The ultimate price for respectability: Currency Lass

The Currency Lass, Pitt and Hunter streets, Sydney.

The Currency Lass, Pitt and Hunter streets, Sydney.

In the early times the native-born colonists were known by the title of “Currency”; and it was common enough to hear a person spoken of as a “currency lad” or a “currency lass”. But this custom has almost entirely died out, and is only typified in the sign of a few public-houses which still bear the sign of “The Currency Lass”.

Australian Town and Country Journal (SydneySaturday January 21 1888

By MICK ROBERTS ©

THERE’S a hint of irony in that the old colonial pub, the Currency Lass once sat in what is today the financial hub of Sydney.

The pub’s ‘sign’ was taken from a commonly used phrase, referring to an Australian born woman. The story goes that the term was created by a “humorous paymaster” of the 73rd Regiment. ‘Currency’ in trade meant money and paper used in the colony, while ‘sterling’ meant the old British coin, “always good for its face value”. Hence native-born ‘lads’ and ‘lasses’ were ‘currency’ and the imported article ‘sterling’.

There were two or three pubs by the name trading around Sydney during the 1840s and 50s.

After the Currency Lass was demolished in 1885 to make way for a new grand five storey hotel, politician and judge, Sir Joseph George Long Innes – while making a speech when laying the foundation stone – remarked:

Sir Joseph George Innes

Sir Joseph George Innes

“I congratulate you and myself that here, on this very spot, on the ashes of a building of that kind, which, I believe, rejoiced in the name of the Currency Lass Hotel, we are raising a building of a very different character. As a native of the colony, however, I may be very well pleased in reflecting that a currency lass has given birth to an institution of this kind (laughter) and I hope that other currency lasses will take an example and do likewise.”

Located on the south west corner of Hunter and Pitt Streets in Australia’s largest city, a commercial tower, with a street-level bank, sits where once the Currency Lass traded.

Two pubs have served ale from the corner, with the much grander, Empire Hotel following the Currency Lass in 1887.

The first building on the site, however was that of Richard Jones. A charming Georgian house, surrounded by a garden, was built by “China” Jones in 1827. Known as “China” Jones because of his business with that country, he arrived in the colony as a young man. He became a merchant, banker, ship-owner, and member of Parliament. In 1822 he returned to England, married, and brought his wife and eldest child out to Sydney.

In 1836, Richard Jones found that the corner where his house stood had become “too crowded and busy,” and he sold the property for £9,000 to Isaac Simmons, who erected a row of houses on the Hunter Street frontage, which became known as Regent Terrace. Subsequently, The Currency Lass was built on the corner. Later still came the Empire Hotel, which in turn gave way to the Queensland National Bank in 1925.

Richard Jones built this pleasant Georgian house at the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets in 1827, where the Currency Lass later followed.

Richard Jones built this pleasant Georgian house at the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets in 1827, where the Currency Lass later followed.

The real story of the Currency Lass though is its publicans. And the most notorious of all – although not technically a ‘currency lad’ in the true sense – could easily fit the reputation. A brash Irishman John Tighe made his fortune on the goldfields before buying into pubs. But, more on infamous Tighe later.

The Currency Lass traded for just over 40 years, and probably its greatest claim to fame is that it was home for a short time to James O’Farrell, the failed assassin of Prince Alfred during the 1868 Sydney Royal Visit.

The Currency Lass was opened by 43-year-old John Sims in December 1843. It wasn’t Sims’ first pub by that name. From the late 1830s, with his wife, Mary Ann and their children, he had previously hosted a Currency Lass at The Rocks.

Sims transferred the license of The Rocks’ Currency Lass, in Cumberland Street, to the corner of Hunter and Pitt Streets on Christmas Eve 1843. He remained as host of the pub for almost six years before returning to The Rocks, where he ran the Whalers Arms in Gloucester Street.

Mary Ann, his wife, died at the Whalers Arms in 1852, and John’s life also ended there in 1858. They had eight children.

After the Sims, the next host of the Currency Lass was George Simpson. Simpson opened one of Sydney’s first pub restaurants in 1850. He advertised the ‘Currency Lass Restaurant’ for luncheons from 11am to 3pm every day, supplying soups, fish and hashes, as well as quality wines and spirits.

A young, John Beal took the license of the Currency Lass in 1852. At just 23, the inexperienced publican was criticised by a “brother Boniface” after taking charge of the Currency Lass. The Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer reported on Saturday May 6 1854:

A PUGNACIOUS PUBLICAN – Mr W. McCurtayne, landlord of the Erin Go Bragh, appeared before Messrs Dowling and Egan, to show cause why and wherefore he maliciously and wilfully smashed a tumbler and a pane of glass of the united value of fifteen shillings, in the house of a brother Boniface John Beale, who keeps the ‘Currency Lass’, in Pitt and Hunter-streets. The great McCurtnyne, (physically great) entered Mr Beale’s house, (so runs the evidence) with another gentleman named Carraher. The last mentioned person opened the ball by argufying with some person who was at the bar of Mr Beale. Mr Curtayne then took up the cudgels, and made one of his celebrated speeches, lately so often exhibited to the public, and commenced giving the person serving behind the bar of the Currency Lass a lesson as to the proper manner in which a public house should be conducted, probably holding out the Erin Go Bragh as a specimen. He also dilated upon the impropriety of a respectable publican allowing disreputable characters, such as he considered the individual with whom Carraher had quarrelled, into the house. The server then ventured to dispute Mr McCurtayne’s authority for speaking in so dictatorial a style in another man’s house, and he likewise hinted that the person whose character had been so impugned was perchance even as respectable a gentleman as Mr McCurtayne himself! Of course that mighty man could not be reasonably expected to keep his temper after so insulting an insinuation. Therefore he changed his usually gentleman like verbiage to a style of oratory of the Billingsgate school. He called Mr Whatsisname behind the bar “a liar!’ and he very narrowly escaped receiving a slap on his face in return. McCuitayne thereupon picked up a tumbler, flung it at his opponent’s head, missed his aim, and smashed the glass. Mr Mac favored the Bench with a sample of his oratorical powers, but without any material effect. Their Worships condemned his conduct, and sentenced him to pay fifteen shillings, the value of the property destroyed, or in default of payment to be confined and kept to hard labor in Darlinghurst prison, for seven days. The Bench regretted that the state of the law did not authorise him inflicting a more serious fine. McCurtayne had fifteen shillings about him, and by stumping down he was saved from the seclusion of Darlinghurst.

Unfortunately John Beal never lived long enough to become an experienced publican. He died aged just 27 at his pub in August 1857, “leaving a widow and two children, and a large circle of friends to lament their loss”. His wife, Harriet, curiously, died the following year at the age of 26 “after a short but painful illness”.

The Currency Lass, Sydney.

The Currency Lass, Sydney.

Daniel Tierney took the license of the Currency Lass in 1857. Tierney was host of the pub at the time of the attempted assignation of Prince Alfred in 1868. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the failed assassination on March 13 1868:

The Colonial Secretary, Mr. Parkes, proceeded to the gaol and saw the prisoner. He ascertained that his name was H. F. O’Farrell, that he slept on Wednesday night at the Clarendon Hotel, corner of George and Hunter streets. The Colonial Secretary asked him how he came to commit such an outrage, to which he replied, “Come, come, it  is not fair to ask me such a question as that the Prince is all right – the Prince will live, you need not fear about him – it’s only a side wound – I shall be hanged but the Prince will live.” On leaving the gaol the Colonial Secretary taking with him two police constables went to the Clarendon Hotel. The people there knew nothing about the affair beyond hearing a rumour that the Prince had been shot. They admitted that such a man as the prisoner was described to be, had lived there, and the room in which he had slept was at once searched. Some articles of wearing apparel were found in a broken box and in a table drawer. In various places (in the drawer and in the pockets of his clothes) were found percussion caps, detonating cartridges, wadding for revolvers, a Douay Bible, and a number of religious books, in which his name was inscribed. Having secured these things, the Colonial Secretary ascertained that O’Farrell had been in Sydney from about Christmas last, and that whilst the Prince has been here whenever the other lodgers in the house spoke of him this man got out of temper, and denounced him. He went out on Tuesday evening to go to the ball; but, for some reason, did not get in, and came back. The Colonial Secretary also ascertained that he had lived at Tierney’s Currency Lass Hotel, corner of Pitt and Hunter streets ; and to that house they proceeded. Here, in a box, said to belong to O’Farrell, they found a number of articles of clothing and some written papers, from which it was shown that he had resided in Melbourne. It is almost impossible to describe the sensation which the news of the outrage produced in the city. 

Tierney, in an attempt to completely disassociate himself from the attempted murderer of the Prince, wrote the following letter to the editor of the Empire newspaper on March 19 1868:

Sir, – AS many and various reports are in circulation arising out of the excitement created by the late diabolical attempt on the life of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, some of them calculated to injure me, from the unfortunate circumstances of the wretched assassin having at one time stopped at my house. I trust you will favour me with space in your column for the statement of the following facts: – Some months since, O’Farrell came to my house and took lodgings, having every appearance of a respectable man. He paid me regularly for some time, but afterwards fell into arrears. He never had a companion or associate with him, but seemed father to lead a retired life. He had latterly fallen into very irregular and intemperate habits, and I was inconsequence obliged to request him to seek lodgings elsewhere. He left my house greatly in my debt, about the middle of December last, and has ever since avoided the place, because of the amount due me. I never knew him, nor did anyone in my house ever known him, to be possessed of weapons of any kind. There were several very respectable persons stopping at my house at the time, who, together with myself, have given the Colonial Secretary and the police authorities every information respecting the man’s habits and disposition.

– I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

DANIEL TIERNEY  

Currency Lass Hotel, 18th March.

Tierney was one of the best known publicans of the Currency Lass, being the host to the failed assassin O’Farrell, and licensee for 18 years. He retired from business in 1875 aged 60, and died three years later at his home in Prince Street, The Rocks.

The last publican of the Currency Lass was the most notorious. John Tighe was a self-made man, who flaunted his wealth, and was constantly in trouble with the law for assault and drunkenness. His wealth seems to have prevented him from spending any time in prison, and enabling him from holding on to his publican’s license.

Tighe, between many trips to the gold fields, hosted numerous Sydney pubs, including The Union Inn, Darlinghurst, The Queens Arms, Taylor Square, The Town Hall Hotel in George Street, and The Angel Hotel in Pitt Street. The Angel Hotel is the only pub he hosted that still stands.

Tighe was also an active member of the City and Provincial Licensed Victuallers Association during the 1880s. Money seems to have bought him some respectability, though there is no doubt he was a Jeckyl and Hyde character, who in reality was a thug, who reportedly bashed women – including his wife – and had countless convictions for assault, including police officers, and was fined on numerous occasions for drunkenness.

Tighe arrived in the Colony of New South Wales as a 13-year-old boy with his parents James and Isabella in 1840.  As a young man, he was a skilled horseman and fond of adventure, eventually entering the services of the well-known pastoralist, William Guise, whose properties extended from Lake George to Wagga. Tighe was described by the Freeman’s Journal in 1899 as one of the colony’s “handsomest and best-proportioned young men”.

“His bush life encouraged the finest physical development, and when the discovery of gold electrified the country he took to the principal goldfields that fine figure and fresh, spirit by which he was at once distinguished, and by which he is to this day remembered by the few survivors of those stirring times when physical prowess and the cast-iron influence it inspired counted for more than constitutional methods.”

The Freeman’s Journal reported that Tighe made his fortune on the Turon diggings, with his brothers James and Patrick, returning to Sydney with gold weighing 178 pound. The diggings on the Turon River, near Sofala, sprang into life just six weeks after the announcement of payable gold being discovered at Ophir, near Bathurst, in May 1851.

Reports said the Tighe brothers’ gold could not be negotiated, and the miners deposited it with a city bank. In turn, the brothers were granted overdrafts against it, and supplied with a cheque-book.

Celebrating his new found wealth, 24-year-old John Tighe – known for his temper – was not long after fronting the local magistrates. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in July 1851:

VIOLENT ASSAULT – On Saturday evening, a party from Sydney, who returned from the Ophir digging on the same day, went into a public-house in George-street [Bathurst], kept by a person named Bulger, and committed a violent assault on Bulger, his two sons, and his wife. The party consisted of John Tighe, Michael Quinn, two brothers named Denny, and a man whose name is at present unknown, he having managed to make his escape during the row. It appears that Tighe called for some liquor, and gave half-a-crown in payment; Bulger gave him the liquor called for, and offered one shilling change. A dispute arose, Tighe requiring more change, during which he attempted to strike Bulger, but was pushed back; he then jumped over the bar, but was put out by Bulger and one of his sons. Shortly after Bulger’s son went into the tap-room, when he was set upon by all the party, with the exception of one of the Dennys, who tried to make peace. Bulger, his wife, and the other son came out to the rescue, and a regular attack was made on them, when the police came in to their assistance. Tighe, Quinn, and John Denny, were taken into custody, the man whose name is not known, making his escape. Quinn also got away, but was retaken. On Monday, the three prisoners were brought before the Bench; John Denny was fined £5, which was paid; Tighe and Quinn were also fined £5 each, and in default of payment were sent to Gaol for two months.

The three cashed-up Tighe brothers all became publicans. James became publican of the Queens Arms Hotel, on South Head Road, on what is today Taylor’s Square, Darlinghurst. The Court House Hotel currently trades on the site of the Queens Arms. Patrick opened the Rising Sun, also on South Head Road.

John married Susan Stone in December 1852, three months before he also opened a pub – The Kings Arms in George Street, Sydney. The Empire reported on August 11 1853:

ASSAULT ON A WIFE – John Tighe, publican, in George street, was charged with a most unmanly assault on his wife, to whom he has only been married nine months. Mrs. Tighe, who was in a most distressing state of agitation, was compelled on Monday to be carried out of the Court, as she had a severe fit while detailing the usage to which she had been subjected. On Tuesday, she again appeared, and demised to the fact of her husband having on the 18th of July dragged her out of bed, and thrown her on the floor, and horse whipped her. Tighe behaved in an extremely violent manner before the Court, and evidence was taken with a view to his committal for contempt, but ultimately the magistrates made an order on him to pay his wife the sum or £2 10s per week, for three years, and required him to give security for the performance of the order.

The Bells Life in Sydney was not impressed with the exploits of the young Irishman, whose cantankerous habits and flamboyancy he flaunted around Sydney Town after his new-found wealth was causing quite a stir. The newspaper reported on Saturday August 13 1853:

AMATEUR RUFFIANISM – The trite proverb, “set a beggar on horseback, and he’ll ride to the devil,” has been fully exemplified by the ruffian exploits of the hero of the following tale. John Tighe is rale Irish, as by the same token was his honored daddy before him. John Tighe went a digging, for which occupation his countrymen are so justly celebrated, having served a long apprenticeship, and received a liberal education, in a pratie field. John Tighe was successful, and returned to Sydney with lots of nuggets. Tighe, senior, threw up the policeman’s shillelagh, and his son John at once took a mighty genteel fancy to the public line. He obtained a licence for a public-house in George-street, called the Kings Arms; the Tighes being probably descendants of the ancient kingdom of Connaught*, or some other region in Hibernia. John Tighe was anxious to obtain a wife, and he obtained his object in the person of a pretty, neat, well-behaved, interesting young woman – a Miss Stone. He treated her as if she was stone by nature, in so much that after enduring for some time the grossly brutal, cowardly, cruel conduct of her big, burly, uncultivated husband, she was compelled in the course of this week to appeal to the magistrates at the Police Office for protection and a separate maintenance. Her tale of woe and suffering would have made many a Savage cover his face with his hands, if accused of wantonly ill using, horsewhipping, &c., his young and delicate lubra; but the savage Tighe seemed lost to all sense of shame, and conducted himself in a very unbecoming manner in the Court. The Bench ordered him to pay his ill used wife the sum of 50s per week for three years, and to give good security in £150 for obeying the order. On Thursday John Tighe was again under the disagreeable necessity appearing before Messrs. Chambers, Thorne, and Captain Wingate, for committing an unprovoked and brutal assault upon two cab-drivers, named Norman and Russell. The charges were separate, but the magistrates decided upon hearing both cases prior to passing sentence upon either. … The cabmen went in to get a nobbler each (in the Victoria Hotel) to keep the cold out, when John Tighe, who is a very powerful looking young fellow, and could safely invest his strength on the persons of the light weight cabmen, gave one of them an unprovoked spank on the face. Russell requested Tighe not to beat his mate whereupon that pot-valiant hero exclaimed “you —— wretch, I’ll serve you the same!” and struck Russell a desperate blow with his fist, on a finger of which he wore a nuggetty ring, which made poor Russell’s head ring, and shut his peeper up like a watch-house door. Mr. A. Torning, landlord of the Victoria, was called and although his evidence was given in the most unbiased and temperate manner, it clearly proved that Tighe was the aggressor, and that he parted Tighe and the cabmen, and finally put them all outside…. Tighe was then sentenced to pay a fine of £5 for each assault, inclusive of costs. He soon produced the £10 note from a full purse. As Mr. John Tighe is a very young man, a word of advice may be of service to him. He has suddenly and unexpectedly became comparatively affluent; but he will find, upon trial, that a peaceable life, and good conduct, will confer more honour upon him than his gold; and although the precious metal may have set him on horseback, a persistence in his late conduct will speedily gallop him to the devil.

* Connacht or Connaught is one of the Provinces of Ireland situated in the west of the country. In Ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a “king of over-kings”.

The Bells Life in Sydney continued to keep a close ‘peeper’ on Tighe, and reported the following incident on Saturday August 27 1853:

A PUBLIC CHARACTER – The celebrated Mister John Tighe, landlord of the King’s Arms, George-street, made his customary bow to the  Beaks at the Police Office on Monday last, to shew why and wherefore he gave Mary Hickey a pair of black eyes. It appears that after the lesson read to Mr John Tighe on the duty of husbands and wives, and the Bench order being made for John to pay his bride a separate maintenance of 50s per week, he came to his senses, and reconciliation was effected between him and Mrs John John Tighe. Miss Mary Hickey is a 12 stone nymph of Irish extraction, with a pug nose, grey eyes, cheeks like kidney purta-toes, and hair … resembles the mane of a Welsh pony. Miss Mary Hickey made her brag that although Johnny Tighe had made it up with his wife, she (Mary Hickey) had such power over him that she could (?) him whenever she thought proper. This language having by some officious friend been brought to the ears of the repentant John, he met Miss Hickey, and being like the great modern heroes of Hibernia, an upholder of the law of physical force, administered to the fair traducer the two black eyes in question. The Bench ordered John Tighe to pay a sovereign a piece for the eyes, and the costs of the Court.

To top-off Tighe’s run of bad media, The Empire reported on October 17 1853 that he “who so violent temper and unhappy matrimonial differences keep him constantly in hot water, was charged by Mrs Stone, his mother-in-law, with assaulting her in his own house”. The case was later settled out of court.

Tighe received permission to remove the license of the King’s Arms Hotel from George Street North to the old Neptune Inn in Prince Street The Rocks in November 1853. The following month Tighe transferred the license of the pub to James Keenan, and in March 1854 he sailed for Melbourne. There are two good reasons why Tighe decided to leave Sydney. Besides his bad press, there was gold discovered in Ballarat.

When the Tighe brothers arrived in Ballarat there was trouble brewing on the goldfields. From the early 1850s, miners were required to pay high fees for licences and were ill-treated and harassed by the authorities. By 1854, the diggers of Ballarat were fed up. When their appeal to the government for justice was refused, they declared that they would stop buying gold licences and beneath the diggers’ flag – the Southern Cross – swore to defend each other against the authorities.

Tighe was there in Ballarat for one of Australia’s most famous uprisings. In fact, his wife, Susan gave birth to a daughter at “Eureka, Ballarat” just five months before the uprising. Before dawn on December 3 1854, government troops stormed the diggers’ flimsy stockade at Eureka Lead. In a fiery battle that lasted only 20 minutes, more than 30 men were killed. Charged with high treason, the diggers’ leaders were all eventually acquitted. Within a year the diggers won the vote and the hated gold licence was abolished.

The Freeman’s Journal reported in 1899 that Tighe was “among the fresh young bloods at the Eureka Stockade, and to his dying day he recalled with pride the allegiance he bore to Peter Lalor (one of the leaders of the uprising) in that thrilling incident which cost the men’s leader his arm”.

Tighe remained in Ballarat for another year, with his wife Susan giving birth to another child at “Eureka” in April 1856. They returned to Sydney later that year, and no sooner was he back, he returned to his violent ways. The Sydney Morning Herald reporting on July 4:

John Tighe was charged with having wilfully and maliciously destroyed property of the value of 30s belonging to Rachael Alexander. Mrs Alexander deposed that yesterday evening she was at tea with her children, her husband being from home, when prisoner walked into the house. She asked him what he wanted; he said he had come for a jolly row, and forthwith struck her a blow on the face, capsized the table, and smashed a couple of chairs; she estimated her loss at 30s. To pay 30s, or to be imprisoned for three days.

Tighe was back behind the bar serving ale in March 1857. He advertised to “his numerous friends in town and country, including many at the Ballarat, Rocky, and other Diggings” that he had taken the Union Inn, at the corner of Crown Street and South Head Road (now Oxford Street), Darlinghurst. The Columbian Hotel now trades from the corner.

The following month he was in court again – this time with his brother Patrick. The pair was answering charges in relation to a scuffle with a group of soldiers from Her Majesty’s 11th Regiment outside the Union Inn.

The Empire reported on April 22 1857 that John’s wife Susan testified that she was walking home towards their pub on the South Head Road, when she saw a little boy about 12 years of age asking a constable to take a soldier into custody, for assaulting him.

Susan said the soldier Private James Murphy took hold of the boy and pushed him off the curb stone into the gutter, threatening to “break his neck”.

John Tighe, who spotted the boy being roughed-up, called the soldier a coward. The confrontation immediately sparked a scuffle.

Private Murphy took off his belt, the court heard, and swung it about, threatening the Irish publican. His brother, Patrick came out of the Union Inn, and took hold of the belt, when another soldier, Private William Hill hit him in the mouth.

Despite a number of witnesses to the contrary, Constable McEwan told the court that the soldiers did not assault the boy, and he said the Tighe brothers were the instigators of the trouble. He said Patrick had rushed from his brother’s pub, and struck the soldier without provocation.

The two Tighe brothers were found guilty by the Bench – Patrick for assault was fined £5, or one month’s imprisonment, while John copped a 20 shilling fine for assaulting the constable while in the execution of his duty. A charge against Private Hill for assaulting Patrick was dismissed.

After numerous Sunday trading convictions, as well as a few more assault charges against police constables, Tighe gave-up the license of the Union Inn during 1858, interestingly to take on government contracting work.

The Tighe brothers undertook the excavation of the Crown-street Reservoir in Surry Hills for the sum of £3895, and with other similar contracts the family further built their fortune, becoming a large employer of labour.

While working on the Crown Street Reservoir in February 1859 John was fined 2 shillings and 6 pence costs for obstructing the footpath with a horse and cart. Take note tradies; the parking rangers were tough even in those days!

The Tighe brothers were struck again with gold fever during the early 1860s. John and James both headed to the newly discovered Lambing Flat fields, part of the Burrangong goldfields, near Young in NSW.

John left his wife Susan behind in Sydney, as he had done numerous times in the past while on his gold expeditions. While he was away, Susan gave birth to another daughter. When he returned to Sydney in the mid 1860s, he opened another pub – the Queens Arms.

Tighe's Queens Arms hotel, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst (the Court House Hotel now trades from the site).

Tighe’s Queens Arms hotel, Taylor Square, Darlinghurst extreme right (the Court House Hotel now trades from the site).

The Queens Arms had a 29 feet frontage to Oxford Street, 63 feet to Bourke Street and consisted of a bar, cellar, private entrance and hall, six rooms, kitchen, and servants’ room, stable, gig-house, shed, large yard.

The Queens Arms was on the site of today’s Court House Hotel at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst. John leased the building for £4 per week, or £208 per annum from the mid 1860s. He remained at Darlinghurst until the early 1870s, when he took over the lease of the Angel Hotel, in Pitt Street.

The Angel Hotel continues to trade to this day (2015). Tighe had another confrontation with a cab driver soon after becoming host of the Angel Inn. The Evening News reported on November 28 1872:

John Tighe was charged with assaulting George White. The defendant is a publican, keeper of the Angel Inn, and on the evening of the 20th instant, at about half -past 6 o’clock, he went up to the cab of complainant (who is a cab proprietor), and said he was going in the cab. He was intoxicated. Complainant asked him where he was to be driven’ and he said that was his business. Complainant told him that if he did not say where he was to be driven, he could not go in the cab. “Drive me h— ” he answered; but complainant told him that he would not drive him at all. Defendant then came out of the cab and struck complainant, who got away; but defendant afterwards got into the cab, and went to sleep. Complainant afterwards drove him to the Angel. Mr. Walsh appeared for complainant and Mr. H. Driver for defendant. The bench inflicted a fine of 20s, and 7s 8d costs, or in default of payment, seven days’ imprisonment.  

Tighe took the license of the Currency Lass in July 1875. Two incidents stand-out while he was licensee. In March 1879, one of the men engaged in doing some repairs to the pub fell 80 feet to the ground. The worker, “much shaken and bruised”, was removed in a cab to his home in Woolloomooloo. The following month the Sydney Mail reported “some excitement was created at noon, on Thurday, at the intersection of Pitt and Hunter streets by the vagaries of a drunken man”.

“He distinguished himself by deliberately smashing a large pane of glass at Tighe’s Currency Lass Hotel. It took the united strength of a couple of constables to handcuff him, and on his refusal to walk to the watch house a vehicle was precured, and he was thus conveyed to  the lockup. The proceedings attracted a large crowd.”

A few years later, the Freemans Journal reported on January 26 1884 that “owing to some defect in a fire plug at the corner of Hunter and Pitt streets, the overflow of water was so great that it flooded the whole of that block, and the ‘Currency Lass’ at the corner had to take off her shoes and stockings, and paddle about in 2 feet of water to serve her customers”.

Tighe continued his battle with officialdom, right up to his retirement as a publican in 1884. He advertised the sale of a three year lease of the pub from January 1884, announcing his retirement from business.

The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society purchased a lease of the old inn during 1884, and planned an upmarket five storey hotel for the site.

In what seems one last hoorah as publican of Currency Lass, Tighe was found guilty and fined 40 shillings in March 1884 for using “profound language” and assaulting a Michael Donough. The following month the Mayor of Sydney, accompanied by the Town Clerk, the City Architect, the City Health Officer, and the Sanitary Inspector visited and examined a number of buildings in the city, which municipal officials had reported to be unfit for human occupation – including the Currency Lass.

As a result the Currency Lass was ordered to be demolished. The Sydney Mail reported on May 3 1884:

Two old landmarks condemned on Monday by the Mayor and his officers – the old Currency Lass Hotel,at the corner, of Hunter and Pitt streets, and the Liverpool Arms Hotel, at the corner of Pitt and King streets.

The Newcastle Herald reported on June 26 1884:

An Old Landmark Going –  SYDNEY, Wednesday. – Another hotel in Sydney has been closed, and this is a very old, respectable, and popular one, viz., the Currency Lass, at the corner of Pitt and Hunter streets, noted for its good drinks and pretty barmaids. It is being condemned and shut up, and its site will probably be occupied by a bank or some other important commercial institution. 

By the end of the year the Currency Lass was no more, demolished to make way for a new five storey grand hotel. The Illustrated Sydney News reported on November 15 1887:

 The new building is situated in the very heart of the chief business part of the city, being built on the site of the noted “Currency Lass,” at the corner of Hunter and Pitt Streets. The old “Currency,” which, before its final demolition, was conducted by Mr. Tighe, served as a historic landmark. When it first-saw the light, it was a proud feature in the architectural vista, and was popularly imagined an imposing hostelry. But… as the small smoky cribs that surrounded the “Currency” gave place to stately edifices, the old hotel, growing grimier year by year, became more and more of an incongruity in the very centre of this busy hive of industry. Eventually it was condemned, and the Empire Hotel, arising from its ashes (as Byron would say, “there’s that Phoenix, again!”) now lifts a lordly front to all and sundry… It is singularly adapted for a high-class hotel. The premises contain sixty large and well-ventilated bed-rooms, seven parlours, a public drawing-room, billiard rooms, a splendid dining-room, smoke and commercial rooms, two magnificent bars, and most complete lavatorial and sanitary arrangements.

Tighe retired a wealthy man to his residence, ‘Ravensbourne’, Petersham, where his wife Susan died in July 1897. The old Irish publican died at the age of 72 after complication with asthma in October 1899 and was buried in Waverley Cemetery. He was survived by two daughters.

Currency Lass, Sydney

Publicans 1843 – 1884

1843 – 1849 – John Sims

1849 – 1852 – George Simpson

1852 – 1856 – John Beal

1856 -1857 – Harriet Beal

1857 – 1875 – Daniel Tierney

1875 – 1884 – John Tighe.

Hotel closed & demolished

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015



Categories: Sydney hotels

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