Market gardener established Waterloo’s Cauliflower Hotel

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The Cauliflower Hotel, Botany Road, Waterloo, 2017. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection


DURING the early part of the 19th century, many of Sydney’s pubs had quaint names, accompanied by an indicative sign, swinging from posts or awnings.

There was the Black Boy, in George Street, the Brown Bear at The Rocks, The Star, near Barrack-street corner, and the Horse and Coaches at Randwick.

Parramatta had its Red Cow, White Horse and Woolpack; and near Prospect was the Fox under the Hill. While some of these signs were crude, many were created by talented artists.

While most of Sydney’s quaint pub names and their accompanying signs have disappeared, there are a few remaining examples.

Just who designed the Cauliflower Hotel’s unique sign is unknown, but the origins and naming of the Waterloo pub are a little easier to answer.

Cauliflower Hotel Waterloo 1936
Cauliflower Hotel, Waterloo, 1936. Picture: Australian National University, Noel Butlin Archives.
A wagon-load of cauliflower arriving at the Sydney markets early last century. Waterloo market gardener, George Rolfe was said to have built his pub from proceeds of a bumper cauliflower crop

Market gardener, George Rolfe opened the Cauliflower Hotel on what is today the south-east corner of Botany Road and Wellington Street in 1862. He was 39 when he opened the pub, and for many years prior had successfully worked as a market gardener in the area.

Rolfe, who arrived from England to Sydney as a 16-year-old boy with his family, would acquire large tracts of land on the Waterloo Estate, and was said to have made enough money to build his pub from the sale of a bumper crop of cauliflower.

The Australian Star reported on Saturday 11 April 1908:

The Cauliflower Inn, on the Botany-road, still reminds one of European market gardens, prior to the Chow-grown vegetable, when a certain cute producer marketed his cauliflowers in a droughty season to shell good result that he navigated the hotel out of the proceeds. Two-and-six for a small head, four shillings for a large, soon mounted up to the price of a bar.

George and his wife Mary Rolfe’s two storey pub is the same building trading today, which makes it one of southern Sydney’s oldest watering holes.

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Beer delivery to the Cauliflower 1940s. Picture: Supplied

The hotel was one of four public houses trading on Wellington Street, Waterloo. The other three were the Australian Arms, Duke of Wellington and Rose of Denmark.

George lost his wife, Mary in 1897, and after his death at the age of 79 in 1900, the publican was said to be the oldest and longest running hotel host in Sydney. He had been licensee of the Cauliflower for 38 years at the time of his death.

There was only one other licensee who had been operating a pub longer in Sydney and he had been buried seven years earlier.  Emanuel Neich, who died at the Bath Arms Hotel, Burwood, at 86 years in 1893, had held the licence of that pub for 62 years.

In 1900, following the death of George Rolfe, the licence of the Cauliflower was transferred to his son, George Junior. Unlike his father, George Junior wouldn’t be host of the pub for any length of time. He died at the young age of just 27 in 1906. After his death, George Junior’s brother-in-law, Philip Lowry and took over the license.

While many of the market gardens were first worked by European-Australians, by the early 1900s Chinese market gardeners had acquired leases in the district and were dominating the trade. This caused some friction within the community, and many of the Chinese gardeners were harassed, especially when passing the Cauliflower Hotel.

George Rolfe Jnr, while publican at the Cauliflower Hotel, lost his nephew, Alexander Pugsley when he was stabbed by a young Chinese man in a paddock off Botany Road in 1903. Ah Kin knew 15-year-old Alexander Pugsley, the nephew of the publican, and had mended the teenager’s cricket bat and done other little jobs for him as favours.

While walking along Botany Road with another Chinese man on Sunday January 23 , a group of “white boys” reportedly began throwing rocks at the pair. In retaliation, and in an effort to protect himself, Ah Kin, a 23-year-old cabinet maker, fatally stabbed Alexander. He was charged with murdering the teenage boy.

A Chinese market gardener early last century, and the gaol photograph of Ah Kin, who stabbed the publican’s nephew to death outside the Cauliflower Hotel in 1903. Picture: State Archives and Records Authority of NSW.

Ah Kin was found guilty of manslaughter, and when asked if he had anything to say before the judge sentenced him, Ah Kin said in Chinese, the words being interpreted to the Court : “I had no intention, he rushed against the knife. As they were rushing on to me I was frightened, and threw my hands out. I am very sorry that I wounded anybody, especially my friend, and I ask your Honor to be lenient with me.”

Justice Simpson said Ah Kin seemed to be a quiet, inoffensive and hard working man, and he took into account his good character when sentencing.

However he said the amount of provocation he had received from Pugsley was not sufficient to justify the use of a knife. “The jury would have been perfectly justified in finding the prisoner guilty of murder.

“The sentence would be imprisonment with hard labour for four years.”

Ah Kin spent less than three years behind bars, and was discharged from prison on May 11, 1906.

The teenager’s death only added to the friction between those of European and Asian heritage in Waterloo.

The Sydney Truth reported on Sunday November 19 1911:

Pong’s Pitchfork

A cowardly assault upon a Chow was committed in Botany-road, Alexandria, on November 4, particulars of which were given in the Redfern Police Court on Tuesday, Magistrate King presiding. George Austin was proceeded against on a charge of assaulting Ah Yen on the date mentioned. Austin counter-charged the Chinaman with assaulting him on November 4. Mr. Carroll appeared for the Oriental, and Mr. L. Gannon for Austin. Senior-constable Whitehair said that on the morning of the 4th he went to a furniture shop in Buckland-street, where he saw Ah Yen lying down. Blood was flowing from a wound in his head. As a result of what he told him, he arrested Austin, who told witness that the Chinaman threw a stone at him and hit him, and also chased him with a pitchfork and threw it at him. Ah Yen said that he was a market gardener, and lived in King-street, North Botany. On this day he was driving along the road with a load of manure, and when he was in front of the Cauliflower Hotel the accused and several other young fellows commenced to call out to him and frightened his horse. He told them not to scare his horse, and suddenly the accused threw a stone at him, hitting him on the head and making it bleed. He got off the cart, and all the young men collected around him. Fearing violence he grabbed his pitchfork. He chased Austin and caught him, but one of his countrymen told him to leave him go, and he did so. Woy Yick, a member of the Church of Christ, and Sow Poy, a polisher, gave evidence in support, after which Austin was fined £3 and £6 2s costs, in default, a month’s imprisonment. The case against the Chinaman was dismissed.

There’s little doubt that the Cauliflower wasn’t a pub for the faint hearted, with the bar frequented by the many gangs that were notoriously feared around Redfern, Waterloo and Alexandria areas at the time. Known as The Push, the gangs weapons of choice were razors or knives and were feared around their various haunts. Fights were common, especially in the public bar of the Cauliflower and its surrounding streets. The Evening News reported on Friday October 9 1908:


A laborer named James Brown, 27, was fined £5, or two months’ gaol, at Redfern Police Court, for assaulting Thomas Cummins at Waterloo on September 30. Cummins, an employee at the Cauliflower Hotel, Botany-road, Waterloo, said that Brown was in the hotel, creating a disturbance, and was told by him to go out. Accused would not leave, and when Cummins remarked that he would get someone to eject him offered witness his hand, and while holding hands he hit witness a severe blow on the nose with the other hand. His nose was broken.

The result of scuffles in the bar of the Cauliflower proved much more fatal at times. A Coroner held an inquest into the death of Thomas Moran, 27, at the pub in December 1913. John Anson, who gave himself up to the police, was present in custody during the hearing.

Evidence was given that both men were in the bar of the Cauliflower when Moran called Anson an obscene name. A fight followed but the men were separated.

The disturbance spilled outside onto the street when Moran fell heavily striking his head on the footpath.

Cauliflower Hotel 1949
Cauliflower Hotel, Waterloo, 1949. Picture: Australian National University, Noel Butlin Archives.

The Government medical officer found that death was due to cerebral hemorrhage. Although the Coroner found that Moran died from injuries received through falling after being struck by Anson in self defence, he warned the victor to give up the drink, as he had left himself open to a probable charge of murder.

From 1927 the pub was tied to the Toohey’s Brewery, and sold that company’s products until 1934. The year 1927 was also when Joseph Catto took the reins. A couple of months after he took the license, Catto got a taste of the toughness of the working class pub. The Lismore Northern Star reported on Wednesday December 28 1927:


SYDNEY, Tuesday. Just after the Cauliflower Hotel at Waterloo had closed on Saturday night a man named Ernest Hudson is alleged to have demanded to be readmitted. When the licensee, Joseph Catto refused his request Hudson, it is said, started to kick down the door. Catto apprehending violence to himself fired a shot in Hudson’s direction and the bullet penetrated the fleshy part of Hudson’s leg. He was taken to hospital, and after treatment was arrested on a charge of drunkenness.

Jim McCoy was licensee when Tooths Brewery took over the head lease of the Cauliflower from Tooheys Brewery in 1934. McCoy, 56, and his wife Bridget, became hosts of the Waterloo pub two years earlier in 1932. He was also the publican when the Rolfe Family Trust decided to sell after almost 90 years the freehold of the Cauliflower to Tooth and Company. Tooths purchased the freehold from the family for £22,800 on November 21 1949.

The Rolfe family’s ownership of the Cauliflower must be one of the longest for a pub in Sydney. The hotel was described at the time as a two storey brick building, with a slate roof, cantilever awning, containing a ground floor public bar, front parlour, lavatory, and a small dining room and kitche. The second floor contained a lounge room, six bedrooms, bathroom and rear balcony. There was a detached brick storeroom, lavatory and weatherboard garage.

Jim McCoy continued as host of the pub after Tooth’s ownership. The Sydney Sun reported on February 3 1946:

cauliflower jim mccoy right
Mr. Jim McCoy (right), mine host of the Cauliflower Hotel, Botany-road, Waterloo, welcomes Mr. Ray O’Brien and his horse. Mr. O’Brien sought accommodation for himself and the horse as provided for in the present NSW Liquor Act.



Move for new deal with beer

BETTER drinking conditions in hotels here have resulted already from published comparisons of Sydney and Melbourne. Customers in many hotels are being treated almost with civility, glasses in some cases are being washed and polished before second use, and publicans are finding once again their old customers. Strangely, too, in a city renowned for its heat, ice is once again making a reappearance in the bars. Only Sydney licensee who could be discovered yesterday willing to fulfil the licensing law requirement to find accommodation for a “man and his horse” mourned the lost art of drinking in the modern beer rush. “Swilling” deprecated He is Mr. Jim McCoy, of the Cauliflower Hotel, Botany-road, Waterloo. He said: “I think we are losing some of the old-style customer contact. “Unhappily the personal contact between the innkeeper and the customer is dwindling, being replaced by a system where a bunch of people are content to swill all the drink they can get and then rush from one hotel to another.” Mr. McCoy said he had sold all his supplies to the public through the war, had never indulged in black marketing practices, and had the respect of the men in the neighbourhood. Mr. Roy O’Brien, who set out to find accommodation for himself and his horse, searched for a long time before he found Mr. McCoy. Earlier attempts to find accommodation for the horse in many Sydney hotels met with failure. Most hotelkeepers agreed that they were bound by the Act, but said that when their hotels were built, no provision was made for stables or hostlers. Despite the promise of 25 per cent extra beer supplies for February, hotelkeepers claim they will still be short to supply the extraordinary demand, due to excessive heat. Wine and spirit merchants reported yesterday that increased quantities of gin could be expected in bottle departments as bottle supplies, held up through the strike, became more plentiful. Other lines which should be easy to get soon include rum and brandy.

Jim McCoy remained as licensee at the Cauliflower until his death at the age of 68 in 1953. After his death, his son, George took the reins until 1960.

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Cauliflower Hotel, Waterloo, 1960. Picture: Australian National University, Noel Butlin Archives.

Tooth and Company sold the freehold of the hotel in 1976 to Thomas Peter Burke for $175,000.

cauliflower hotel 1970
Cauliflower Hotel, Waterloo, 1970. Picture: Australian national University, Noel Butlin Archives.

Today, the Cauliflower remains a working class, traditional style pub, catering to the Waterloo community by offering live entertainment, affordable dining, and, of course, good valued, refreshing amber fluid.

When Time Gents visited the Cauliflower on a Sunday afternoon, a band was entertaining patrons, as drinkers sat on the footpath outside, enjoying the afternoon sun.

Although the decour of the Cauliflower has a lot to be desired, this old pub has a friendly, welcoming feel that caters well for its patrons. This pub is a real treasure from Sydney’s past.

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The Cauliflower Hotel, Waterloo, 2017. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Cauliflower Hotel, Waterloo

Publicans 1862-1979

1862 – 1900: George Rolfe

1900 – 1906: George Rolfe Jnr

1906 – 1906: Philip Lowry

1906 – 1920: Mary Jane Rolfe

1920 – 1921: Walter Page

1921 – 1921: John Layfield

1921 – 1922: Percival Smallcombe

1922 – 1923: Carl Haertel

1923 – 1924: Patrick O’Halloran

1924 – 1925: Edward English

1925 – 1927: Myles Duggan

1927 – 1927: James Arthur Morris

1927 – 1930: Joseph Noel Catto

1930 – 1932: James Barnes

1932 – 1953: James Herbert McCoy

November 21, 1949: Tooths and Company purchased freehold from the Rolfe Family Trust.

1953 – 1960: George Roy Herbert McCoy 

1960- 1962: Owen Henry Daley (died 1962)

1962 – 1969: Kathleen Mary Daley

1969 – 1969: Harry Herbert Mainwearing

1969 – 1971: Kevin Patrick Ryan

1971 – 1972: Alfred Henry Bath

1972 – 1979: Thomas Peter Burke

1976: Hotel Freehold Sold by Tooth and Company to Thomas Peter Burke.

1979 – Francis Charles Fahey

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2017

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Categories: Australian Hotels, NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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4 replies

  1. My great great grandfather was George Rolfe. His daughter, Martha (Rolfe) Pugsley was my great grandmother. James Pugsley my great grandfather. Their daughter, Adelaide, was my nan.

  2. Back in the late 60′ i was an apprentice painter working with my father, re-painting the outside of the Cauliflower. I was given the job of re-doing the cauliflower, spade and rake motif that was painted on the wall., my one and only claim to fame back then. 😉


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