Looking back: Bega's early white settlers

THE Bega Pioneers' Museum has countless files on people and places. This history comes from its Tarraganda file. The Imlay Bros established a settlement at Tarraganda in 1835.

Founding fathers: Dr Alexander Imlay (pictured) and his brothers George and Peter established settlements in the Bega River valley in 1835.

Founding fathers: Dr Alexander Imlay (pictured) and his brothers George and Peter established settlements in the Bega River valley in 1835.

JOHN Lambie, the Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Monaro District, described “Beggah” in 1839 as an area of 200 square miles belonging to the Imlay brothers, with Peter Imlay superintending. It was said to comprise “23 slab huts etc”.

In 1846 the same Commissioner described Bega as belonging to  George Imlay, with one slab cottage and eight slab huts. By 1874 this has grown to 10 slab huts and one slab cottage.

The Imlays’ headquarters was where Tarraganda House now stands. In fact some hut foundations and an olive tree can still be seen in the garden at the rear of the house.

All travel at the time was on horseback or foot, and they crossed the Bega River at Warragaburra, and then up the eastern bank until they reached one of the few locations around the town where a ridge of high ground extends across the flood plain to the river bank, and there they erected their huts.

To these new settlers the Bega River appeared to be a quiet, inoffensive, meandering stream, and so they felt safe in settling close to it so that they had ready access to fresh water.

Tanks for water storage had not been invented at this time and bark roofs did not permit water collection anyhow.

Similar high ground sites were to be found at Warragaburra, North Bega, “Elmgrove” (Jenkins' Flat) and where the water pumping station is to be found today in West Bega and all of these sites were also occupied by early white settlers for the same water access reasons.

Also, 1839 through the early 1840s were very dry years with drought conditions and bushfires and this was have further enhanced their opinions that these local streams were not potentially dangerous in the event of flooding.

Dr George Imlay was in charge at Tarraganda, whilst Dr Peter based himself at Candelo House where his infant son was buried in the garden, and Dr Alexander at Bunga - he also kept a house at Warragubra.

They were said to be friends of Governor Bourke and that in 1832 he had given them the “Pastoral District of Far South Coast” for a squattage.

At Tarraganda they bred horses, cattle and sheep and grew crops such as wheat.