By MICK ROBERTS ©
RUBBING my hands over the damp, cold sandstone walls of what could be Sydney’s oldest pub cellar, I knew there was a story to be told.
A brief tour around what remains of Edward Turner’s 1834 Stonemasons’ Arms on Broadway was inspirational, revealing and, frankly, a little eerie.
At least four publicans have died inside its ancient walls – not to mention the many inquests – which can only lead to the assumption that the old inn is home to more than spirits of the alcoholic type. This is the story of one of Sydney’s earliest pubs, firstly known as the Stonemasons’ Arms, and later the Victoria Inn.
Owner of Essen Restaurant and Beer Café, Geert Elzinger kindly showed me through the 178 year-old building in March 2012; up into the ceiling (pictured below), then into the cellar (also pictured below), as I prepared to write this history. Essen Restaurant and Beer Café closed for business in 2018.
Two shoots, where barrels of ale and stock of trade were dropped through a trapdoor at street level into the cellar remain intact. Barrel hoops litter a mysterious stairwell to nowhere, gated by an iron barred door; hand cut century old timber beams support a new concrete floor above, and the stone blocks of the cellar walls, crumbling with age, are patched with bricks. The place reeks of colonial Sydney.
Although from a different age and time, the expectations of customers within the convict-cut sandstone walls of the building, remain unchallenged. The clanking of cutlery, the laughter and merriment – expected with good beer and food – could be heard, as much as it was in colonial Sydney during my 2012 visit.
Hospitality was the purpose of Edward Turner’s Stonemasons Arms, and, for me, it was pleasingly that purpose was continuing at the time. Although no longer a pub in the true sense of the word, the German style beer café, with its generously stocked bar, continued the tradition of supplying hospitality, which, in my books made Essen, clearly Sydney’s oldest drinking establishment at that time.
The Rocks’ pub, The Lord Nelson, built in 1836 and licensed to serve liquor in 1841, has long claimed the title of Sydney’s oldest licensed premises. However, the former Stonemasons’ Arms in 2012, on the opposite side of the city, was serving ale two years before the Lord Nelson was built, and seven years before it was licensed as a pub.
While Essen has sadly lost that title with its closure in 2018, the Lord Nelson continues trading and safely holds the title of Sydney’s oldest licensed premises.
The story of the Stonemasons’ Arms begins when Turner was refused permission to open a pub by the name in Upper Kent Street during October 1833. He purchased property in nearby Parramatta Street – better known today as Broadway – where his second attempt at opening a pub with the Stonemasons’ Arms was successful.
Sydney Town had been good to convict Turner, who was sent to New South Wales for the term of his natural life for his part in the Pentrich Rebellion, an almost farcical attempt to over-throw the English Crown to make way for a republic in 1817.
Republicans in the Derbyshire village of Pentrich, England formed themselves into a small army in June 1817, making their way towards Nottingham, where they were expected to meet up with thousands of supporters to join in a great march towards London. There was no revolution and few supporters, with Government soldiers rounding up the rebels. Among them was Edward Turner, his uncle William and nephew Joseph “Manchester” Turner.
Following the trials, rebel leaders Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam and William Turner were executed. Of the remainder, six were jailed in England, and 14 were sentenced to transportation to Australia.
Edward Turner was 32, married with two daughters, aged seven and 12, when he was arrested. A stonemason in his hometown of South Wingfield, Derbyshire, he was engaged to make pole spears, or pikes, for the rebellion and was carrying a gun when arrested. He was heard to say: “We’re going to bring about a revolution” and when a reluctant participant refused to take part in the uprising he allegedly threatened to blow his brains out.
Edward and his 18-year-old nephew “Manchester” were held in the hulk of the “Retribution” to await the arrival of convict ships. They were regularly brought ashore in work gangs. Manchester Turner in a letter to the Derby Mercury newspaper described life on board:
“We are ironed and go out to work; we were told our sentence on Tuesday night by the chaplain of our ship. We have barley and oatmeal night and morning and beef for dinner four days a week and the other days, bread and cheese. There is a school and chapel in the hulk which are regularly attended and it is far from being a reprobate place as we were led to believe at Derby, for if a person is inclined, every encouragement is allowed him to improve his morals.”
Edward Turner and his nephew Manchester were among 227 male prisoners aboard the Isabella when she arrived in Sydney Cove on September 14 1818. They survived harsh conditions with beatings and a near mutiny. On arrival they were served with fresh fruit and new convict clothing, consisting of a yellow kersey jacket, black trousers, shirts, shoes, stockings and a cap.
Edward was assigned to Dennis Bryan’s convict gang where he worked as a stonemason on some of Sydney’s early buildings and infrastructure projects, until receiving his ticket of leave in 1827. Despite a wife back in England, Turner was given permission to marry 17-year-old Ann Cawson in 1821.
The couple built a home in Upper Kent Street Sydney, where his first attempt at becoming a publican failed. Edward and Ann had been living in the six room house since the late 1820s, and applied for a publican’s license for the property in July 1833 under the name of the Stonemasons’ Arms. The application was refused, most likely because the premises were unfinished.
Edward and Anne, with their four young children moved in 1834 from Upper Kent Street to what was had become a busy thoroughfare from the out lying rural areas into Sydney Town. Edward, while continuing his trade as a stonemason, built and licensed a two storey sandstone dwelling in Parramatta Street, near Black Wattle Creek, in June 1834. Turner’s Stonemasons Arms was one of 216 liquor licenses granted in Sydney that year.
Part of the estate facing Parramatta Street in today’s Ultimo had been subdivided and sold off in 1834, and small commercial buildings appeared along what was then the main route west to the farming communities of Parramatta, Windsor and Liverpool. Turner’s Stonemasons Arms was one of nine public houses that lined the extremity of the Ultimo Estate by the early 1840s. Pubs, including the Red Bull, between Wattle Street and Jones Street, the Wellington Inn and Golden Anchor, both opposite, and the Sportsman’s Arms, near the corner of Bay Street and Broadway, were alive with teamsters and settlers bringing their goods to market.
The pubs along Parramatta Street were not for the faint hearted. The Sydney Monitor reported on Wednesday August 3 1836 that William Hawes, a sworn teetotaller, was charged with assault on George Ibbotson after a ruckus at the front door of the Stonemasons’ Arms.
The two had travelled together from Goulburn Plains, and on arriving at Turners’ inn, Ibbotson called for half a pint of brandy, and offered Hawes a glass, when “without provocation”, his travelling companion lashed out at him with his whip. “Defendant – Did I not tell you coming along the road that a man could not vex me worse than to ask me to drink? Complainant – You never made any observation of that kind to me; I never saw you refuse it before, and we stopped at many a house on the way down.” Ibbotson accepted an apology from Hawe, and the case was dismissed.
Innkeeper Edward Turner was granted an absolute pardon in 1835, by which time he had become a wealthy businessman, owning several properties.
One of a few substantial stone buildings along Parramatta Street, the Stonemasons’ Arms often was often used for coroners’ inquests during the late 1830s and early 1840s. In February 1839 an inquest found Robert Ferguson, who died from injuries received by falling from the walls of St Andrew’s Cathedral, was accidental, while in April of the same year an inquest found Margaret Reid died after being delivered of two stillborn infants. Another inquest held in the Stonemasons Arms in May 1839 found Joseph William Hall had accidentally drowned in the Cooper’s Brewery Dam, opposite the pub.
Edward Turner died aged 64, at the Stonemasons’ Arms on September 3 1841 after an illness of three weeks. And as often was the case, his wife Ann took the license of her husband’s pub, running it with the help of her young children.
Less than three years after the death of Edward Turner his widow Ann also died at their pub. Ann’s death at 40 on January 31 1843, left five children, aged from two years to 15, without parents. Their parents, however, had left them a large property portfolio. The portfolio included 27 acres of land on the Liverpool road, known as Brighton farm and at least five other houses, including the Stonemasons Arms.
Trustee John Douglass was left to administer the estate and took on the license of the Stonemasons’ Arms after Ann’s death. He advertised an unusual promotional event for Saint Patrick’s Day 1843. During the evening pub-goers were treated to “the largest” exhibition of Montgolfier Balloons, ever seen in the colony. The Sydney Morning Herald advertised that “an artist of great experience in aeronautics” would put flight to two balloons. The admittance to the event was one shilling.
The license and goodwill of the business was put up for sale in September 1843. Controversy erupted, ending in a civil case when Douglass agreed to sell the business to a Mr Curtis in September 1843.
Douglass agreed to a rent the pub to Curtis for £2 per week, as well as selling the remainder of the license and goodwill to him for £22 10s. About three days after the agreement, Douglass let the house to Roger Murphy, who took possession of the Stonemasons’ Arms on October 2, paying a weekly rent of £4 – double the offer made to Curtis.
At the Supreme Court Douglass said although he made arrangements for Curtis to buy the business, the “young Turners”, who he managed the property for as a trustee, would not give up possession of the premises. The “young Turners” believed the offer made by Douglass to Curtis was too low and they refused to allow the deal to proceed.
On Tuesday February 20 the Supreme Court gave a verdict for the plaintiff. Douglass and the “young Turners” were forced to pay damages of £20.
Roger Murphy continued as host of the Stonemasons’ Arms until he fell on financial difficulties. He was declared insolvent in May 1844 and the Stonemasons’ Arms closed soon after. Murphy later went on to host the Travellers’ Rest at the corner of Castlereagh and Market streets in 1846.
A new chapter in the Stonemasons’ history opened in April 1845 when it was re-licensed as the Victoria Inn. Robert and Mary Ann Beatson had run a pub by the name of The Victoria at Surry Hills prior to relocating their business to Parramatta Street. Forty two year old Robert had plenty of experience as a publican, having also been at the helm of the Pattersons River Hotel in Sussex Street, The Red Cross Hotel and the Trafalgar Tavern, both in George Street.
Beatson placed an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald in September 1849 stating that he had received instructions to sell the Victoria Inn. Beatson went on to host the Australian Arms at Emu Plains after his departure from Parramatta Street. He died in 1870 aged 67 at his residence at Emu Plains.
Alexander and Margaret Onan took the license of the Victoria Inn during December 1849. The Onans ran a leather and general grindery goods store at the corner of Sussex Street, between Market and Druitt Streets, prior to gaining the license of the Victoria Inn during December 1849.
Alexander and Margaret Onan were Bounty immigrants, arriving on the Portland with their five year old daughter Jane on December 3 1837. Although born in Ireland, they were married in Scotland on March 18 1831
Alexander was described on shipping records as a shoemaker and Margaret a cotton spinner. The Onans’ decision to take on the role as hoteliers was a turning point in their life. While still operating the leather and general grindery goods store the Onans lost their seven year old son, Joseph, who died in 1849. Within two months of taking the role of publicans at the Victoria Inn, Margaret had been left a widow. Alexander died at the pub on February 1 1850. He was just 40. This left 40-year-old Margaret to run a rowdy inn, while bringing up her young family. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on August 8 1850:
Brutal assault – David Fuller and Thomas Green on Monday last appeared at the Police Office, Messrs Holden and Brenan being the sitting magistrates, to answer the complaint of John Pearce, a man considerably advanced in years, for having on the 22nd July, at the public house of one Onan, Parramatta-street, assaulted and beat him, contrary to the statute, &.c. The prosecutor deposed that on the day named he was drinking at the house of Onan, the defendants were also there, and after some time he saw them ill-using a man known by the name of George the Barber, when he interfered by telling them not to kill the man , they then turned upon him, struck him several blows knocked him down, and when down kicked him so severely that three of his ribs were broken, in consequence of which he had not been able from that day to this to follow his calling. Mr Johnson, of Newtown, surgeon, deposed that on the 24th July he was called upon to attend the complainant, who said he had been ill treated two days previously; two of the inferior ribs were broken, and the spine was injured. This was the evidence for the prosecution. The defendants called William Parker, of Black- wattle Swamp, butcher, who deposed that on the 22nd July, he was with defendants at the Victoria Inn, kept by Mrs Onan; that the complainant was also there very drunk, and fighting with George the Barber ; as complainant was, to appearances, about to go away, he struck the defendant Fuller a blow in the eye, in return for which he (Fuller) merely gave a push, in consequence of which he fell; he said his back was hurt; neither of the defendants struck or kicked complainant. The case was here remanded by their Worships until the next day in order to obtain the evidence of Mrs. Onan and George the Barber. On Tuesday the case was again called on, and Mrs. Margaret Onan entered the witness-box. She deposed that she kept the Victoria Inn, Parramatta-street; on the 22nd July the complainant, the defendants, and others, were drinking at her house; while she was engaged in the business of the bar she heard a noise in the tap-room, and going there saw complainant pushed by Fuller against the table; Pearce then quietly sat down, and nothing more was done; he was not kicked by any one while down. Cross-examined by the complainant: did not see —–‘s wife there; did not see her stripped naked in the house; did not cause her removal out of the house on your (Pearce’s) remonstrance on allowing the mother of a family to be so shamefully used. George Capstick (the barber): Was at the last witness’s house on the 22nd July, from about four in the afternoon until about half-past 8 in the evening; complainant and the defendants were there; did not see anything happen, nor hear any row except one he himself kicked up; did not see complainant struck or kicked by any one; nor intoxicated; do not know of having been assaulted by any one, nor his wife, at Onan’s public-house that afternoon. This witness, and Mrs. Onan, gave their evidence in a most unsatisfactory manner, and were more than once rebuked by the Bench, who finally declared their opinion that a most brutal assault had been perpetrated by the young men at the bar upon the old man the complainant, and sentenced them to pay a penalty of 30s each, with the costs of prosecution: at the same time intimating that sufficient had been elicited in the case to cause a vigilant eye to be kept by the police on the conduct of the house.
Margaret Onan took exception to the report and wrote the following letter to the editor, published on August 10 1850:
A report having appeared in the Police Reports of your paper dated the 8th instant, which might be injurious to the character of the widowed mother of six children, I beg to say there is not a word relative to a female being stripped naked in my house, and the party making the assertion is of very questionable veracity.
Your obedient servant, Margaret Onan, Victoria Inn, Parramatta street.
During September 1851 two men, who were drinking at the Victoria Inn, opened a drawer in the back parlour with a picklock key, stealing eight pounds in silver abstract.
After 20 years, the Turner children were forced to sell the freehold of their late parents’ inn. James, the eldest son of the late Edward Turner, owed money to a William Richardson and an equity suit resulted. Richardson won the freehold of the Victoria Inn during the Supreme Court challenge in 1853. The property was described as being built of stone and containing extensive cellarage in the basement, with 12 rooms above. The yard was surrounded with stabling and out-houses, all stone-built and well finished.
Margaret Onan, who was paying James Turner £2 in rent a week, continued as lessee, despite Richardson claiming the property. However the arrangement turned ugly in November 1855 when after several attempt by Richardson to evict Onan, the landlord challenged the lease agreement in court. The jury found that proper notice had been served to Onan by Richardson and they returned a verdict for the plaintiff.
Thumbing her nose at her eviction, Margaret Onan opened another pub by the same name just up the road in Bay Street Glebe in 1856. Margaret died on June 12 1862 and was buried with husband Alexander and son Joseph in the Camperdown cemetery. Margaret’s two daughters Mary and Margaret ran the Bay Street pub for many years after their mother’s death. They married two brothers called Pearce.
John Madden re-licensed the Victoria Inn on Parramatta Street in April 1856 after Onan’s departure. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on July 29 1856 that on a Saturday evening, a young man with long hair, dark clothes, and a black hat, went into his public house and tendered a one-pound note for a glass of wine. “Having received the change, he decamped with it and the note”. By November 1856 Madden had been “severely subjected to a penalty of 20 shillings and costs” for Sunday selling.
Madden’s daughter Maria Hogan, whose husband Patrick had deserted her, took charge of the Victoria Inn. Maria was said to have had a rocky relationship with her husband before he hit the bottle and disappeared. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on February 12 1857:
Patrick Hogan was charged by his wife Maria with having threatened to take her life. About December last he returned to her after a desertion of two years’ duration; he has done no work, but has subsisted upon her earnings, nor has she asked him for anything; he has frequently beaten her, and on Monday night threatened that he would kill her as Ryan killed his wife. To give sureties to keep the peace for three months, or, in default, to be imprisoned for six weeks.
Later that month Patrick Hogan was found dead in Darlinghurst Gaol. The Herald reported on February 16:
An inquest was held before the coroner, Mr JS Parker, at the Darlinghurst Gaol on Saturday, on view of the body of Patrick Hogan. John Madden deposed: Am a publican, residing at Parramatta-Street. The deceased, Patrick Hogan, was my son-in-law, he was suffering from delirium tremens, he had been drinking very hard, and was sent to gaol for six weeks for saying he should serve his wife the same as Ryan served his wife. The deceased was 35 years of age, and was a steady and healthy man before he took to drinking. He was not under medical treatment before he was sentenced. Thomas Harrison, principal turnkey at the gaol, deposed that the deceased was received into gaol on 11th February; he appeared to be suffering from the effects of drink, and was sent to the gaol hospital. He was very violent yesterday, and required five or six men to keep him under restraint. Dr Alleyne and Mr Galbraith deposed that deceased died from exhaustion consequent on delirium tremens.
In April 1857 Maria took the license of the Victoria Inn, while her father John Madden gained the license of the Sailors’ Return, Harrington Street, Sydney. Madden died while hosting the Sailor’s Return at the age of 68 on November 28 1858.
Just six months after her husband’s death in Darlinghurst Gaol, Maria remarried a John Rogers, who in turn took the license of the Victoria Inn in March 1858. By the end of the month, for reasons unclear, the Victoria Inn had closed again. The pub was badly damaged by fire three months later. The Herald reported on June 30:
A Fire broke out last night, about half-past nine, o’clock, in a house at present unoccupied, but which had lately been used as a tavern, and known as the Victoria Inn, nearly opposite St Benedict’s, Parramatta-street. It will be remembered that only a few weeks ago a hotel in this neighbourhood was partially destroyed by fire, which was supposed to be the work of an incendiary, and for whose conviction a reward of £100 is offered by the Sydney Insurance Company; the circumstance of the Victoria Inn having been for some time tenantless leads to the supposition that the present fire is not the result of accident… We understand the house has lately been undergoing repair; the floor of the attic, however, was clean, with the exception of the plaster and burnt wood which had fallen from the ceiling; and no combustible material, likely to have ignited by the fall of a spark from a pipe or candle, was to be found. The damage is not very considerable, but the appearances presented are of so suspicious a character as to give it an importance distinct from the loss occasioned by the fire.
Richardson advertised the pub for lease again in June 1858, stating it did a roaring trade from men working at the nearby slaughter yards. The lease was taken by 38-year-old William Windred and his wife Sarah, 37, in December. Windred had a wealth of experience under his belt when he took the license.
After his marriage to Sarah Silk in 1847, the pair – then in their 20s – took their first pubs in William’s birthplace of Windsor. There they hosted the Sir John Barlycorn Inn and the Australian Hotel before gaining the license of the Printers Arms in Castlereagh Street Sydney in 1850. In 1852 they had the Sir Richard Bourke in Pitt Street, followed by the Mayor Inn – later known famously as Tattersalls Hotel – also in Pitt Street, and later the Whitehaven Castle in Goulburn Street.
The Windreds left the Victoria Inn during 1860, and the place was once again advertised for lease or freehold sale. The pub was said to be complete with bar fixtures, counter, eight-motion beer engine and spirit fountain.
Sarah died aged 70 in Orange in 1891, while William’s death is recorded in 1898, in Windsor. In his obituary in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette on September 24 1898 he was described as “a man of fine physique, and a prominent advocate and popular exponent of all manly sports… Becoming tired of the comparative inactivity of hotel keeping, Mr Windred undertook the management of Mr Dargin’s station on the Macquarie River, where he proved himself to be a very capable man.”
The Victoria Inn’s last host was Thomas Parkinson – another experienced hotelier, unable to make the little pub pay.
Parkinson gained the license of the Victoria Inn during the latter half of 1860, after a long stint as host of the Racecourse Inn, on Parramatta Road Homebush. He had also hosted the Wellington Inn, just up the road from the Victoria Inn, on the present site of the residential and retail redevelopment on the old Kent Brewery site on Broadway. He also had the Woolpack Inn at Petersham for some time. All this experience though wasn’t enough to keep the old stone pub profitable, and in June 1867 Parkinson was declared insolvent. He advertised the sale of the lease, license, stock and fittings of his business.
Parkinson died of “apoplexy” on January 31 1870 at the “Infirmary” at the age of 55, “leaving an affectionate wife and family, and a large circle of friends to mourn their loss”.
The old inn never re-opened again as a pub, and Richardson leased the premises for use as various retail and commercial purposes. Amazingly the building survived – due to neglect, rather than careful planning – for the following 110 years.
The old pub was “rescued” and returned to its intended use in 1981. Owner Michael Avramidis renovated the dilapidated building into a restaurant. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on June 26 1981:
Old Hotel to Set ‘Em Up Again.
By Joseph Glascott, Environment Writer.
Demolition of outbuildings in a lane off Broadway has exposed the back of the Stonemasons’ Arms – claimed to be the oldest hotel building in Sydney. For almost a century the old building has been hidden and forgotten. Additions had destroyed its Broadway frontage and a conglomeration of outbuildings at the rear had almost blocked the old tavern from site. The old tavern’s sandstone wall and slate shingle roof can be seen from the laneway near the corner of Broadway and Wattle Street. Miss Kate Moore, daughter of the President of the Arbitration Commission, Sir John Moore, is an expert on the old tavern. Miss Moore, who graduated in architecture from Sydney University this year, wrote her thesis on the Stonemasons’ Arms. “Our research placed the Stonemasons’ Arms building back to 1831,” she said yesterday. “Therefore it must be the oldest hotel building in Sydney as distinct from hotels like the Hero of Waterloo at Millers Point which have always been in business.” She said the Stonemasons’ Arms was a stopping place on the road for early settlers taking their goods to the Sydney markets. “It was a pretty riotous place because in those days the Glebe area was notorious area for highway men,” she said. “Waterfront workers from Darling Harbour used to row up Blackwattle Creek now covered by a laneway, to the Stonemasons’ Arms at Broadway.” She said the old hotel was built by Edward Turner, who was transported to Australia from England. Turner eventually became a free settler and a successful farmer in the Parramatta district before building the Stonemasons’ Arms. The old Stonemasons’ Arms site is now being redeveloped as a restaurant by the owners of the adjoining Cyren Restaurant on Broadway. The architect, Mr Michael Avramidis showed plans yesterday which will preserve the old tavern and its back wall as part of the restaurant. Mr Avramidis said the Stonemasons’ Arms was built in 1824 as a residence for Edward Turner and his family and was turned into a tavern in 1831 by Mrs Turner after the death of her husband.
Today, an extension has been made to the front Broadway façade of the ‘Stonemasons’, with most of the original ground storey front demolished. The remaining hand-cut original stone walls of the 1834 inn can clearly be seen when inside the building, as can the original cellar and attic. The former Stonemasons’ Arms is protected and is listed as a heritage building.
1834 1841: Edward Turner.
1841-1843: Ann Turner.
1843-1844: John Douglass.
1844-1845: Roger Murphy.
1845 1850: Robert Beatson.
1850 1851: Alexander Onan.
1851-1855: Margaret Onan.
1856: John Madden.
1856-1857: Maria Hogan.
1857-1858: Maria Rogers (Nee Hogan)
1858: John Rogers
1858-1860: William Windred.
1860 – 1867: Thomas Parkinson.
Originally published 2013. Updated 2021
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021
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