White Horse effigy and the Box Hill pub

The replacement White Horse Hotel, Box Hill, C1933. This single storey hotel was built in 1895 to replace the original, two storey White Horse, constructed in 1852. Picture: State Library of Victoria


PATRICK Trainer built a coaching inn that would later become famous for a white timber horse that sat over the doorway of its public bar.

The White Horse Hotel, a two-storey brick building, was a change-over for coaches on the Corduroy Road from Melbourne to Lilydale. Built in 1852, the pub was located on the south east corner of Whitehorse and Elgar Roads in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill.

The original White Horse Hotel, Box Hill. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1895 and replaced with a brick single storey building. Picture: Melbourne Herald February 16, 1934.

The original hotel did not feature the timber effigy, and instead the pub’s sign was painted tin, featuring a horse carrying a jockey with a blue coat. In those days the road, which was named after the hotel, instead of vice versa, was used mainly by bullock teams, and there was a tollgate just outside the hotel.

The timber horse sculpture was added to the hotel by publican W. Graham, who commissioned an artist soon after he took the license in 1885.

Grandson of W. Graham, J. W. Needham of Kew related the following story of the pub’s history in the feature article, ‘Bygone Days’, published in the Melbourne Herald on February 16, 1934:

“The hotel was built in 1853 by Mr. P. Trainer, at a cost of six pence a brick. It was intended to call it the ‘Corduroy Road,’ but it was opened as the ‘White Horse’. The sign then was painted tin, and the horse carried a jockey with a blue coat. In those days the road, which was named after the hotel, instead of vice versa, was used mainly by bullock teams, and there was a tollgate just outside the hotel.

“My grandfather, Mr. W. Graham, bought the place from Mr. George Cockroft in 1883, and took possession in 1885, remaining until 1909. The hotel was only burnt once, in 1893 or 1894. Soon after taking over, Mr. Graham commissioned an artist to carve the ‘White Horse’ as a sign. I do not know the artist’s name, but he did some sculptures for the Melbourne Exhibition, and the statue was expensive. The hotel was sold to the late Pierce Cody just before it was delicensed in 1919, I think.”

Not even the flames of a disastrous fire, which in 1895 completely destroyed the pub, could end the White Horse’s fame. The Melbourne Argus reported on Tuesday, March 26, 1895:



About 4 o’clock yesterday morning a fire broke out at the While Horse Hotel, White Horse road, Box Hill. The local fire brigade was summoned, but no water main being available the work of extinguishing the flames had to he carried out with no better aid than was to be furnished by water tanks and waterholes in the neighbourhood.

As may be imagined, the firemen were seriously handicapped, and, though they laboured zealously, were unable to prevent the destruction of the hotel and the billiard-room attached. A few articles of furniture were saved. All the rest, including a billiard-table, were totally destroyed. Mr. W. Graham was the owner as well as the licensee of the hotel, and he had the building and the contents insured in the Victoria Company for £1,000 and £650 respectively.

After the fire was extinguished, there in the smouldering remains, sitting above the entrance doors to the bar, sat defiantly the white horse, reportedly without a single scratch or mark, seemingly ready to grace the facade of its replacement hotel.

The replacement White Horse Hotel, showing the carved horse in its new home above the bar doors, C1933. Picture: State Library of Victoria.

The hotel ceased trading after the 1921 Local Option Poll. The poll, which allowed residents a vote on reducing the number of licensed premises in their electorate, sounded the death knell for the historic pub.

In 1934, after the pub’s demolition, the ‘white horse’ again survived. This time it was placed on a grass verge, along with the pub’s front doors, on White Horse Road in the main shopping strip.

Later, in 1986 the historic horse was moved into the Box Hill Town Hall, and a replica was placed in its place on the road verge.

Houses were eventually built on the site of the hotel.

The timber horse after the hotel’s demolition, and the plan for the doors of the inn and the horse for the grass verge. Picture: Melbourne Herald February 14, 1934.
The replica ‘white horse’. Picture: Supplied

First published 2017. Updated 2022.

© Copyright, Mick Roberts 2022

The Muswellbrook Chronicle, Tuesday, August 1, 1933


When the White Horse Hotel was built at Box Hill (Vic.) in 1851, a wooden facsimile of a white steed was placed on top of the main entrance. The old building is being demolished, but the owner of the premises has presented the effigy to the Box Hill Municipal Council. It is to be freshly enamelled, and placed inside the council chambers.

Melbourne Argus, Saturday, July 15, 1933

White Horse Inn



The White Horse Inn, on the north-east corner of Elgar road and White horse road, just before entering the town of Box Hill, is about to be demolished.

The inn is a familiar sight to motorists, with its effigy of a white horse standing boldly over the porch. It lies nine miles from the city and in the old coaching days it was the first change for the stage horses on the run to Lilydale.

The original hotel was a two-storey brick building of 18 rooms with stabling accommodation for 30 horses.

There was no stone handy to the site and the bricks cost Patrick Trainer, the builder and first licensee £11,000. Today bricks could probably be delivered on the spot for less than a third of that price.

In addition to its importance as a changing place for the mail coach team, the White Horse was a popular place of call for visitors from Melbourne at the weekends. On the opposite side of the main road may still be seen the remains of the old hitching rail to which hacks and harness horses were made fast while their owners relaxed in the long, cool barroom. In those days there was no statutory radius of 20 miles within the meaning of the Licensing Act. Indeed, there was no such act, all licensing being in the hands of the local governing authorities.

The alteration of the first stage on the Lilydale trip from the White Horse Hotel to the Coach and Horses Hotel more than six miles farther on, near Ringwood was the first on the many vicissitudes through which the house passed. It was customary for the mail coach horses which brought the stage from the Albion Hotel in Bourke street which was about midway between Elizabeth street and Swanston street on the north side to be stabled at the White Horse on the arrival of the coach from Melbourne after their nine mile dash mostly uphill until later in the afternoon, when they replace the team which brought the coach from Lilydale on the return journey.

The most serious setback to the old place was the coming of the railway. In 1880 the line from Melbourne ran only to Hawthorn It was decided to extend it to Lilydale As soon as the Camberwell section was complete it was used, but the remainder of the line was not operated until the whole job had been completed On Friday, December 1, 1882, the first passenger train steamed into Box Hill. The train consisted of one coach divided into three and a half compartments – first non-smoking and first smoking, second non-smoking and second smoking. The half compartment was the second smoking, the guard being installed behind a partition in the other half. On the previous day, November 30, the coaches had run for the last time on the Lilydale route. The advent of the train to Box Hill was celebrated on the day following the opening of the line by a land sale, for which a special train was engaged. On its return journey to Melbourne the special train collided head-on with another train on the single track line between Hawthorn and the Yarra. The accident is known as the Hawthorn smash. One man was killed and more than 160 were injured.

The old White Horse Inn stood on a block of land 60 acres in area. On this estate was the Box Hill racecourse. The course might be distinguished by following a line of flags through the scrub. The judge’s box, set picturesquely in a small clearing, stood where the electric trains now thunder, less than 200 yards from the Box Hill platform. The last race on this course was run on Easter Saturday, 1883, and for the second time a special train was run. On this occasion it was augmented by one additional coach, of the dog-box variety, and two cattle-trucks. It was on the Box Hill racecourse that Bob Ramage, the rider of Carbine in his victorious Melbourne Cup in 1890, rode his first winner as a fully fledged jockey.

The original licensee, Patrick Trainor, did not retain possession of the hotel for many years. He sold to George Cockroft, a Yorkshireman, who conducted a butchery business in Box Hill. One of the early licensees after the original holder was William Byrne, who is now in his nineties, living at Tunstall. Then followed Moton Moss, a Jew, after whom came Thomas Burrows and James England. The last licensee of the hotel was Miss Amelia Holmquist who surrendered the licence after the Nunawading local option poll in 1920 when the district went “dry” on January 1, 1921. Miss Holmquist held the licence for five months only.

In 1898 the original building was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt as a single-storey structure almost immediately afterward. Although its business had declined as the result of the construction of the railway, which left the White Horse high, but not dry, it retained much of its attraction as the terminus of an equestrian pleasure jaunt from Melbourne, and it was widely known as one of the most popular road houses in the country near the city. Railway lines had encroached on a few of the stage coach runs, but the horse was still unchallenged on the roads. The steady subdivision of surrounding estates, with a corresponding increase in the population of the district, helped to re-establish the fortunes of the hotel, but gradually, as the horse gave way to the motor-car, custom diminished little by little and the former coach days became a shadow of the past.

The memory of the old inn will be perpetuated by the splendid highway beginning at Burke road and running to Lilydale. White Horse road was named after the hotel, and this arterial route will probably be the only remaining reminder of the original building. Elgar road also is associated with the White Horse Inn. A man named Elgar had procured from the Government by negotiation some 5,000 acres of grazing land extending from where Burke road now lies to Elgar road. Many titles of land lying in that area still bear the words “Elgar’s Special Crown Survey.” Land, in those days, could be purchased direct from the Government Trainor built his hotel on the corner of Elgar’s Estate.

When, within the next few weeks, the inn is demolished, and the familiar white horse disappears, six suburban dwellings will occupy the area.

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Categories: Victoria hotels

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1 reply

  1. There seems to be some conflicting information in the history of the hotel. Was it on the north east or south east corner of Whitehorse Road & Elgar Road?

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