History of Mudgee

The first European in the immediate vicinity was James Blackman who headed north to the Mudgee area from what is now Wallerawang in 1821, becoming the first European to cross the Cudgegong River. It is known that he had a slab building on the townsite by 1837.

Once Blackman proved the route passable, William Lawson, who had failed in an earlier attempt, travelled north to Mudgee where he found some excellent grazing land. Lawson had been a member of the first European party to cross the Blue Mountains in 1813 and was then commandant of Bathurst. He later took up 6000 acres along the Cudgegong River.

He was immediately followed by George and Henry Cox (sons of William Cox who built the first road over the Blue Mountains) who became the first permanent European settlers on the Cudgegong River when they established the 'Menah' run, 3 km north-west of the present townsite. It was here that the first settlement developed. A police station and lock-up were established in 1833.

Prior to that time the district had been occupied by the Wiradjuri people. Relations were amicable when white numbers were negligible but, as settlement escalated in the 1820s, conflict increased. Kangaroos and possums, major food sources, were slaughtered wholesale by whites. Sacred sites were desecrated and prime riverside land was taken. In 1824, martial law was declared and armed settlers roamed the countryside murdering Aborigines on sight, thereby decimating the tribe which was dispossessed and completely broken by the 1840s.

The village of Mudgee was gazetted in 1838. By 1841, there were 36 dwellings, mostly of slab construction, including three hotels, a hospital, a post office, two stores and the first Anglican church. The first school (Anglican) was established in a slab hut in the 1840s and the police station was moved from Menah to Mudgee in the mid-1840s. The population had only reached about 200 by 1851.

However, a goldrush began when a huge nugget was found at Hargraves in 1851. Mudgee became a centre for the local goldfields, benefiting considerably from the consequent through-traffic which peaked with the finds at Gulgong and Hill End at the beginning of the 1870s.

St Mary's Catholic Church, Mudgee
It is a sign of Mudgee's early success that the population increased to 1500 by 1861 and it was declared a municipality in 1860, making it the second-oldest town west of the Great Dividing Range. Methodist and Presbyterian churches, the present Catholic and Anglican churches, and the first National school were all built in the 1850s. In addition, a police station, courthouse, post office, mechanics institute, the present Uniting Church and a town hall were added from 1860 to 1865. There were four coach factories operating in the 1860s to cater for the overwhelming transport demands.

Fortunately, Mudgee was not just dependent on gold. The immediate area became noted for its quality wool and merino studs, its vineyards (introduced in 1858 by German immigrant, Adam Roth) and its agricultural production. When the gold began to peter out late in the 19th century, it was the strength of these staples which sustained the town. When the railway arrived in 1884, it further boosted agricultural sales.

One of Australia's most famous poets and short-story writers, Henry Lawson (1867-1922), had very strong ties to Mudgee. His parents were married here in 1866. But for a brief stay at Gulgong, he was raised, from the age of six months to 15 years, in a cottage 8 km north at Eurunderee which was established after a gold find in 1863. Lawson was educated at Eurunderee and Mudgee and many of his stories are inspired by his memories of the area.

Of more infamous repute are the Governor brothers, Jimmy and Joe; Aboriginal bushrangers who, in 1900, in retribution for ill-treatment and discrimination, went on a murderous three-month rampage, killing ten people. Much has been written about them, one version of their story told in Thomas Keneally’s book and made into a film, ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’. One victim was Alex McKay of Sportsman’s Hollow Creek, killed near his home just west of Ulan on the Gulgong Road on July 23, 1900. He was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Gulgong Cemetery; his headstone inscription saying: “Brutally murdered on July 23, 1900 at Ulan”. Another victim, 70 year old Kiernan Fitzpatrick, was shot in front of his hut near Wollar, 48 km north-east of Mudgee. Consequently, the Aborigines of Wollar were forcibly removed to the Brewarrina mission.


Did you know?
At 2 am. on the 19th October, 1872 the world's largest single mass of gold was unearthed at Hawkins Hill, Hill End.

The Holtermann Nugget, as it was known, weighed 286 kg and measured 150cm by 66cm and immortalised the site of Hill End in history.

Did you know?
Mudgee's most famous son is Henry Lawson, who lived in the area till he left school, almost completely deaf, at age 15. Many of his poems are related to scenes in Mudgee, including the “Old Bark School”, which he attended and was established by his activist mother.
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