Brothers, butchering and beer

James Black's Volunteer Hotel in the 1870s.

James Black’s Volunteer Hotel in the 1870s. Photo: NSW Government Printing Office.


THE five Hill brothers made their fortune through beer, wine and spirits.

The ‘currency lads’ – a name given to native born colonist – George, William, David, and Richard were Sydney publicans, who besides pumping ale, were also accomplished butchers. Another brother, Edward had a wine and spirit store in Pitt Street Sydney during the 1840s, and later became a respected amateur geologist.

The five were the sons of William and Mary Hill.

William was transported for life for felony, reaching Sydney in the Ganges in 1797. The following year their mother, Mary arrived in the Britannia on a seven-year sentence.

William became superintendent of the government slaughter-house, and was granted an absolute pardon in 1813, later working as a butcher in Pitt Street during the 1820s.

The first of his boys entered the innkeeping business in the early 1820s. George, 22, gained a license for a public house by the name of the Butchers Arms, on the south west corner of Pitt and Park Streets, Sydney in 1824.

This is the story of that little pub, which first opened in what is today’s busiest part of Australia’s largest city, which also traded as a butcher shop for a period of time, and which closed more than 60 years later as the Volunteer Hotel.

The site is now occupied by a Lowes Menswear store. This is also a story of the publican brothers who ran and owned a number of Sydney pubs during the first half of the 19th century.

George Hill, who established the Butchers Arms on the corner of Pitt and Parks Streets, Sydney in 1824.

George Hill, who established the Butchers Arms on the corner of Pitt and Parks Streets, Sydney in 1824.

George Hill hosted the Butchers Arms until 1832, when he married a widow, Mary Ann Hunter and licensed another inn by the name of the Carpenters Arms in Pitt Street in the same year. His youngest brother, William, 20, took over the license of the Butchers Arms in 1832.

In the 1830s George was treasurer of the Sydney races and a subscriber to the Parramatta races. In 1842 his horse Toby won a trotting match at Homebush. Known as a ‘gentleman of the fancy’, George’s ‘jovial face and bluff, kindly ways’ were well known. He built a grand villa, Durham Hall in 1835, that remains today at the corner of Albion and Hutchison Streets, Surry Hills.

Back at the Butchers Arms in Pitt Street, William remained as publican until 1834, when his older brother David, 22, took the reins.

David and his wife Anne had been running the Wheelwrights’ Arms at the corner of Pitt and Market Streets Sydney since 1832, prior to taking the license of the Butchers Arms in 1834. David and Anne never renewed the license of the pub in 1835, and they opened a butcher shop in the building, as well as a residence.

Older brother George remained as hosts at the Carpenters Arms until 1842, when he decided to try his hand at politics. Another brother, 32-year-old Richard took over the license of the Carpenters Arms from George and his wife Mary on their departure.

George was elected to the first Sydney Municipal Council and in 1844 became a magistrate. In July 1848 he was elected to the Legislative Council. In municipal politics he belonged to the Australian-born faction and in 1850 was mayor of Sydney. He accumulated real estate and held Yanko, 56,000 acres (22,663 ha) on the Murrumbidgee, but his main occupation was a butcher with his own slaughter-house.

George died at his Surry Hills villa, Durham Hall on July 19 1883 after his buggy had collided with a tram. He was buried in Randwick cemetery, survived by his second wife Jane, née Binnie, and by five sons and five daughters. His estate was valued at £59,200.

Meanwhile David, who had returned to his trade as a butcher in 1835, decided to re-open his residence and shop at the corner of Pitt and Park Streets as a pub in 1852. He was 46 at the time.

David remained as host of the re-opened Butchers Arms for six years, retiring in 1858. He was a model publican, with no convictions recorded while he was host of the pub. David died in Darlinghurst aged 65 in 1871.

David Hill’s replacement publican, Charles Doyle – unlike his predecessor – soon found himself in trouble with the law.

Doyle faced court for breaching the licensing act in November 1860. He was one of eight publicans fined for having neglected to keep their lamps burning from sunset to sunrise. Doyle was fined five shillings. He was fined a similar amount for the same offence the following month.

Doyle placed a notice in the press in January 1861, advertising the lease of the Butchers Arms. The license of the inn was transferred to Thomas Thompson in March 1861, and in May of that year the name was changed to the Volunteer Hotel.

Thompson had a short stay at the pub. His 19-year-old wife, Annie died in May 1862 and before the end of the year he had been replaced as publican by George Wilson.

The next notable host of the Volunteer Hotel was James A. Black in 1866. In an article entitled, Old Sydney by Old Chum, in the Sydney Truth on Sunday March 23 1913, Mr Black was described as a “man of fine physique, who was a sub-inspector of police”.

“He came out with the draft of London police in 1855, and did some excellent work. He was one of those who had charge of the Ballarat Bank robber, Garrett, who had escaped to England, was living in luxury there, and was arrested in London by a Scotland Yard man, who adopted the ingenious method, when he thought that he had ‘spotted’ his man in the Strand, of giving a ‘coe-e-e-y,’ upon which the wanted man suddenly turned and was arrested. Black and three others took Garrett to Melbourne, and handed him over to the authorities there. He is known in criminal annals as the first New Zealand bushranger.”

The same story described the Volunteer Hotel as a “quaint-looking little house, with a residential portion, much older, adjoining”.

One of Black’s stepsons, James Nickson received the license of the Volunteer Hotel in 1878 – the same year the property was sold by the Hill family to the Equitable Permanent Benefit Building Society. Nickson was to be the last of the long line of hosts after plans were announced to have the old pub demolished and replaced with “office premises suitable and in keeping with the nature of the business carried on by the society”.

Australian Town and Country Journal reported on Saturday May 25 1878:

“During the year the board was fortunate in being able to secure the freehold of that first-class corner site at the junction of Pitt and Park streets, at present known as the Volunteer Hotel, and the plumber’s shop adjoining. The present net rental derivable there from is £286 per annum. As soon as the existing lease of the premises expire, steps will be taken to erect office premises…”

The pub continued trading on the site through the early 1880s. James Black died at the pub in February 1883 at the age of 61.

Nickson tried unsuccessfully to transfer the license of the Volunteer Hotel to Murray Street, Pyrmont in 1885. In August of the same year, the license of the hotel was cancelled after Nickson “abandoned” the premises. It was demolished soon after and by 1886 a new six-storey office building had replaced the inn.

Known as the Equitable Building, it later became known as Park House, one of several buildings in the block now owned by the Sydney City Council, and planned for demolition to create an open square opposite the Town Hall.

lowes sydney 2015

Park House, Sydney 2015, the site of the Butchers Arms.


Butchers Arms

1824- 1831: George Hill

1831 – 1834: William Hill

1834 – 1835: David Hill.

Hotel Closed

Butcher shop and private residence

Butchers Arms

1852 – 1858: David Hill

1858 – 1861: Charles Doyle

Name Changed Volunteer Hotel

1861 – 1862: Thomas Thompson

1862 – 1866: George Wilson

1866 – 1878: James A. Black

1878 – 1885: James Nickson

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015.

Categories: Australian Hotels

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Our family , clayton married Black and were owners in its life.

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