Local history - Shoalhaven City Council

History of the Shoalhaven

The Shoalhaven has an interesting colonial history, with many historical structures still in existence and being utilised today. 

Use the Nowra Historical Walk brochure (PDF 266 kb) to experience firsthand the rich local history for yourself.

In December 1797, George Bass, sailing down the coast in a whaleboat with six seamen, discovered the mouth of a river. He disliked the entrance so much that he named it Shoals-Haven. It has been established that he named the mouth of the Crookhaven River with the name later assumed by the great Shoalhaven River. Thus the early Settlers of Sydney learned of the district around the Shoalhaven. As land around Sydney was taken up, the Shoalhaven was further explored and surveyed. New land was needed for the expanding settlement.

The Scotsman Alexander Berry explored the Shoalhaven District in January 1822, looking for land on which to settle. Six months later he entered the Crookhaven River in the ‘Blanche’, after an attempt to enter the Shoalhaven River resulted in two men being drowned. Berry settled permanently at Coolangatta on the north bank of the Shoalhaven River. Other members of his family from Scotland joined him later. With his partner, Edward Wollstonecraft, Berry took up land grants of 10,000 acres, and Shoalhaven’s modern history began.

Alexander Berry, Hamilton Hume and Thomas Davidson made the first recorded ascent of the Pigeon House Mountain in 1822. In August of 1846, Berry’s schooner, the Coolangatta was wrecked between Point Danger and Cut Hill, Queensland. This place still bears the name of Coolangatta, linking the Gold Coast and the Shoalhaven with an historical tie. The anchor of the Coolangatta serves as a monument by the beach at Queensland’s Coolangatta.

In the early days, Shoalhaven was noted for the timber that encouraged logging to supply the need for sleepers for the early railways. Wool and wheat, as well as fresh vegetables and fruit were shipped to Sydney from Jervis Bay Harbour. Goods were hauled from as far away as the Highlands and Jervis Bay was considered a rival port to Sydney Harbour.

The Dent and Settree families from Currambene Creek, Huskisson, pioneered shipbuilding. Built by the Dent family, the former Sydney Harbour Ferry, Lady Denman, is now at rest on the shores where she was built at Huskisson. She is now restored and on display under cover within the Lady Denman Heritage Complex.

The history of the Southern Shoalhaven is recorded as far back as the voyage of Captain Cook, who recorded in his log on the 21 April 1770 that he had sighted a prominent landmark. Cook gave this feature a European name, ‘Pigeon House’ unaware of the name ‘Didthul’ given to it by the indigenous people. A note was also made that natives had been sighted on the beach of what is now called Bawley Point. Aboriginal middens still exist in this area.

In July 1791, Lieutenant Bowen, a naval agent, ran the Atlantic into a harbour he called Port Jervis, now Jervis Bay, approximately 40km north of Ulladulla.

At Ulladulla, cedar drew the early settlers, one of the first whom was the Rev. Thomas Kendall. He settled just north of the present township of Milton in 1828. It was here, on this estate, that his grandson, Henry Kendall was born on April 18, 1839. Henry Kendall remained at Ulladulla for only five years, after which he moved about the country. The people of Ulladulla considered him to be Australia’s poet laureate and in March 1862 instigated the publishing by subscription of his poems and songs.

The name Ulladulla appears to have been of Aboriginal background. The Aborigines mouthed the sounds “Ullatha Ullatha” or “Ullada Ullada’ as the name of the place. However, when a small boat called The Wasp visited the harbour it became known as Wasp Harbour, as well as the Aboriginal derived “Woolahderra”. Later the Aboriginal name was corrupted to “Holey Dollar” (the currency introduced by Macquarie) and thence to Ulladulla. The name Wasp Harbour was discontinued.

Gradually the rich farming land 7km north of the harbour was settled and was called “The Settlement” by the local farmers and the harbour from which their produce was shipped to Sydney was simply called “Boat Harbour”. However the whole area was officially known as Ulladulla in the County of St Vincent. By 1856 it had a population of 300.

Early in 1859 John Booth bought 80 acres of Myrtle Farm from Joseph Whatman for 240 pounds. He had it subdivided into the township of Milton. In the same years, the first postmaster, George Knight, gave the new township its name. Prosperity soon came to Milton and as early as 1866 magnificent homesteads, still standing, were erected for leading citizens. By 1866 Milton had a Church of England, Roman Catholic Church and a Wesleyan Church. The Congregational Church, now the site of the Uniting Church, was opened on August 17, 1872. In 1978 the Milton Public School celebrated its centenary.

Early industries in Ulladulla included a tannery works at Millards Creek; a sawmill prepared timber and sleepers out of spotted gum, blackbutt and many other hardwoods; silica and quartzite were loaded at a wharf at Bannisters Point and shipped out to be used in furnace lining at the Newcastle steelworks.


Read more about the Shoalhaven local heritage collection available at the Nowra Library.

More information is also available on the history of the Ulladulla area (new window).

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