Chapter 2 — European settlement and the naming of Canberra

From Canberra — Australia’s National Capital by Crispin Hull
Chapter 2 — European settlement and the naming of Canberra
The first Europeans to come to the Canberra district arrived in October 1820. Dr Charles Throsby brought Governor Lachlan Macquarie to Lake George (named by Macquarie after the King). The forward party tried to find the Murrumbidgee, but got only as far as what is now the ACT’s northern boundary.
Two months later Throsby’s nephew, Charles Throsby Smith, led a group that got further. They did not find the Murrumbidgee, but they explored the Yass and Queanbeyan Rivers and climbed Black Mountain before returning to Sydney. Several more exploratory trips in the 1820s were closely followed by unauthorised settlement, with some absentee landlords, and finally formal land grants in 1829.
Among the earliest was Joshua John Moore who had a run at present day Acton, near the city centre, which he called Canberry, after the local Aboriginal name for the place, believed to mean meeting place. However, John Gale, who established the Queanbeyan Age newspaper in the 1860s said the word meant “”woman’s breasts”, stemming from a view of the twin peaks of Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie. The meaning meeting place is thought to be either the meeting of two rivers or the meeting place of tribes going into the mountains in summer in pursuit of bogong moths. The earliest written reference to the name comes in a letter written by Moore in 1826 in which he spelt it Canbery. Other visitors to the area referred to Nganbra, Gnabra and Canbury. The early registers at St John’s church (two kilometres from the present city centre) used Canbery and Canberry, but in 1858 the word Canberra was used and this was accepted by almost everyone by the 1860s, though not officially adopted until 1913.
Other early settlers were James Ainslie at Pialligo and Robert Campbell at Duntroon – both within the present city area.
By 1828 the total European population was 171 — only 8 of whom were women and 73 were convicts still under sentence. Most of the convicts probably led better lives off the sheep runs than they did in England. In the next five years, the population grew to more than 500. By 1836 it was 1700. In 1840 the convict population fell with the end of transportation. Small villages developed around Robert Campbell’s Duntroon and the Ginninderra properties. Robert’s son Charles came to Duntroon in 1835 to manage his father’s estate. Charles believed in giving labourers small amounts of land at low rent and encouraging married men to come to work on his estates. In 1845 St John’s was completed. By this stage the nearby township of Queanbeyan (in present day NSW) had 500 people.
In the 1830s the first wool was exported out of the area. By 1834, Duntroon had 20,000 sheep. By 1838 Yarralumla had 25,000 sheep. The Canberra Yass area still produces some of the finest wool in the world.
Many of the homesteads and buildings of the sheep runs are still in use today. Charles Campbell’s homestead of Duntroon is now the military college and a nearby worker’s cottage — Blundell’s — has been preserved and opened to the public. The stately 1881 extension to the Yarralumla homestead is now used as the Governor-General’s residence. Lanyon, built in 1859 by Andrew Cunningham, a Scottish banker who successfully took up sheep grazing, now houses the Sidney Nolan collection of Ned Kelly paintings. Blundell’s Farmhouse, today cared for by the Canberra and District Historical Society, was built in 1858 from locally quarried sandstone by the Campbells of Duntroon as a home for their head ploughman. George Blundell and his family were the second residents, moving in the 1860s and living there for fifty years. Visitors today can inspect the parlour, the main bedroom, the original kitchen, the girls’ bedroom, the new kitchen, the shed and the garden, all featuring items of great interest, displayed as they would have been used last century.
Despite the increase in the numner of holdings, the Canberra area remained sparsely populated rural sheep holdings until Charles Scrivener arrived in 1909 to select and survey the precise site of the new capital.