The Newnham Brothers: Pioneer brewers

The Kent Brewery, Sydney. Insets: Charles (left) and Nicholas Newnham.


THE Newnhams were linked to arguably Australia’s most famous brewery, so a drunken church warden making a scene at one of the three brewers’ funeral in 1862, was a likely epitaph to their largely untold story.

Teenage brothers Charles and Nicholas, with their cousin William, arrived in Sydney Town from London on the ship Lockerby on 28 March 1834. The young Englishmen were to play a fundamental role in the history of brewing in Australia. They helped establish one of Australia’s most famous breweries, the Kent Brewery in what is today Sydney’s Broadway on the site of the Central Park residential and retail centre.

Charles and Nicholas’ father John Newnham, an Uckfield timber merchant, entered the brewing business in 1829 when he re-opened the defunct Baker’s Cross brewery at Cranbrook, a small market town in south east England. Newnham, at the age of 47, revived the brewery, later forming a partnership with William Tooth, a Cranbrook hatmaker, which would lead onto a family business relationship that would span the English colonies.

John Newnham’s son, Charles was installed as brewer at Baker’s Cross in 1830, although it was his father John who secured an improved water supply in March 1831. He negotiated a 21 year lease with neighbouring farmer, Henry Relf, to draw water from a well there for £1 per year and “to lay pipes in the rough over across and along the said piece of land”.

Over the next three to four years, the brewery ratepayers are recorded variously as ‘Newnham & Co’ and ‘Newnham & Tooth’, revealing a business partnership between the two families. In fact, in 1830, John Newnham’s daughter, Elizabeth, married John Tooth, son of William, who had just returned to England after setting sail to the colony of NSW in 1828.

By October 1835 Newnham’s involvement in Baker’s Cross brewery had ended. John returned to his profession as a timber merchant in Uckfield, while the Tooth family continued operating the Cranbrook brewery.

Newly weds John Tooth, 28, and John Newnham’s daughter, Elizabeth, 24, arrived in Port Jackson NSW on board the Mary on 21 February 1831. Tooth acquired numerous cattle runs and set up as a general merchant and commission agent in Sydney.

Charles and Nicholas Newnham followed their bother-in-law and sister to Sydney to continue the family association established in England. They arrived from London in 1834, Charles, aged 18, William, 17, and Nicholas, 15, and almost immediately entered the business of beer making with Tooth.

In September 1835 Charles Newnham and his brother-in-law, John Tooth opened the Kent Brewery on a 4½-acre (1.8ha) site on the Parramatta Road. Charles was described in the Sydney Gazette on 4 June 1835 as being “a gentleman lately from England who is said to possess a thorough knowledge of the art of brewing from malt and hops, which will be the sole ingredients used by the proprietors of the Kent Brewery”.

While Charles’ brother, Nicholas was employed as a brewer in the Kent Brewery, his cousin, William managed Tooths’ large pastoral holdings. Although he dabbled in brewing, William became more famous as an “overlander” or drover, than for his beer making, and was given the job of superintendent of John Tooth’s station “Tarrabandra”, near Gundagai, at the junction of the Tumut and Murrumbidgee Rivers.

Just a few years into the job William was held-up by bushrangers while travelling between Yass and Tumut. The Sydney Herald reported on 24 June 1840 that John Tooth posted a 20 pound reward for information leading to the arrest of bushrangers who attacked William Newnham.

He was attacked by a party of armed bushrangers, who dragged him from his horse, stripped, and otherwise brutally attacked him robbing him also of orders and cash to the amount of fifty-four pounds, a mare, bridle, and saddle, ect.

Meanwhile Charles Newnham withdrew from the Kent Brewery partnership in September 1843 after John Tooth over-extended his pastoral ventures and fell into financial difficulties. Charles could see the writing on the wall, and decided to leave while the leaving was good, and turned his business interests elsewhere.

Kent Brewery, Parramatta Street, Sydney. Picture: Town & Country Journal 1871
Robert Tooth. Picture: Supplied

John Tooth in turn leased the brewery to his nephews, brothers Robert and Edwin Tooth and later he established a brick and tile factory at Raymond Terrace and also was involved in business ventures around Dapto and Wollongong, living for a while on Mt Keira.

Although dissolving their partnership in the Kent Brewery in 1843, Charles Newnham and John Tooth business dealings continued. The families’ business association remained strong with Charles and his brother-in-law John operating a wind and horse mill in the Narellan area, while William Newnham remained managing Tooth’s large pastoral properties.

John Tooth became bankrupt in 1848, and died of dropsy aged 55 at Irrawang near Raymond Terrace on 1 October 1857. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, who died the following year aged 51.

It didn’t take long for Charles Newnham to return to his passion of beer making and he filled the shoes of a fellow Kent brewer, Henry Heathorne after his departure from the Woodstock Brewery at Jamberoo, near Kiama on the NSW south coast in the late 1840s.

The Jamberoo brewery was established in HW Hart’s Woodstock Mills by Heathorne in March 1844. A second generation brewer, Heathorne was introduced to brewing from the age of 12, when his father, Robert ran a brewery at Maidstone, England and by 1812, aged just 22 he had opened his own brewery at Battle in Sussex.

Despite all of Heathorne’s experience and brewing knowledge, the Woodstock Brewery was a failure, presumably because of a lack of refrigeration. In a 1935 reminiscence of Jamberoo, DA Silva Waugh recalled the 1840s and blamed Heathorne’s failure on the beer “not keeping”, saying “it could only be used for blacking (whether for shoes or stoves, I don’t know)”.

Woodstock was taken over by Charles Newnham in 1847, and Heathorne moved to Bathurst where he established a much more successful brewery by the name of the Reliance.

An advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald on 18 May 1847 announced that publicans could now be supplied with ale and porter manufactured by Charles Newnham of the Woodstock Brewery from an agent in George Street, Sydney. Interestingly Charles continued brewing the famous X, XX and XXX ales at Jamberoo that he and Tooth had developed at the Kent Brewery.

Newnham and Tooth were the Colony’s first brewers to use crosses to indicate the strength of their beer. They sold X, XX and XXX ales, to proclaim the potency of their brews, the more Xs, the stronger the alcoholic content. The Kent brewery’s X brand ales became one of the most favoured beers, not only the Illawarra, but the entire Colony.

Newnham sold his X beers to local, as well as Sydney and inter-colonial hotels. The People’s Advocate reported on 11 May 1850 that publican, George Brown of the Illawarra Hotel, Dapto, supplied a “long table… flanked by casks of Newnham’s XXX”, for those attending a dairy cattle auction.

Newnham grew his own malting barley at Jamberoo and, at the Illawarra Agricultural Society Annual Exhibition of 1850, he was awarded second prize for his crop. His ales were also recognised at the local agricultural shows. A letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday 27 February 1851 gave an account of the third annual exhibition of the Kiama Agricultural Society.

Five gallons of ale from the Woodstock Brewery, kept by Mr. C. Newnham, called forth many encomiums on that personage; if Mr. Newnham continues to brew a beverage equal to that exhibited, he will find a ready sale for it throughout the colony.

William Newnham, meanwhile, took a bride in 1846 – his second – when he married Mary Ann Hills in Sydney. He continued droving cattle between the Tooth family’s large pastoral leases in NSW, South Australia and Victoria and made the news again in 1849 when he was speared several times by a group of Aborigines on the Darling River. Brisbane’s Moreton Bay Courier reported on Saturday 28 April 1849:

On Sunday last intelligence reached town of an attack from the blacks sustained by the party of Mr. Newnham (the well-known overlander), at the crossing place on the Darling. The blacks wanted the carcass of a beast which Mr. Newnham’s people had slaughtered for themselves, and upon meeting with a refusal, a furious attack with spears was made. Mr. Newnham received four wounds, and one of his party, who was more severely speared, has since died. – Adelaide Observer, March 17.

coopers kent brewery sydney
Coopers in the Kent Brewery Sydney. Picture: Supplied.

After his near death experience, William decided to return to the less dangerous profession of beer brewing and joined his brother Charles as licensee of the Woodstock Brewery at Jamberoo from 1849 to 1852.

Nicholas also married during 1846, eventually having several children. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday 24 October 1846 that Nicholas Newnham, of Parramatta Street, had married at Ashfield, Harriet Hughes, the daughter of the proprietor of the Woolpack Hotel at Petersham.

Nicholas had worked for eight years at the Kent Brewery before he advertised himself to take up a management position of an ale and porter brewery in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 April 1844. He eventually secured a position as a brewer at the Goulburn Brewery in the mid 1840s, where he remained until he took up the license for a short period of the Wellington Inn, Parramatta Street Sydney, during July 1848. The inn was located just west of the Kent Brewery.

Charles, it seems, never married, and besides his brewing profession had a strong interest in horse racing. He owned several race horses and was a steward at the Petersham race course as early as 1844. He later, in the early 1850s, was treasurer and judge of the Illawarra Turf Club, as well as being involved in the organising committee of the Shoalhaven races. A Mason, he also took a keen interest in pigeon shooting, along with his brother Nicholas, who both were members of the Sydney Pigeon (shooting) Club.

A small inn was licensed at the Woodstock brewery in 1851 when John Hukins was granted a license for the Man of Kent. The premises were on just over six acres of land near the turn-off to Curramore, west of the present Jamberoo Road, and north of Jamberoo Mountain Road. The Illawarra Mercury on 14 February 1862 gave a detailed description of the Jamberoo brewery and Man of Kent Hotel when the properties and buildings were to be auctioned.

Situated on the northern banks of the Minnamurra River, on what was then the main road between Wollongong and Kiama, the Man of Kent was a weatherboard building with front veranda and shingled roof. The entrance hall led to nine apartments, including a bar, parlour and dining rooms. In the yard were a detached kitchen, stables, and other buildings.

The Brewery, situated on just over two acres of land, consisted of a cooperage, brick boiler-house, with furnaces and larger boiler, brew-house, mash and cooling houses, and an export casking-house. Inside the brewery were two mash tubs, cooling vat, force pump, with large rack and pinion wheel, and a horse-power apparatus.

The Newnhams’ interest in the Woodstock Brewery at Jamberoo came to an end in 1853, when Charles announced he was returning to England. In January Illawarra’s community leaders gave Charles a testimonial at the Farmers’ Hotel, Wollongong, and, later that month, a dinner was held in his honour at the Commercial Hotel in Crown Street Wollongong. The Jamberoo brewery was advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald Saturday on 14 February 1852:

WOODSTOCK BREWERY, ILLAWARRA. The Co-partnership of the undersigned being terminated, they have instructed MR. E. GEARD to sell by auction, on the premises, on WEDNESDAY, the 10th day of March next, All the Brewing utensils -casks, drays, carts, horses, harness, coopers’ tools, steel mill, crab winch, office furniture, winnowing machine, harrows, trucks, measures, weights and scales, sundry implements, and a lot of pigs. Also, Household Furniture, consisting of bedsteads, chairs, dining, dressing, and other tables, washstands and furniture, side board, eight-day clock, culinary and kitchen requisites in great variety. The whole without reserve. Terms-Cash, under £5; above that sum, approved indorsed bills at three months. AU outstanding accounts are requested to be settled on or before the 1st of March, 1852. WILLIAM NEWNHAM. CHARLES NEWNHAM, Jamberoo.

The Woodstock Mill and Brewery was not relicensed after 1853. The son of the original merchant investor, Captain Hart, came from England to retrieve the capital of the Woodstock Mills Estate and it was auctioned on February 24 1862.

After the Newnhams sold the contents of the brewery, William with his wife and two daughters sailed for Tasmania, on 23 March 1852, where he had secured work on another of the Tooth family’s holdings near Richmond.

Although the exact date Charles left Sydney for England is a mystery, it is believed he set sail sometime in April 1854. The last mention of Charles in Sydney was his attendance at a pigeon shooting match in March 1854 where he was farewelled by fellow members of the Sydney Pigeon Club and presented a testimonial cup. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday 29 March 1854:

On Monday last, the 27th instant, a shooting match of more than ordinary interest came off at the pleasure grounds pertaining to the Barwan Park Hotel, at Newtown. An elaborately chased and very handsome silver cup, of London manufacture, and inlaid with Australian gold, had been purchased by the united subscriptions of the gentlemen composing the Sydney Pigeon Club, to be shot for at Barwan Park; the winner to have the honour of presenting the same to Mr. C. Newnham, their respected brother sportsman, as a testimony of the esteem and regard in which he is held by the members of the club. Mr. C. Newnham being upon the eve of visiting Great Britain, the time was selected as opportune for presenting him with so polite a memento of the esteem entertained for him by the fraternity of sportsmen, amongst whom he has borne a conspicuous part during his sojourn of twenty years in Sydney. There were fourteen competitors for the prize and the honour of presentation, the match being to shoot 7 birds each, at a rise of 25 yards from the trap, with the usual boundary of 100 yards. Two or three hundred persons assembled to witness the sport. After the cloth was removed, and the customary loyal toasts had been drunk and responded to with all the honours, Mr. Jamieson, the winner of the prize, presented the ornamental cup to Mr. C. Newnham, accompanying the presentation by an appropriate speech, commemorative of the interest and zeal which Mr. C. Newnham had ever displayed for the field sports and the sportsmen of Australia. After passing a comfortable evening, replete with harmony and, friendly feeling, the party broke up.

Charles returned to England, where he took up the family timber merchant business from his ageing father, who by now was in his early 70s. Charles’ father, John died aged 78 in 1858. Charles died in Uckfield, England aged 70 in 1886.

Returning to William, the drover come brewer with his wife and two daughters sailed for Hobart Town in March 1852, after the closure of the Jamberoo business venture.

It seems William had secured another management role of a Tooth family property on the Coal River near Richmond, and later purchased his own station, Lowlands, in the same area.

William and his family joined his brother Henry Newnham who had sailed to Tasmania in 1848 to manage Edwin Tooth’s estates of Oakwood and Ticehurst, near Richmond. William and Henry had spent some years on Tooth’s Tumut Creek station, together opening the first boiling down works in that part of NSW.

William became a well respected citizen in his new Tasmanian home, serving as a magistrate and elected as a councillor to the first Richmond Rural Municipality in 1861. He was also a Justice of the Peace and a church warden. He died on 7 January 1862 at his property, Lowlands, aged just 45 years after “a short illness”.

As mentioned in the introduction, the funeral of William caused a bit of fuss in the small rural hamlet of Richmond in 1862. The Hobart Mercury reported on Tuesday 18 February:

RICHMOND. General feeling has of late been much excited in this district in reference to the very painful circumstances attending the funeral of the late much respected Mr. Councillor Newnham, of Lowland. It appears that the church servant was the worse for liquor on the occasion, and created a scene over the deceased gentlemen’s remains, and that in the very house and the premises of the survivors, abruptly taking the direction of the obsequies out of the hands of the undertaker, who, it appears, was merely delaying the procession for a short period so as to allow for the arrival of two well-known members of Parliament from town, and who were down on the programme to act as pall-bearers, they being brother Councillors of the deceased in this Municipality. This very unseemly and unfeeling conduct of the subordinate referred to has much pained the bereaved family, and demands that such conduct should be exposed and punished as it deserves.

Meanwhile Nicholas died at his home in Bloomfield Street Surry Hills in October 1875 at the age of 56. He was buried at the Balmain Cemetery.

Nothing but an empty paddock remains of Newnhams’ Jamberoo brewery, while the Kent Brewery site at Broadway has been redeveloped into a multi-million dollar residential and retail complex. Parts of the original Cranbrook brewery in Kent, England – where it all began – can still be seen today.

First published 2013. Updated 2021.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

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Categories: Breweries, Illawarra Hotels, NSW hotels, Publicans

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3 replies

  1. I have just taken snaps of the old brewery opposite Ticehurst yesterday! I can’t believe it belonged to the Tooths. My ancestor Thomas Hopkins lived at Ticehurst in the early 1840’s. Another great great aunt Bessie Conibear was the wife? of Alexander Frederick Tooth, also a brewer but I don’t know if he is a member of the family mentioned in this history.

  2. Interesting review. Have located a map of He subdivision of the Woodstock Mill Estate identifying the Man of Kent Hotel and the brewery on the State Library catalogue.

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