By MICK ROBERTS ©
SEVEN kilometres from the heart of Sydney, along the Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, is one of the city’s oldest trading pubs.
Although built in 1926, the Bald Faced Stag Hotel has served up beer under several names and in various buildings from its busy corner site since the early 1830s.
Ironically the traffic that has passed its door daily for the past 180 years – the stimulus for its existence – seems a constant threat to the pub’s future. Customers comfortably enjoy drinks inside the bar seemingly oblivious to the constant, fast and furious traffic, thundering past less than a couple of metres from where they sit.
Despite concrete safety barriers on the footpath outside the pub – in an effort to protect patrons and pedestrians from wayward vehicles – the Bald Faced Stag survives.
This is the story of the early years of one of Parramatta Road’s oldest pubs.
Although the façade – with a stag statue perched above – boasts the establishment year of 1830, the license of the Bald Faced Stag Hotel’s forerunner dates back to 1833.
Abraham Hearn was issued a publican’s license for a house on his Petersham estate, where he had been living for at least three years, in July 1833.
Over the following years a cluster of pubs followed Hearn’s inn along Parramatta Road, as Petersham was an overnight stopping point for bullock teams travelling between Sydney and Parramatta, and was where mail coaches made their first and only stop. Hearn gave his pub the sign of ‘The Australian’.
Although described by the Sydney Gazette in 1834 as “a respectable innkeeper”, Hearn, like many Sydney publicans, had a shady past.
The English convict had arrived in Sydney to serve a life sentence at the age of 22 in 1803. Ten years later, at the age of 33, he married Sarah Fussell at Parramatta in 1813 and was etching out a living as a stockman. He was reclaiming wild cattle around the Campbelltown area by the early 1820s.
Hearn, while father to at least four children, was convicted of manslaughter in 1825, after a drunken row with another stockman while working on John McArthur’s Minto Estate.
The Sydney Gazette reported in December that Hearn had bludgeoned 24-year-old William Harcourt to death at the Cowpastures after a drunken quarrel.
Hearn was sentenced to two years in the penal settlement of Port Macquarie, but was released from Sydney Gaol after a lenience petition.
By the following year 45-year-old Hearn had swapped his stock whip for an innkeeper’s apron. He received the license of the Spread Eagle Inn on Brickfield Hill in Sydney.
The Spread Eagle adjoined the Dog and Duck Inn on George Street and had four rooms downstairs, with two bedrooms above, a detached kitchen with a loft, and a six stalled stable and coach house.
After four years as a Brickfield Hill publican, Hearn moved to his estate, Hay Hill at Petersham in the 1829. Petersham at the time was still largely unsettled, and was rife with bushrangers, drifters and cattle rustlers.
In December 1823, Hearn was robbed by bushrangers while travelling from his estate to Parramatta. The Sydney Gazette reported on December 23 that he was one of seven men who had their clothes stolen and money taken by two armed men a mile out of Parramatta.
Hearn’s Australian Hotel prospered with the increasing traffic along Parramatta Road. That same traffic caused his inn to become a makeshift coroner’s court less than six months after it had opened.
The Colonial Coroner held an inquest into the death of John Halford in the pub during October 1833. Halford tried to stop a horse and cart bolting from outside Hearn’s pub, before the unfortunate man was run-over by the vehicle and had five of his ribs broken. He died an hour later.
Hearn was before the courts again, along with one of his servants, in 1834 when he was charged by Sydney tanner, William Matthews for cattle stealing. Besides his pub business, Hearn, like many other publicans at the time, had his fingers in many pies, and he also traded in cattle.
The Sydney Gazette reported on January 25 1833 that Hearn’s servant brought the Sydney Tanner Matthews a hide which held a strong resemblance to a bullock he had lost.
A police constable searched Hearn’s Petersham premises where he found salted beef in a cask, which Matthews said was his missing bullock. Hearn dismissed the accusations, saying he had purchased the beast from a drover, who was conveying a herd to the Sydney market.
As there was no evidence to the contrary, the case against Hearn and his servant were dismissed.
Hearn retired from his bar to focus on other business interests in June 1838, handing his pub over to John Walker, who took a lease and changed the name to the Woolpack.
At the time there were three other pubs trading along the Parramatta Road in the Petersham area between Hawthorn Canal, near French’s Lane and Balmain Road. William Tavener hosted the Bay Horse, Thomas Weeden the Cherry Gardens and Andrew Higgins was publican at the Cheshire Cheese by the late 1830s.
Walker had a short stay at the Woolpack, with William Cains taking over the license. Cains previously had hosted the Hole in Wall in Pitt Street Sydney, and in May 1839 – for an unexplained reason – he was rejected the renewal of the license of the Woolpack.
The Woolpack re-opened the following year when Thomas McGuiness was granted a license at a special general licensing meeting on July 30 1840. He remained as host for four years before a young man by the name of Thomas Shaw took control in 1844.
Tom, born to convict parents at Parramatta, had a short, but significant stay at the Petersham pub. He was no stranger to life behind the bar.
As a boy, in the 1830s, his parents, Thomas Senior and Frances, hosted the Joiners Arms in Marsden Street Parramatta.
At the age of 22 Tom married Susannah Hughes in 1842, before he was granted the license of the Woolpack Inn at Petersham in April 1844.
Entrepreneurial Tom had ambitious plans, and leased a parcel of land opposite the pub to build a course for horse racing. The Australian newspaper reported on November 21 1844:
Petersham Races – We are happy to inform the Sporting community of Sydney that a new race Course has been formed on the Parramatta Road, opposite Shaw’s Woolpack Inn, Petersham. The Course, we have been informed, is unexceptionable… The first of a series of races will take place on the 26th December.
Shaw leased land for the race track and sporting grounds on the other side of Parramatta Road, extending towards the today’s railway line and with a grandstand in present Railway Street (about where the Uniting Church now stands). Race meetings were patronised by the sports fans of Sydney paying from 2s 6d to one guinea (21s) to attend, and the only permitted entrance was, of course a gate opposite the Shaw’s pub.
The course was small with tight bends but on occasion it was said that up-to 10,000 people attended race meetings – about 20 per cent of Sydney’s population at the time.
A new sporting newspaper, Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer gave a much more detailed description of the racecourse and the first meeting, which included four races, sports events and other entertainments, on Saturday January 4 1845:
As a race course it would be hardly fair now to judge minutely of it, since being in many places newly made the turf has not acquired that uninterrupted sponginess, so desirable for the galloping ground of valuable cattle; some of the angles are also much too sharp, the declivity and ascent too severe, and there are other faults which time and experience may rectify; but as a first attempt to compete with the well-established Homebush, it is decidedly a creditable and successful one. Not that we augur unfavourably of the latter, for whatever improvements may be found desirable and adopted in rendering Petersham a favourite place for periodical race meetings and private matches, the area is evidently too limited for the terrific stride of the thoroughbred to have full play….. And now come we to the eventful day for the heroes of Petersham. At an early hour straggling parties of pedestrians were to be seen wending their way towards the scene of action, doubtless great numbers of them totally disinterested in the running, but resolved to spend their Christmas “in the open,” calculating upon the usual hub-bub of a race course as an additional source of pleasurable excitement to themselves. The carriage folk began tool out soon after ten, and from this hour till between eight and 9pm the road presented one uninterrupted line of charioteers and horsemen, which proved a most acceptable “Holyday token” to the Doctor, as the gemman* of the Toll Gate has been dubbed.” On-approaching the “Barley Mow” [Woolpack Inn] we found that the swizzle (Tall frothy mixed drinks made usually of rum) was already in demand, while amidst the various knots of sportsmen (?) little allusion was made to the forthcoming events, and positively nothing in the shape of betting to be had. Soon after mid-day the horses engaged in the first race made their appearance on the ground, where everything seemed quite correct, reminding us forcibly of race course demonstrations in Great Britain. A slight fee was very properly demanded at the outer gate in order to keep the company select, and then came the importunate vendors of “correct cards”…
The first race meeting went off without a hitch, except for the theft of a cask of ale by a couple of assigned servants from a nearby estate. The Australian reported on January 1 1845:
OLD ENGLISH SPORTS. — Last Saturday evening, between eight and nine o’clock, Mr. Shaw, publican, of the Parramatta Road, gave two assigned servants in the service of Mr. Johnstone, of Annandale, into custody, on the Petersham Race Course, for breaching a cask of his best October ale, in imitation of by-gone days of wine and – wassail (Celebrate noisily, while drinking) in merrie England, and making the “welkin ring” with joyous festivities, of which they were the liberal dispensers, at Mr. Shaw’s expense. The value of the ale consumed in potations “pottle (1.9 litre drinking vessel) with a deep,” by the happy throng, amounted to 30s., for which these Government gentlemen of the turf must, according to an established principle of law, pay in person, (by corporal punishment), if it should turn out that they are unable to pay in purse, for the damage. Mr. Shaw has suffered by their spontaneous, acts of generosity at the conclusion of the Petersham Races.
Shaw is also credited with establishing the colony’s first public lawn bowling greens at his Petersham ground. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday August 1845:
Thomas Shaw, of the Woolpack Inn, Parramatta Road, has much pleasure in announcing to his numerous Patrons, Friends and the Sporting Gentlemen of Sydney and its environs, that he has just completed at a great expense, a full sized, beautifully-turfed Bowling Green, which he intends to open shortly. The day will be duly advertised, and he confidently looks forward to be honored by a large meeting of Gentlemen, especially amateurs of this True Old English Game at the opening it being The First Ever Completed In the Colony. The attention of all parties seeking recreation and fond of rural sports is called to the circumstance that there are no Pleasure Grounds in the neighbourhood of Sydney which offer so many and such first-rate advantages, combining, Paddocks for Pigeon Shooting, The Splendid Petersham Race Course, Quoit Grounds, &c. which are all kept in order for the accommodation of the Sporting Community, at a great cost.
An inquest was held in the Woolpack Hotel in September 1845 after the body of a man was found hanging in the stables of Abraham Hearn. William Freeman, 28, a butcher, had been hitting the drink heavily, and had threatened to kill himself. Shortly before he went to the stables, he told his young wife of 17 that he was going to end his life. The jury found that Freeman had committed suicide.
Thomas Shaw and Abraham Hearn parted company in 1846. Shaw transferred the license of the Woolpack Hotel 100m east to premises owned by his father-in-law Charles Hughes on Parramatta Road near the corner of Hay Street on June 29 1846.
This forced the closure of the original Woolpack Hotel, owned by Hearn, at the corner of Balmain Road. However, Hearn arranged to have his old pub re-opened by securing the license of the Bald Faced Stag Hotel in George Street South on Brickfield Hill, Sydney.
Michael Napthali – who had hosted the Bald Faced Stag on Brickfield Hill since the 1830s – died in 1847, and John Aspinall was granted the license. After an arrangement with Hearn, Aspinall had the license of the George Street pub transferred to the closed Woolpack Hotel at Petersham. Later that month Hearn took over the license from Aspinall.
Meanwhile Tom Shaw continued managing his Petersham sportsgrounds and racetrack, while hosting several pubs. He was succeeded at the new Woolpack Hotel by his father in law, Charles Hughes in 1847, while he went on to host the Star Inn on Parramatta Road at Burwood. Shaw later hosted the Cottage of Content on the Liverpool Road.
Pressure for residential land in the Petersham area saw the owner of Shaw’s sportsground and racetrack subdivide it for housing. Shaw died at the age of 69 at Leichhardt in 1889.
Meanwhile Abraham Hearn contently continued as host at his newly re-opened pub, the Bald Faced Stag, at Petersham until handing the reins to his son Charles in 1849.
Charles was licensee when 100 “influential landholders and residents” met at the Bald faced Stag to push for a railway station for Petersham. The Sydney to Parramatta railway had arrived, the Sydney Morning Herald reported in May 1856, and Petersham secured a station the following year.
The pub’s founder, Abraham Hearn died at Petersham at the age of 86 on December 14 1861, and his widow, Sarah – almost 12 months to the day – followed her husband the following year. Sarah’s grandchildren found her dead on Christmas Day 1862. The Herald reported on December 27:
Sudden Death – The City Coroner held an inquiry at the Bald faced Stag Inn, Petersham, on Friday, touching the death of a woman named Sarah Hearn, aged seventy-six years. It appeared from the evidence that the deceased, who was the mother of Charles Hearn, who kept the inn above named, lived alone in a cottage on the Balmain Road, and usually enjoyed good health. On Wednesday evening last she went to her son’s house, on some errand, and then appeared to be in as good health as usual. The next morning (the morning of Christmas Day) Mr Hearn sent down two of his children with something for her, and on going into the house by the back door they found her lying on the floor. They ran back and told their mother, who at once went down, and found her as described, life being quite extinct. Her sudden death was not attributed to any particular disease. Verdict, “Died from natural causes”.
Hearn had the old timber inn rebuilt as a two storey brick hotel in 1882 before his death at the age of 75 on April 27 1890. His widow Mary died 12 months later in June 1891 at the age of 74.
Legend has it that the pub’s stag emblem was the inspiration for the Toohey’s brewery logo, and the naming of its Stag Lager beer, launched in 1920. The Bald Faced Stag is also said to be the ‘spiritual home’ of Toohey’s Brewery. It was reportedly the favourite pub of the brewery’s founders, brothers John and James Toohey, who eventually bought it from the Hearn estate. Toohey’s Limited demolished the old Bald Faced Stag and rebuilt the present pub at a cost of £11,000 in 1926.
Licensees 1833 – 1900
1833 – 1838: Abraham Hearn.
Name changed Woolpack
1838 – 1839: John Walker.
1839 – William Cains.
License cancelled May 1839.
1840 (July) – 1843: Thomas McGuinness.
1843 – 1846: Thomas Shaw.
Name changed Bald Faced Stag
1846 – 1849: Abraham Hearne (Hearn).
1849 – 1890: Charles Hearne (Hearn).
1890 – 1892: Alfred Ernest Hearne.
1892 – 1894: John F Baker.
1894 – 1897: Henry W. Stokes.
1897 – 1898: William Boyd.
1898 – 1899: William H Randell.
1899 – 1901: Ernest Henry Farey.
* Gemman is the language spoken by Gemmas, particularly those of the ruling class and/or royal blood. Gemman is classed as its own language due to the fact it is spoken almost exclusively by Gemmas, and native only in room-sized sovereign states known as ‘Gemma Wings’. For those who want to recognise Gemman but do not speak it, the accent is characterised as shout-filled, vexed and jovial in equal measure, full of inappropriate flirtations and obscene remarks, and punctuated by frequent bouts of flatulence and giggling – Urban Dictionary.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2013.
2020 Update: The Bald Faced Stag Hotel is now known as the Crow Bar Sydney. The pub closed in 2018, and reopened as an entertainment venue featuring local bands and rebranded, The Crow Bar Sydney.
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Categories: Australian Hotels