Highlands Visitors' Centre for the exact dates on (1300) 657 559.
A little closer to the town, on the other side of the highway, just before the Medway Rivulet, is what remains of 'Newbury', a 700-acre estate awarded in 1822 to Captain John Nicholson, harbour master of Port Jackson, for refloating the brig Lady Nelson from the bar of the Hastings River. It is reported that he chose the name because his neighbour had named his estate Oldbury.
All Saints Church of England
All Saints Church of England was erected in 1861. Designed by Edmund Blacket it was consecrated by Bishop Barker. The cemetery bears testimony to the existence of the earlier church. It became the resting place for many soldiers who were stationed at Berrima. The visiting governors worshipped here. The gates came from Hillview when it was sold in 1958.
All Saints Church of England
Further along the road is The Royal Inn, a handsome hotel which offers good food and pleasant surroundings. Although this building is not very old it is on the site of the original Talbot Inn (1833).
The most impressive building in the village is Sutton Farm which was originally built by convicts from Berrima (c.1830). The magnificent cedar staircase came from a 17th century church near Dublin. The house has been extensively modified, was used in the film Phar Lap, and is now the Highlands Equestrian Centre on the lllawarra Highway. Situated on 50 acres they offer lessons, trail rides and holiday camps with bed and breakfast, contact (02) 4868 2584. The stables are of exceptional quality.
Just south of the equestrian centre, on the Illawarra Highway, is St Patrick's Church which was built in 1878-79. It has an interesting graveyard. A slab building used as a church and a school was erected on the site in 1854.
A few hundred metres north of the equestrian centre, on the same side of the highway, are the Red Cow Farm gardens which are quite beautiful and well worth a look. They are open for inspections at certain times of the year. Again, check the times with the visitors' centre. The cottage was originally the Red Cow Inn, erected in 1834 on land granted to George Sewell.
Golden Vale Rd heads north-west off the Illawarra Highway at the northern end of Sutton Forest, just south of the Medway Rivulet. It leads to the historic home, Golden Valley, a sandstone house built in 1870 for Benjamin Carter who was the first to mine the kerosene shale which his son discovered in the Joadja Valley and which led to the establishment of the town (see entry on Joadja). There are a number of stone outbuildings (stables, meat house and barn) and a weatherboard woolshed.
Black Horse Farm was originally the Black Horse Inn (1835). Outbuildings include a slab shearing shed.Jacky Jacky was actually taken prisoner at the Black Horse Inn when he was overpowered by the owner during a hold-up. There is little left today so the effort is only for the genuine enthusiast. Follow Golden Vale Rd to its terminus at the old Hume Highway. Turn left and it can be found, about 1 km along, on the left.
Mt Broughton Golf and Country Club is located on Kater Rd, contact (02) 4869 1597. The Celtic Market is held on the third Sunday of each month at the Sutton Forest village hall on the Illawarra Highway.
A Little Piece of Scotland has an extensive array of Scottish craftware and shortbread and are open daily.
Penrose Park Monastery is home to the Catholic order of Pauline monks. Visitors attend the Marian Devotions on the 13th of each month. It is on Hanging Rock Rd which runs off the F5 freeway just south of the Sutton Forest McDonald's which is located on the freeway. The Eling Forest Vineyard is also just south of the McDonald's on the freeway , contact (02) 4878 9499.
In the Canyonleigh area, 18 km west, is Tugalong Outback Station, an 'adventure lodge' where horse riding, 4WD tours, abseiling, clay pigeon shooting, wildlife tours and bushwalking can all be pursued, contact: (02) 4878 9247. Both Tugalong and Weston Grove Holiday Ranch (contact 02-4878 9290) are on Tugalong Rd which heads north off Canyonleigh Rd. The latter runs west from the intersection of the Illawarra and Hume Highways.
Highlands Trips and Treks, P.O. Box 298, Bundanoon NSW 2578. Phone/Fax 02 4883 6523 or Mobile 015 244 714 and email firstname.lastname@example.org offer 4WD tours and bushwalks in the Southern Highlands and will pick you up from your accommodation, be it in Sydney or the highlands.
Tourism Southern Highlands
62-70 Main St Mittagong
Sutton Forest NSW 2577
Telephone: (02) 4871 2888, 1300 657 559
Facsimile: (02) 4871 3515