Beware the grog at the Black Dog

black dog harbour 1
The Black Dog Hotel (circled) from Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour, looking west towards The Rocks. Picture: State Library of NSW
The location of the Black Dog/Ocean Wave Hotel today (red arrow). Picture: Google


BEWARE the grog at the Black Dog, they warned. And for good reason!

The now non-existent Little Essex Lane, formerly known as Brown Bear Lane, which ran from Lower George Street, up to Gloucester Street and the Black Dog Hotel
Little Essex Lane, formerly known as Brown Bear Lane, which ran from Lower George Street, up to Harrington Street, and onto Gloucester Street and the Black Dog Hotel. Picture: State Library of NSW

A short, but steep walk up Brown Bear Lane from George Street at The Rocks during the first half of the 19th century, would take you to one of Sydney’s most notorious watering holes – The Black Dog Hotel.

The long gone pub was described in the Freeman’s Journal in 1900 as a place “where the soldiers and ex-convicts used to meet, and often settle their little differences by the aid of fisticuffs”.

Blaming the dangerous practice of ‘lambing-down’, the New South Wales coroner warned in 1840 that he had undertaken at least 18 inquests into alcohol related deaths at the Black Dog. To make colonial liquor go further publicans around The Rocks were adding dubious ingredients to their casks and bottles. Lambing down, as it was known, became infamous, prompting warnings from authorities.

One disreputable brew, known as ‘Blow-Me-Skull-Off’, consisted of spirits, opium, tobacco, cayenne pepper and whatever the publican could lay his or her hands on to preserve liquor for long periods. Drinkers were warned not to light up a pipe or cigarette while drinking Blow-Me-Skull-Off as it could set their breath on fire. Another notorious brew was Cape wine – said to contain “deleterious drugs” and a favourite with the whalers.

Most inquests held at the pub, a coroner remarked in 1840, were on the bodies of New Zealand Maoris and South Pacific Islanders – sailors who worked as whalers – who had come to their demise as a result of drinking Cape wine.

A haunt of Maoris and Islanders, the pubs around Sydney’s Rocks, particularly the bars of Gloucester, Cumberland and Lower George Streets, were seething with sailors on shore leave from around the world. Armed robberies, assaults and brawls were common place.

Over a five year period, from 1835 there were at least four liquor related deaths at the Black Dog. In 1839, two drinkers died on the same day as a consequence of swallowing brews served-up from its bar.

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‘Didyano’ Pub & Beer Trivia

Didyano #110: A ‘Jimmy Woodser’ was a name given to a man who drank alone, or was a drink consumed alone. The name is thought to come from a poem by Barcroft Boake, published in The Bulletin on May 7 1892, about a fictional Jimmy Wood from Britain who is determined to end the practice of ‘shouting’ (buying rounds of drinks for a group of mates), by drinking alone. See more: Old Jimmy Woodser

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Categories: NSW hotels, PREMIUM CONTENT, Sydney hotels

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10 replies

  1. Hi

    Great article. Which ship did Thomas G Bolton come to Australia on?



  2. That is either the biggest load of rubbish or a different Black Dog Hotel. Where the hell did you get the research from?? My Great,Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather owned the Blackdog Hotel in 1803 and owned it until 1817. William Thurston purchased the property from him in Feb 1818 and he then operated the Blackdog. William Thurston was transported out to Australia along with his brothers, Daniel and John in 1810. He initially purchased the property to become a baking business as he was a baker.
    This is very different to what you have told. This is a good read and is a Government documented account of the land.

    • Well, Brenda, the story is not “a load of rubbish”, and if you cared to do a little research (like I had) before making such comments, you would have found that there were two Black Dog Hotels at The Rocks. The first that your ancestor opened was at a different location at The Rocks and traded from C1803 to C1818. The second, which features in my story, opened in 1831 – over a decade after your Black Dog. In fact, if you would have studied the link you provided to the “government document” that “tells a very different story to what” I have told, you would have discovered the later Black Dog Hotel marked on one of the maps at an entirely different location to your ancestor’s pub… Like many of the customers who frequented the Black Dog Hotel, I would advise that next time you decide to comment, you don’t do so half cocked!

  3. Sorry to have offended you in my comment, it wasn’t intended to be offensive and I suspected that it may have been a different pub altogether, it was the similarities that threw me a bit. You have done a great job on this and by all means you can remove my comment. I can see why you would be upset, I was just confused and I apologise unreservedly. This has now sparked a curiosity with me that I’m sure you will be able to answer. Is the William Thurston one in the same?? Once again I would be only to happy if you removed my comment, not the best choice of words on my behalf.

  4. My 3x great grandfather was Richard Wild. Your dates of his occupation of The Black Dog agree with my research. The thing we disagree about is the name change as I have the hotel still called The Black Dog in 1868. At that time Richard owned/rented a property at 105 Gloucester St as well as the Black Dog at 103. Interesting times..Julie

  5. Have you discovered the precise location of the 1829 built Black Dog pub? I understand that it was in Cumberland Street somewhere near the top of the stairs leading up from Little Essex Street (Brown Bear Lane). Samuel Thorley who owned the earlier Black Dog (c1803 – 1816) was the second husband of my wife’s g g g grandmother, Agnes Shields. It seems that the earlier Black Dog was reasonably close to the later one. From what I have read in several places it appears that it was at or close to the corner of Cumberland Street and Longs Lane. We haven’t discovered what happened to this first Black Dog but presumably it ceased to exist prior to the second pub by the same name being built in 1829. I would be interested to know if anything about the exact locations of each of the Black Dog pubs have been uncovered.

  6. Brenda and Ian, I am a Thorley descendant as well. Samuel is my 4th G grandfather. Interesting reading this well researched page. Love the early Sydney history – it must have been an interesting and hard world to be in at that time. Sounds like the grog helped lower the stress levels a little 🙂
    Mick Roberts, great work, thank you!

    • Hi Ian, I just discovered this site whilst looking for info’ regarding my family tree. Samuel is my 4th great grand uncle, that’s on my mother’s side of the family. His father came from South Creake, in Norfolk and he was born in Draycott, Staffordshire 1768. The relationship is a bit sketchy so far, but I’m getting better at research as I practice more. Most of the Thorleys, (Or Thurlows as it’s sometimes spelled) Lived in or near Cheadle in Staffordshire which is where my mother’s family all come from. Seeing your comments on here cheered me up no end, because I wasn’t too sure of the connection to Sydney.. John.


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