The Aboriginal people of the area were known as the Mulgoa or Mulgoey or Mulgowi clan of the Dharuk people. The Dharuk people were a large language group occupying the Cumberland Plain Woodland.
Mulgoa means black swan (Cygnus atrus) in Dharuk. Black swans still breed in the Mulgoa district, and a pair bred successfully on the ‘Swan Dam’ at Winbourne in the 1970s and 1980s. They continue to breed there today.
William Cox was born at Wimbourne Minster, Dorset, England on 19 December 1764. Eventually, he became a Lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps. Cox arrived in Sydney on 11 January 1800, accompanied by his wife and four sons, James aged 10; Charles aged 7; George aged 5; and Henry aged 4. After an unsuccessful start at “Brush Farm” (Pennant Hills), William and his family settled in 1804 at Windsor, on his Clarendon property. Years later in 1815, he was in charge of constructing the road over the Blue Mountains - over 100 miles of road was built in six months.
The Cox’s became interested in land in the Mulgoa district and Edward at the age of 4 years, received the first grant of 300 acres in 1810. This property is known as “Fernhill”. George’s grant of 600 acres was made out in 1816. It was the future site of “Winbourne”. (The sun-dial in the middle of the roundabout bears the date 1809, the year when it was made by a notable silversmith of the time, R. Clint. It was installed at ‘Winbourne’ sometime after 1824). George also took up land in the Mudgee district (“Burrundulla”), as did his father and brothers.
In 1822-23, George married Miss Eliza Bell of Belmont, Richmond. They lived firstly at “The Cottages” - the Cox’s Mulgoa outstation, situated beyond the present St Thomas’s Church - and there the first son, George Henry Cox, was born.
For a good part of its history, Winbourne was a holiday resort used by families as a country holiday destination. It was run for most of time by the Campbells.
In October 1958, the Christian Brothers purchased Winbourne. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the religious congregations within the Catholic Church experienced a great increases in membership. Indeed records indicate that generally, the membership of such groups in 1965 was the largest in the history of the Catholic Church throughout the world. This was the case with the Christian Brothers with 3,700 members world wide and 1,100 in Australia. Groups of 30 or 40 new trainees annually were common-place during these years. There was a great expansion of facilities to form and train new members, and the wisdom of the age held that a period of withdrawal to a relatively geographically isolated setting was an appropriate part of such formation programs.
As a result, new training centres were built, or existing properties modified at places like Mittagong (Marist Brothers), Galong (Redemptorist Fathers), Minto (Christian Brothers), Castle Hill (Sisters of St Joseph), Camden (Good Samaritan Sisters), and so on. Mulgoa was seen as an appropriate location and when Thomas Campbell placed Winbourne on the market in 1958, it was purchased by the Christian Brothers.
Adaptations were made to the existing Stables. The stone building which served as the ballroom for the Guest House (it had been the winery in earlier days) became the Chapel, and a new wing was erected on the site of the ruins of the old mansion to make the whole into a House of Studies for the young Brothers undertaking their second year of teacher-training. During the 1980’s, the number of young people opting to join the religious congregation decreased, and approaches to formation programs changed. Smaller groups were housed in locations closer to Universities and other tertiary institutions. Parallel to this trend among religious congreations in the 1980’s, there was an increasing call for formation programs for lay people within the Catholic Church, both for younger people of senior school age, and for adults.
The Church utilised many of the large centres built in the 1950’s and 1960’s to meet this need, and this has been the situation at Winbourne. The recent refurbishment and upgrading of facilities was a response to help meet this continuing and expanding need. An extensive redevelopment began in 1993. In successive stages came the new community residence, dining room and kitchen complex, three cottages to accommodate adult groups, a refurbishment of the Retreat building and Chapel, a Reception building and finally in 1997, the restoration and renovation of the Stables to its structure and appearance as originally constructed in 1882.