Foundation work near an historic Goulburn building may uncover the body of a notorious murderer hanged nearby in 1840.
Thomas Whitton was Goulburn’s most famous bushranger.
An archaeological assessment report has uncovered a significant part of Goulburn’s early history, which may include Whitton’s grave.
The report is a preliminary step to converting the McDermott Centre into a performing arts centre, including demolishing the rear of the building.
The report aimed to identify historical archaeological sites within the study area to assess their significance and surviving conditions, before making recommendations for management and conservation.
Goulburn Mulwaree Council is now taking precautionary steps to ensure significant early features of the site are preserved.
Built in 1887, the McDermott Centre is Goulburn’s former town hall. It was extended in 1936, and the site has links to archaeological sites of the former Goulburn jail and former fire station.
Nineteen prisoners were hanged at the Goulburn jail in the 1800s. Of these, the only burial that may be located nearby is the earliest, that of Whitton on March 19, 1840. The Sydney Monitor in March, 1840, described Thomas Whitton as a man who had “a career prominent in villainy and matchless in atrocity.” He was said to have committed many outrages in the Lachlan and other districts in the western and southern parts of the colony.
His execution and burial was recorded in the Australasian Chronicle of March 24, 1840, and the Sydney Monitor on March 25, 1840. All others were buried in consecrated cemeteries.
Council’s archaeological inspections and excavation will be done with consultation from the NSW Heritage Division and NSW Department of Health if the burial of Thomas Whitton is on the subject site.
Mayor Bob Kirk said conserving Goulburn’s history was essential. “We are taking time to ensure that this conservation work is done properly before we move forward with physical commencement of the project,’’ Cr Kirk said. “It’s critical that we respect the social and built history represented by the McDermott Centre and the site.”
A $12 million overhaul of the prominent site will include new reception, bar and cafe to complement a 420-seat theatre, bar and cafe.
The Goulburn Performing Arts Centre proposal has been approved by Crown Lands, and the development assessment is now being undertaken by independent planners. This DA will then be determined by the Joint Regional Planning Panel at a date to be confirmed.
Pictured at top: McDermott Centre, Goulburn. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Council.