In December 1820 Europeans first visited the area and on the tracks of these explorers came the first wave of settlers. Many looking for a new start, but many to make money from the virgin land that was ripe for development. Not only was land good for building and stock, but water was available and plentiful.
In 1828 an ex-convict named Timothy Beard, who was known to be an innkeeper from Campbelltown, had a squattage called ‘Quinbean’ (said to mean Aboriginal for clear waters) on the Molonglo River. Beard was credited with having the first settlement close to the present site of Queanbeyan, though his occupancy was illegal. Old maps of 1833 show no fewer than 12 stations in the Molonglo, Gundaroo, Lake George and Bungendore area. The first Post Office was established in 1836 in Crawford Street to service settlers. In 1837 Captain Alured Tasker Faunce of the 4th (Kings Own) regiment was appointed resident Police Magistrate.
Queanbeyan was officially proclaimed a township in 1838 with a population of approximately 50 persons. Some of the significant historic buildings still standing date from those early days (Anglican and Catholic Churches, Walsh’s Hotel, Isabella St Public School,The Temperance Hall, Uniting and Presbyterian Churches, Furlong Mill and Mill House, Art Gallery, Kent Hotel, private houses and Old Council Chambers and many others).
Traces of gold were discovered in 1851 and lead and silver mines also flourished briefly. Settlers were harassed by bushrangers, of which John Tennant, Jacky Jacky, Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall were some of the more notorious.
The Golden Age was Queanbeyan’s first newspaper and was founded in 1860 by John Gale. It is currently the third oldest continuously published newspaper in NSW. Queanbeyan, prospering as a primary producing area, was proclaimed a Municipality in February 1885, containing an area of 5,700 acres.
William James Farrer, the wheat experimentalist, established Queanbeyan’s reputation as an agricultural district with his famous Federation rust free strain, developed on his property Lambrigg at Tharwa. Farrer’s work was only slowly recognised elsewhere in Australia, but local farmers supported him, particularly as his development of Blount’s Lambrigg another strain which in 1889 gave hope to farmers after the disaster of 1887 when crops had failed after heavy Christmas rains.
At the height of its rural prosperity Queanbeyan boasted of 16 public houses and six flour mills powered by wind water, horse and steam (including Severn and Dodsworth mills – built near the river at the end of the suspension bridge and on the golf course respectively).