The Rock’s infamous 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


WATCH the grog at the Black Dog, warned authorities.

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
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. 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.

The New South Wales Coroner, Ryan Brenan, while undertaking an inquest into the death of Maori, Bobby Roberts at the Black Dog, made some leading recommendations to the jury before they made their conclusions on how the whaler came to his death in 1840. The Sydney Gazette reported on September 10:

He stated that in the remarks which he was about to make, previous to the serious task they were met to perform, he was actuated by no other motive than a desire to expose an obnoxious system for the purpose of its being corrected. In the same room where he then sat he had held about 18 inquests, the greater part of which were on the bodies of New Zealanders; he stated that the publicans in that neighbourhood were in a great measure the cause of this, by selling to them an intoxicating liquor, which these persons were particularly fond of, namely, Cape wine, a drink which the Coroner very justly remarked was most prejudicial to life, being composed of many deleterious drugs.

The Sydney Gazette went on to editorialise the story:

We cannot avoid making some remarks on more than one circumstance which came under our observation during the above inquest. In the first place, we must reflect upon the house where the inquest was held, the very smell in which was such as would deter a respectable man from becoming a juryman – that is to say, if he could help it. As to what Mr. Brenan said regarding that deleterious drug called Cape wine, which is vended by the publicans of Sydney, we perfectly agree. We have before this heard from a respectable publican in Sydney that in cleaning the cocks of his several taps, he finds that that of Cape wine – if vine the poison can be called – is the most difficult, being absolutely encrusted and covered over with a black slimey substance. Now, only imagine the effects of this stuff in the stomach of a human individual! What comment can we make more?

The Black Dog was built by Samuel Terry in 1829, a former convict, who, when he died in 1838, left a personal estate amounting to £250,000, with an income of £10,000 a year from Sydney rentals.

Commanding uninterrupted views across Sydney, the three storey Black Dog sat at the corner of Gloucester-street and Brown Bear Lane – a steep narrow passage way that climbed westward from the harbour and Lower George Street, to a cluster of stone built residential terraces, shops and pubs on the hill-top. When completed, the Black Dog had uninterrupted views of Circular Wharf, and the busy Sydney Harbour. The pub was like a beacon on the hill, calling to its bar the hard drinking sailors and waterside workers from their ships moored below. So many of those sailors must have walked-up, and later stumbled own, that laneway to wet their whistle.

The Black Dog consisted of a cellar under two ground floor tap rooms (bars), and a parlour. The entrance to the tavern was from the corner of Black Bear Lane – later known as Little Essex Street – where another two private entrances were provided – and Gloucester Street. On the first floor could be found a large assembly room, a lodge (25 feet by 16 feet), with five French windows opening to a balcony with views of the harbour and which became popular with political candidates delivering their speeches. Recalling the days when it was mandatory for candidates to deliver their “if I’m elected” speeches from pub balconies, the Mudgee Guardian reported on October 31 1907:

Daniel Deniehy, a politician who made his speeches from the balcony of the Black Dog.
Daniel Deniehy, a politician who made his speeches from the balcony of the Black Dog.

Daniel Henry Deniehy (Member of the lower house 1857-1859, 1860-1860) was born in Kent-street, and it was from the balcony of the ‘Black Dog’… that many an old-time politician moved the stormy audiences of the past. Those were fierce, quarrelsome times… and ancient dwellers on the ‘Rocks’ are full of fine stories of the perils that electors ran in the past, of bludgeoning and broken bones, and of occasional merry hunting in the street of the district, with a candidate or his friend as fugitive. Men had not yet received the secrecy of the ballot, and since their decision – yea or nay – became public property, it was sometimes perilous to express it.

The second floor of the Black Dog had three rooms, one used as a parlour and two as bedrooms opening onto another balcony. In the attic was another four bedrooms. The real story of this pub though is not its architecture.

Thought to be named after a sailing schooner, the patrons, the publicans, and what happened between its stones walls, brings the history of the Black Dog to life. The pub’s notorious reputation was known across the colonies, and beyond, spread no doubt by its well-travelled drinkers, the merchant sailors who frequented its bar. The pub was once described by the Geelong Advertiser as being “the sink of iniquitous entertainment” in The Rocks, in May 1848.

The Black Dog’s first publican, Daniel Hill gained the license in July 1830. He had a short stay and went on to host the William the Fourth Hotel in Sussex Street. English convict, William Thurston took over Hill’s license. He had had his death sentenced for horse stealing commuted to the term of his natural life in the Colony of New South Wales in 1809 and after his pardon turned his hand to innkeeping.

In the late 1820s Thurston, with his wife Mary and five children were running The Rocks’ Hope and Anchor Hotel in Cambridge Street. The Thurstons’ four-year-old son drowned in the Hope and Anchor’s well in 1829. The Australian reported on March 21:

INQUEST – A Coroner’s Inquest assembled on Thursday afternoon, in Gloucester-street, on the Rocks, to enquire into the cause of the death of a fine boy, named William Thurston, about four years of age. It appeared the child had glided out of the house between six and seven o’clock in the morning, unperceived by its parents, and proceeded to a well or large hole contiguous to the house, which was full of water, and with a tin pot was attempting to bail it out, when it is supposed, in the act of stooping over the margin, he fell in and sunk to the bottom, about 10 or 12 feet, and was drowned, having remained there upwards, of an hour  before he was found. The Coroner and Jury after having inspected the body and the well, returned their verdict, “Accidentally Drowned in a well on the premises of the child’s parents.” The Coroner, upon the closing of the Inquisition, wrote a strong memorandum or remonstrance, to the landlord of the above premises, expressive of the conviction on the minds of the Jury, that from his negligence, in suffering so dangerous a place as the well in question to be totally exposed, without railing or a fence of any description, to prevent individuals of any age from experiencing the like catastrophe, that has so prematurely destroyed a very fine child, he was highly censurable.

Emanuel Neich
Emanuel Neich

Thurston, at 45, received the license of the nearby Black Dog Hotel on June 21 1831. He remained as host there for two years before Italian immigrant and georgraphically challenged, Emanuel Neich took the reins. Thurston died in 1853 at the age of 72.

Neich, the Black Dog’s next host, is said to have come to Australia by mistake. The Italian adventurist went to sea at an early age and was in Mauritius when he signed on the ‘Lord Rodney’, bound for “New Holland” – as Australia was then known – believing he was sailing to the Netherlands. He instead landed in the New South Wales in 1825.

Neich also had a short stay at the Black Dog, and was licensee for just a year. He is better known for his stewardship of the Bath Arms at Burwood. He went on to have three wives, all by the name of Mary, and 27 children. He died in 1893 at Burwood with vast property interests, including the hotel at Burwood, which continues to trade in an updated building on Parramatta Road. He also owned race horses, and interestingly, one of his great-grandsons was legendary cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman.

The most infamous of the Black Dog’s licensees was undoubtedly, Thomas George Bolton, who at the age of 29, with a wife and young family, moved into the pub in 1836. Bolton, a former convict, had previously hosted the Rising Sun in Cambridge Street.

The Black Dog’s notorious reputation was already on the make prior to Bolton’s arrival. The year before he gained the license, there were at least two deaths at the pub. During August 1835, a woman died in her bed inside the pub, after she was found intoxicated and helped from the backyard to her room. An inquiry found she died of natural causes brought on by excessive drinking.

Patrick Hyland, a seafaring man, died at the pub in December 1835 after he had been drinking with George Lloyd. Both drunk, they had reportedly fought over a shilling. Lloyd struck Hyland with a small stick, and the seafarer died shortly afterwards. An inquest later found Hyland died from apoplexy. 

Bolton wasn’t behind the bar for too long before another death occurred at the Black Dog. The new publican’s brother-in-law, Thomas Redhead reportedly was sitting by the pub’s open fire place on September 5, 1836 when he fell asleep and tumbled into the flames. Redhead, who was partial to a drink, was badly burnt as a result and he later died in hospital. The Sydney Gazette reported on November 19, 1836:

CORONER’S INQUESTS. — An Inquest was held on Thursday afternoon at Mr. Cunningham’s, “Bunch of Grapes” tavern, King-street, upon the body of Thomas Redhead, who had died in the General Hospital on the previous day. John Renshaw was the first witness called, who said, I am a wardsman in the General Hospital, deceased was brought there on the 5th of September, having a severe burn upon the left side near the heart. He told me that he was drunk at the Black Dog public house, in Gloucester Street, and having gone to sleep whilst sitting upon a chair, he fell into the fire, where he received the burn, he blamed no one for it, he has remained ever since in the hospital, but continued wasting away, he had every attention shewn him, both day and night, and was visited by Dr. Mitchell twice a day; Serjeant Callaghan of the Sydney Police had known deceased between six and seven years, he was for a considerable time in the employ of Mr. Street, as a Sail maker, was very much given to drink. I have had him in the Watch House 40 times, during the last four years; There was no evidence to show when or how deceased was taken out of the fire, the only person present at the time of the accident, had since gone to sea. Dr. Mitchel certified, that his death had been occasioned by burning; the jury under all the circumstances brought in a verdict of Accidental Death. The body presented a most emaciated appearance being literally nothing more than “skin and bone.”

In October 1837 another death occurred at the pub when servant, Mary Ann Perry, was burnt alive when polishing furniture by melting bees wax and turpentine in a tea cup at the fire. A coroner’s inquiry found that the turpentine accidentally boiled over, setting her clothes ablaze, sending her screaming and running through the pub with her clothes on fire. She died the following day.

Just three months later the pub was making headlines again, this time after a Portuguese sailor assaulted the 11-year-old niece of publican Bolton.

Bolton’s sister, Roseanna Redhead, the widow of Thomas Redhead (who had died after falling into the pub’s fire place in 1836), reported the assault of her daughter to the police in 1838. The Sydney Gazette reported on January 16 that a man named Emanuel was charged by police after the girl’s mother, who was staying at the Black Dog, was told of the assault from a servant girl, who had taken the child to a doctor.

The child gave her evidence very clearly, and stated that she had gone into the stable for the purpose of getting some eggs, as the fowls were kept there; the prisoner followed her and committed the offence. The servant girl’s testimony corroborated that of the preceding witness; she also stated that the brute had endeavoured to commit an assault of a similar nature upon another little girl, under 13 years of age.

The following year Bolton’s pub was in the news again, when on a Sunday in October 1839 two of his customers died after drinking his grog. A coronial inquiry found a Maori by the name of “Jemmy”, died after he “had been utterly reduced by the loss of the power of the digestive organs, which is almost constantly experienced by natives of New Zealand on their first arrival to Sydney”. Also, the coroner found that a “middle aged” man, John Darcey died from “the excessive use of ardent spirits”.

If three alcohol related deaths at your pub in two years wasn’t enough notoriety, then what about a crazed monkey attacking a child? In April 1841, Bolton’s pet monkey broke from its chain, causing havoc and attacking the three year old child of Eliza Jakes. The monkey was reported to have lacerated the face of the child “in the most dreadful manner; its lips were nearly torn to pieces, and fears were at first entertained that one eye was torn from the socket and the other seriously injured”.

The Australian Chronicle reported on April 17: “Its life was at first despaired of; but a medical gentleman having been called in, it was found that the injuries were not so severe as at first imagined; it is now likely to recover. The cries of the poor child soon brought some neighbours to the house, and the monkey was immediately destroyed.”

A year before Bolton’s departure from the Black Dog to take on another pub in George Street, David Greaves shouted an old mate – a visiting seaman – William Wheeler to a few ales at his local. When returning home, Greaves realised he was missing a small box, containing six shillings and a pair of earrings. Suspecting Wheeler, who had gone in the direction of the pub’s backyard dunny, he later found the remains of the box in the water closet. Wheeler later admitted the theft and was charged.

The Ocean Wave Hotel, formerly the Black Dog, The Rocks.
The Ocean Wave Hotel, formerly the Black Dog, The Rocks. Picture: State Library of NSW

It’s about this time that Bolton’s life starts to take a turn for the worse. He left the Black Dog in 1845, after the pub was closed and put up for sale by its owner, who had become insolvent. Bolton took the license of the Crampton’s Hotel in George Street.

The Geelong Advertiser reported that Bolton was financially stung after dealings with John Terry Hughes, son-in-law of Samuel Terry, who built the Black Dog in 1829. The publican reportedly lost £1,000, after Hughes was declared insolvent, producing an effect from which he never recovered. With his wife and two children, Bolton sailed from Sydney to Melbourne in February 1847, to start a new life. However, he eventually became estranged from his family.

The Geelong Advertiser reported on Friday April 30 that Bolton was charged with stealing two bridles and a hammer, the property of Thomas Powell, blacksmith.

The prisoner is known to be an idiot, or in a condition very little better; he arrived lately from Sydney, where he was at one time proprietor of an hotel… Some weeks since he wandered from his family, and till within the last day or two, has been roaming through the bush, eating and sleeping nobody knew where. His unshorn beard and matted locks, made him a strange object when taken into custody, and though improved in this respect when taken before the bench, yet his squalid and abject appearance, and his meaningless countenance formed a melancholy picture. The articles stolen, valued at five shillings, having been identified, he was committed to take his trial for the offence; a more humane course, probably could not have been adopted, as his melancholy condition will surely enlist the sympathy of the authorities in his behalf.

The following month the former publican, while on remand in Melbourne Gaol, was found dead at the age of 40 in his cell, after receiving a humiliating bashing from the turnkeys, or prison officers. The Melbourne Argus reported the inquest on Friday May 28 1847:

As inquest was holden at her Majesty’s Gaol, before W. B. Wilmot, Esq., on Tuesday last, and adjourned until Wednesday, on view of the body of Thomas George Bolton, a lunatic, who bad been committed for trial on a charge of larceny, and forwarded from Geelong on the 30th of April. It appeared that the deceased, either from disease or habit, was excessively unclean, particularly when in his bed, and that on these occasions it had been usual to bring him down into one of the yards and wash him in a tub of water with a mop. Several of the prisoners stated that in performing this operation much violence and maltreatment took place; that the deceased had been scrubbed with the mop after its being placed on the gravelled yard, and permitted to stand in the air for a length of time afterwards with nothing but a rug wrapped round him; that Walton, one of the turnkeys, had struck him with a stick, and Griffin, another turnkey, on one occasion knocked him down, (one of the witnesses said shoved him down) with his clenched fist. Riley (another turnkey not implicated) deposed that he had never seen any ill usage practised upon deceased. Mr. Wintle, the gaoler, deposed that he had never seen deceased ill treated, nor had any report been made to him upon the subject. The prisoners on the jury, six in number, and one of whom was an accusant, admitted that Mr.Wintle had not been present at the time when the maltreatment of the deceased took place. In consequence of what had been stated a post mortem examination of the body was made by Drs. Wilkie and Cussen, on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday morning Dr. Wilkie was examined and deposed, that is was his opinion the deceased had died from natural causes, not having discovered any symptoms indicating that death had been produced by violence; but it having been intimated to him that witnesses had slated certain ill-usage to have been exercised upon deceased, Dr. Wilkie admitted that such might have facilitated his death. From the appearance of the remains, he thought deceased had been in a low state of typhoid fever at the time of dilution Dr. Cussen deposed that his opinion also was that decease had resulted from natural causes -a general decay of nature. After a very protracted examination and re-examination of some of the witnesses, the jury were left together. After the lapse of something more than an hour the following verdict was returned -“That deceased death had been accelerated by the brutal treatment he received from Thomas Walton, Michael Dunn, Edward Preston, and Richard Griffin, and the want of proper food and clothing. The Coroner declined to receive the verdict, as being inconsistent with the evidence adduced, and amounting, as he said, to a virtual charge of wilful murder against the parties named. After some desultory argument, the jury unanimously agreed upon returning a modified verdict, viz -“That deceased had died in a natural way, but it is the opinion of the jury that brutal treatment has been used towards the said Thomas George Bolton by Thomas Waltons and Richard Griffin, turnkeys, and Michael Dunn and Edward Preston, prisoners, and which had greatly increased the sufferings of deceased, and requires a strict investigation into.” During the first days proceedings the reporters were not in possession of the fact that the inquest was being holden , on the second day, however, the jury declined to receive further evidence until they were sent for [Making it our invariable rule to report the proceedings of the public courts faithfully and impartially, it is our general practice to allow the proceedings to speak for themselves without note or comment which could by possibility prejudice the public mind in this case, however, we think a slight departure from this rule necessary, from the circumstance that half the jury were prisoners in the gaol, and some of them active accusers of the parties implicated. -Ed MA]

Meanwhile the shenanigans at the Black Dog endured after Bolton’s departure, when the pub re-opened as the Woolpress in 1845. With a new name, and a new host, William Wells, the violence and heavy drinking continued unabated. The Morning Chronicle reported on Saturday September 27 1845:

MILITARY OUTRAGE. About eight o’clock on Wednesday evening last, a number of the military were drinking at a public house called the WoolPress, formerly the Black Dog, in Gloucester street, when some dispute arose between them and some sailors, relative to one of the soldier’s dancing, which he did so awkwardly, that a sailor told him he had better go to New Zealand, and learn to dance the Polka to Johnny Heki’s music. This enraged the military, who had recourse to pewter pots, jugs, mugs, and pokers. The noise soon attracted a great crowd, and the military turning into the street, commenced breaking the windows of all the houses in the vicinity. They were, however, driven by the inhabitants and a party of them sought refuge in Mr. Curtayne’s house, the Limerick Arms, at the corner of Gloucester and Essex streets; into which a shower of stones was sent by the mob, which demolished all the windows, and one of which struck Mr. Curtayne on the breast, though happily without doing him any serious injury. The piquet arrived soon after; but from all we can learn, these instead of endeavouring to quell the disturbance, only incited their comrades by calling out to them “if you want a row, now is the time.” Some of them drew their bayonets on the citizens and chased them through the streets. Two sailor lads rushed into the tap-room of the Liverpool Arms, with three soldiers close at their heels, each having a drawn bayonet in his hand. The two lads were given into custody, and on Thursday morning were brought before the Mayor, when they were admonished and discharged. It is said that one of the soldiers was so much injured that he has since died, but this we believe is not correct, though there are three or four at present in the military hospital who received severe injuries from the stones which were thrown at them. Several civilians were also much hurt; one, an old man, named Todd, is not expected to recover. It was feared that on Thursday evening another disturbance would take place, and a petition was addressed by some of the citizens to the Commander of the Forces, praying that his Excellency would take measures to prevent a recurrence of the outrage, and also be pleased to order an investigation. An order was accordingly issued by his Excellency that all the men in barracks should remain there from sunset to sunrise, in consequence of which there has not been a soldier seen in the streets for the last two evenings; and we hope that all ill-feeling between the soldiery and the citizens will now subside.

Little Essex Street, which ran from George Street up to Gloucester Street and the Ocean Wave Hotel at The Rocks.
Little Essex Street, formerly Brown Bear Lane, looking from George Street up to Gloucester Street and the Ocean Wave Hotel at The Rocks. Picture: State Library of NSW

Brown Bear Lane became Little Essex Street in the late 1850s. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1848 that the lane leading from Lower George-street over the Rocks to Gloucester-street and the front of the Black Dog, would be upgraded. “The rock (will be) excavated and levelled, a proper crown raised on the lane, with gutter stones laid on each side to carry away the filth, which now lies on the surface of the lane, down to Lower George-street.” By the mid 1850s the road had become known as Little Essex Lane. The lane disappeared around 1913 when a row of shops was built between Essex Street and this location. The row was partly demolished in 1956 when the railway viaduct for the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built.

Meanwhile, the name of the pub reverted to the Black Dog in April 1849 when Alexander McDonald took over the license. The pub was said to be attracting £100 rent per annum at the time.

The new publican had a short stay at the pub and died at the age of 40 eight months later in December. His wife, Catherine took over the license, with her daughter helping in the bar. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May 1850 that after serving two men, Mrs McDonald’s daughter left the house for a few minutes. On her return she missed about £2 in silver from a shelf behind the bar, and suspecting the men in question had stolen it, one of them, James Dillon, was placed in custody. On searching Dillon, a small sum of money was found, among which were two foreign coins, which Mrs McDonnell identified as the money stolen.

The following year two men were on charges of attempted murder after an incident in the bar of the Black Dog. Hawaiian, Jim Crow, from the island of Oahu, was stabbed during a scuffle with two seamen from a Spanish frigate in March 1851. Modesto Salmon reportedly held the Hawaiian, whilst another man, Jose Marego stabbed him in the right side. Crow was said to have recovered from his wound despite fears that he would not survive the night.

The following decades saw a succession of publicans pass through the doors of the old historic pub, which continued a favourite with sailors and the residents of the cramped narrow lanes of The Rocks. In an article entitled Sydney by Night, on July 9 1870, the author describes the streets of The Rocks and the Black Dog:

As I wandered through these dingy streets, and noted how full of wretchedness they were, I was struck by the strange quiet that pervaded them. There was no noise; no sound of revel or of brawl; not even the chirp of a concertina – which instrument is so frequently heard discoursing melody in squalid homes, that I am inclined to think the first thing a man does when reduced to poverty is to possess himself of a concertina for purposes of consolation – breaks the silence. It is the stillness of desolation, though the place is by no means desolate. There are lights in oil the little windows. Through half-open doors, and half-drawn blinds, you may see mothers busily plying their needles, children sleeping upon sofas covered with scanty bedclothes; men reading newspapers or smoking by their firesides, and infants receiving sustenance from maternal bosoms. Yonder, at the bar of ‘The Black Dog’ is a group of sailor-like fellows taking their beer or strong waters; and here and there are twos and threes of sociable females gossiping upon their door-steps.

As the prosperity of the 1880s drew to a close, so did the name of the Black Dog. The pub was re-named the Ocean Wave Hotel when husband and wife team, Samuel and Rose Symmonds took the license in 1888.

The Ocean Wave Hotel in Gloucester Street, The Rocks (looking south).
The Ocean Wave Hotel in Gloucester Street, The Rocks (looking south). Picture: State Library of NSW

The Symmonds were welcomed to their new business with the usual familiarity of The Rocks. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on December 21 1888 that two seamen, Andrew Black and Frank Lounger were sentenced each to a month’s imprisonment, with hard labour, after stealing three gallons of rum and a five gallon cask from the Symmonds’ pub.

Sam Symmonds was another Black Dog host to have a short stay. Less than a year after he was granted the license for the pub, he met with a strange accident in Newcastle. During September 1889, Sam had been working as a canvasser, staying at the Crystal Palace Hotel in Hunter Street, while his wife Rose ran his pub at The Rocks.

In the small hours of the morning a cabman passing the Newcastle pub, noticed a man lying on the road underneath the balcony. He called a constable and the hotelkeeper, who had Sam removed to the hospital, where it was found he had broken a leg. Sam said he had mistakenly walked out of a door, thinking he was going onto the balcony, but instead fell to the street. In a strange twist to the story, Sam, who was about to be released from hospital, had a relapse and died after what was believed to be heart failure. His wife took over running the Ocean Wave Hotel.

By the 1890s the old pub was beginning to show her age. Publican Franklyn Hodges was refused the renewal of the license of the Ocean Wave in June 1891. The inspectors stated that the pub was in an unfit state of repair. The floor in parts was shaky, apparently having little support. Another objection was that it was not properly furnished.

When Benjamin Hickson attempted to have the premises relicensed five months later, he came prepared to the court house. The licensing inspector objected to the granting of the licence on the grounds that when “the hotel, when previously opened, was the scene of disturbances, and that it was not fit for habitation owing to its insanitary state”. Mr. G. H. Reid, who appeared for Hickson, produced a certificate from the city surveyor, which stated that the house was in a sound and good condition. The licence was granted and the following month transferred back to Franklyn Hodges, who had his license cancelled previously.

Hodges though soon returned to his old ways and was convicted numerous times of Sunday trading. He was eventually refused the renewal of his license in December 1893.

Theophilus and Sarah Vogt became hosts of the Ocean Wave in 1894, and again were confronted with The Rocks’ trademark larrikinism. The Vogts’ son, John, was serving in the bar when William Falconer told him he was a police officer, needed to borrow 5 shillings from him. He said he would pay him back in the evening, and after he failed to do so, he was reported to a real police officer. Falconer was fined 20 shillings.

Over the following years, the Ocean Wave’s publicans had stays of less then two years, reflecting the depressed economy of the 1890s and the difficulties associated with running pubs during those times. Despite this, the sailors continued to find their way to the bar of the Ocean Wave. The Sydney Evening News reported on June 25 1898:

A couple of foreign seamen, named William Isberg and Charles Black, were ashore last night, bent on having a good time. After having imbibed somewhat freely they strolled into the Ocean Wave Hotel, in the vicinity of the ‘Rocks,’ and called for drinks. The licensee being of opinion that they had about as much on board as they could conveniently carry back to the ship, refused to supply them, whereupon they became abusive, and made the surroundings blue with their language. Constable Ward was called in on the scene, with the result that Isberg and Black faced Mr Delohery at the Water Police Court this morning, where their language was assessed at £1. In default of paying that sum they will reside at Darlinghurst during the next week.

Two boys were fined two shillings each in 1901 for calling the fire brigade to the Ocean Wave on a false alarm after they were refused entry to the pub. The Sydney Evening News reported on December 10:

Residents of that part of ‘The Rocks’ in the neighborhood of Argyle and Gloucester streets were led a lively time on Sunday night and Monday morning at the hands of a gang of young ruffians, who, unfortunately, appear to have escaped the consequences of their misconduct. After disturbing the neighborhood with their horse-play and quarrels up to a late, hour, they went to the Ocean Wave Hotel, in Gloucester Street, and demanded admittance. They went away, but later on played a very disagreeable trick on the licensee, and one which turned out annoying for a great many others as well as for that person. About 2 a.m. they went to a fire alarm, and, communicating with the Fire Brigade Station at Circular Quay, stated that the Ocean Wave Hotel was on fire. The fire men turned out immediately, and proceeded with all speed to the locality. The people round about there roused, and numbers followed the fire engines, etc., but it was, of course, soon discovered that the alarm was a false one. At the Water Court yesterday two young men who were supposed to have been connected with the trouble, but were not absolutely identified as having been among those who originated it, were each fined £2.

The last licensee of the Ocean Wave Hotel was Albert George Wright, who closed his bar doors in 1904. The old pub later operated as a boarding house. The Sydney Truth reported in 1911, “the old house became a boarding establishment, kept by a lady with the ecclesiastical name of Archdeacon, who carried it on under the name of ‘The Sailors Welcome’.”

A year after the pub had closed the Mudgee Guardian reported on February 2 1905:

Sidelights of our history by E.W. O’Sullivan.

Sydney, in the early days, was a most interesting place to live in. The military gave a picturesque appearance to the population, and there were frequently in port a few of the vessels in the British navy, the crews of which were always popular with the people, who, upon one occasion, helped them in sympathy, if not in action, to pull open a lock-up to allow some men-of-war’s men to go free. Then there were the whalers, beach-combers, and South Sea Island traders, who generally frequented ‘The Rocks’ at the Black Dog, the Ocean Wave, and other hostelries called after their ships. These were roaring times when the crews of these vessels came ashore to spend their money. …

The Ocean Wave was one of the hundreds of buildings demolished in The Rocks area after an outbreak of the bubonic plague hit the streets of Sydney in the early 1900s. The Government at the time used fear to confirm long-held perceptions that The Rocks was dirty and overcrowded. Despite only three of the 103 plague-related deaths were ever traced to the area, more than 3800 houses, buildings and wharves were inspected by government authorities, and hundreds of buildings were demolished over the next decade.

The resumptions became a catalyst for a program of urban renewal in The Rocks and Millers Point area. The Ocean Wave was auctioned in March 1908 and demolished soon after. But the legend of the Black Dog continued couldn’t be demolished, and its stories continued to be published and told over the following decades.

In a letter to the editor of the Wellington Times on Thursday January 23 1919, Thomas Fowlie wrote that the old Black Dog in the 1850s was “kept by a scion of an Irish noble house, and was the resort of new-chum Irishmen, who met fellow countrymen there; a sort of club or meeting house. I have amongst my acquaintances a then young, now an old gentleman, who tells of pleasant evenings and dancing parties in the old house. I saw it demolished, and was struck with the flimsy way in which the walls were built — small rubble stone and mud it looked like to me, and the risky way in which rafters and stair casings were inserted. Wonder it had not tumbled down years before.”

In another letter to a newspaper, 20 years after the Ocean Wave turned off its taps, a writer entered into a correspondents’ debate on “when is a man drunk?”. The Sydney Evening News reported on June 30 1924:

It brings to my mind being in a public house in… the Rocks — the Black Dog Hotel. It was nearly 50 years ago. A sailor came in and called for a pint of beer. He was that drunk he asked the barmaid if she would find his mouth for him to drink it. I think this will solve the question. – A Witness. Audley-street, Petersham.

Thirty five years after the pub had closed its reputation had spread as far as North America. A sporting identity from that country in the 1930s and 40s, Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson, made a pilgrimage to find the Ocean Wave Hotel after a request from her father. The athlete, who achieved most success in golf, basketball and track and field, was visiting Sydney in 1939. The Newcastle Sun reported on June 28:

American sporting star, Ella "Babe" Didrikson, made a pilgrimage to find the Ocean Wave Hotel after a request from her father in the 1930s.
American sporting star, Ella “Babe” Didrikson, made a pilgrimage to find the Ocean Wave Hotel after a request from her father in the 1930s. Picture: State Library of NSW

“I wanna get a line on some of dad’s high life when he was a wild lad in Sydney,” said ‘Babe’ Didrikson, visiting American athlete, golfer to-day. Now 71, ‘Babe’s’ father a retired merchant in America told his daughter when she was leaving for Australia, to look for the Ocean Wave and other hotels around Miller’s Point, where he stayed and made merry 43 years ago. In those days he was a sailor in Norwegian sailing ships. “He’s always telling me about how the girls used to chase him all the time in Sydney and everywhere, but you know how the old boys like to brag about what bright lads they were when they were youngsters. Anyway, I just wanna check upon him,” said ‘Babe. “I don’t know how the girls could have gone for him then. He had one of those sweeping moustachios that tickle your ears. It’d look funny now, but I guess he looked a he-man then. “I’d like to find a barmaid who served him. She might be interesting,” remarked ‘Babe’. “I guess mother won’t mind even if he did have a girl in every port. She isn’t jealous. She’ll just laugh at him. “If anyone does remember the dad, I wish they’d set in touch with me.” Yesterday ‘Babe’ went down to Miller’s Point and yarned to several of the oldest inhabitants. She found that the ‘Ocean Wave’ Hotel was pulled down many years ago, but discovered several aged women who used to work there for the licensee, “Aunty” Gurkin.  One woman of 89 thinks she knows someone who used to know ‘Babe’s’ father, and will try to find him. “Dad enjoyed himself plenty when he was out here, and he told me I’d have a jolly good time myself,” added ‘Babe.’ “And by heck I am.”

Today, the Cahill Expressway runs over the site where the Black Dog once traded.


Black Dog Hotel

1830 – 1904

1830 – 1831 – Daniel Hill

1831 – 1833 – William Thurston

1833 – 1834 – Emanuel Neich

1834 – 1835 – William Terry

1835 – 1836 – William Perry

1836 – 1845 – Thomas G. Bolton

Name change Woolpress Hotel 1845 – 1848

1845 – 1846 – William Wells

1846 – 1847 – Evan Williams

1847 – 1848 – James Turley Jones

Name change Black Dog Hotel

1849 – 1849 – Alexander McDonald

1849 – 1851 – Catherine McDonnell

1851 – 1855 – Richard Wild

1855 – 1856 – Robert Earnshaw

1856 – 1859 – Catherine Earnshaw

1859 – 1860 – Joseph Haywood

1860 – 1868 – Richard Wild

1869 – 1883 – William Holloway

1883 – 1885 – Phillip Flanagan

1885 – 1886 – Peter Robbins

1886 – 1887 – John Martin Lang

1887 – 1888 – Eleanor Lubienski

1888 – 1889 – Samuel Symonds

Name Change to Ocean Wave Hotel

1889 – 1891 – Rose Symonds

1891 – 1891 – Franklyn Hodges

1891 – 1892 – Benjamin Hickson

1892 – 1893 – Franklyn Hodges

1894 – 1895 – TheophilusVogt

1895 – 1895 – Sarah Vogt

1895 – 1895 – Daniel O’Sullivan

1895 – 1898 – William Watson

1898 – 1899 – Margaret Hayes

1899 – 1899 – Francis McNeill

1899 – 1902 – Joseph Henry Wright

1902 – 1904 – Albert George Wright

Hotel closed 1904

1904 -1909 – Operated as a boarding house

Demolished 1909

Updated 2021 © Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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9 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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