Early taverns of South Australia


white horse inn SA

The White Horse Inn, which has disappeared under the encroaching spread of commercial buildings.

THE historic South Australian Hotel will soon undergo changes which will convert the old-world Adelaide landmark into one of the most modern style hotels, modelled on London and Continental lines.

The management changed hands recently, and one of the last links with the “South’s” glamorous past was severed with the huge sale of its furniture, some of which had been there since the building had been converted from a bank into an hotel in 1879.

This change-over recalls many other changes which have been made in some of the State’s best-known hotels. At the time they occurred these alterations occasioned much discussion and not a little heartburning among habitues, but even a favorite hotel is forgotten in the steady march of progress and modernisation. The South Australian itself has rather a chequered history. The earliest record of a sale of the site of land it now stands on was in December 23, 1837 – the year after the foundation of the State. Five years later it was sold again for £2,000 “in lawful British money,” and in 1874 it was registered under the Real Property Act by the Bank of South Australia.

old globe sa

THE OLD GLOBE HOTEL, situated where Myer Emporium now stands.

The next mention of a sale in the Lands Title Office is on May 13, 1878 to H. H. Turton and N. R. Knox, who are believed to have paid £18,000 for it on behalf of the North Terrace Land Co. It was about this time that the project of erecting an hotel on the land received consideration. Henry Jame Trew, a publican who had the Globe Hotel, took a lease of the property for 15 years. Two years later two brewers, William Chambers and Frederick James Blades, came on the scene and purchased the freehold for £28,500. The hotel was then only a single story, and far from the commodious place it is today. The next purchaser was Joseph Bartlett Davies. He sold to George Flecker, who held the fee simple at the time of his death in February, 1919. The next year the freehold was bought by the Newcastle Co., Ltd. — a private company formed by prominent South Australian pastoralists — for £32,500, and is still held by them. The lease of the hotel has passed through several hands.

beer mugs small

IN the records of the Archives Department one can find many side lights on Adelaide hotels which date back much further than the South Australian Hotel, however. It appears from them that no sooner had the colony been proclaimed than the hotel question – or more particularly the sly grog question – caused the authorities much concern. Drunkenness was a frequent subject of complaint in the very early days. The marines from the Buffalo were great offenders in this respect, and an early record tells that when a guard of them was placed over Government stores on a certain occasion they were so drunk that instead of preventing the stealing of the precious supplies they called on the on-lookers to help themselves. In his first charge to the Grand Jury in England, Judge Jeffcott said that drunkenness prevailed to an alarming extent in the colony. It was said that men would often work only two or three days a week, and then go “on the spree”.

sa pub

The York Hotel, which was replaced for the fashionable Grand Central, and later by the premises of Foy & Gibson.

Laborers often stipulated that a certain amount of rum should be supplied to them daily before they would undertake any work. This extract from the “South Australian” of January 9, 1839, under the heading of “Advantages of Temperance,” gives an idea of the state of affairs:- “Whilst nearly every vessel that has visited the colony has lost most if not all of her hands, the Bengalee (Capt. Hamlin) discharged her outward cargo, and remained here for nearly two weeks without losing a man. This is an example well worth popular notice.”


stag inn Adelaide SA

The Stag Inn, Rundle street east, in the good old days.

The greatest curse in the colony are the numerous low grog shops that have sprung up about the town and the port, and which are the means of seducing sailors from their duty. It is better to prevent, however, than to cure, and we wish we could announce that some of our colonial craft would follow the excellent example of the Bengalee and sail upon strict temperance principles. More than a year before this appeared in print, a South Australian Temperance Society came into being, but little mention of its doings is to be found among early records. In 1853 the police began a rigorous campaign against sly grogging. Instructions were given for members of the small force to report on the conduct of hotels, and this order produced statements of which the following (leaving out the names of the different hotels) are typical:- “Bar open at midnight. Full of immoral women and other bad characters. Bar lighted and pitched battle at back of premises.” “Bar open at 12½ a.m. Three fights took place in bar within half an hour. House full of very disorderly characters!”

beer mugs small

FIRST licences were granted in 1837, but in that year the “hotels,”” if one could call them such, did not even boast a name except that of their boniface. George Guthrie, who was vouched for by Whiteman Freeman and Cornelius Birdseye, took out the first licence that year, and six other hotels were also established in the new colony. Today there are about 600.

The first record kept of names of hotels was on March 25, 1840, and of the 70 odd which had then sprung into existence at least 13 still stand on the same site and under the same name. These are the Halfway House, on the road to Port Adelaide; Queen’s Head, Kermode street; Queen’s Arms, Wright street; Victoria Hotel, Hindley street; Sportsmans’ Hotel, Wright street; Angel Inn, Franklin street; Port Hotel, Port Adelaide; Royal Oak, Hindley street; British Tavern, Finniss street; Edinburgh Castle, Currie street, and the Royal Admiral, Hindley street. The most important hotel in the State in 1838 was the Southern Cross, a wooden building in Currie street, nearly opposite Gilles Arcade, and next to the Supreme Court and Treasury, from which institutions it derived most of its clientele.


If you would like to support my work, you can leave a small ‘bar tip’ here of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.


The St. Leonards Inn, St. Leonards, has a unique history among South Australian hotels. It has been owned and conducted by the one family for more than 85 years. John McDonald, a pioneer who came to Australia in 1839, established the hotel in 1848, and until last year Miss H. McDonald, a daughter of the original owner, was still the licensee. The following list of licensees shows how tight a grip has been kept on the historical building by the McDonald family:— 1848-1884, John McDonald; 1884-1902, Mrs. John McDonald (wife of original licensee); 1902-1933, Miss Harriett McDonald (daughter of John McDonald), 1933 1934, Mr. Donald Gillmore (nephew of Miss Harriet McDonald, who has leased the hotel to Mr. H. G. Rogers). Though the original building erected in 1848 has been added to, it is still retained as part of the present building. Rooms with fireplaces and sunken floors breathe the spirit of the old-time inn, which once housed the beauty and chivalry of South Australia.

beer mugs small

MANY of the old-time hotels of Adelaide have disappeared completely or been renamed. There was the Phoenix, which became the Provincial, and then Mafeking Hero, in commemoration of the siege and relief in the South African war. It was situated at the corner of Hindley and Clarendon streets, but was demolished nearly 20 years ago. Where the premises of Newton, McLaren Ltd. now stand in Leigh street was the Black Horse Hotel in years gone by. The White Horse has also disappeared under the encroaching spread of commercial buildings. This site in Currie street is now occupied by the offices of Elders’ Trustee and Executor Co., Ltd.

From a place for the sale of liquor the site formerly occupied by the Hotel Europe has been diverted to religious and temperance activities. It was on the corner of Grenfell street and Gawler place, where the Young Mens’ Christian Association building now stands. Expansion by large drapery firms resulted in three well-known Rundle street hotels vanishing. James Marshall & Co. (now the Myer Emporium) took over the Globe, once a famous resort for the sporting fraternity of Adelaide. When Foy & Gibson built their premises in Pulteney street the old York Hotel, at one time the most fashionable in Adelaide, became the Grand Central, but this, too, has gone out of existence with the growth of business. John Martin and Co. acquired what was formerly the King of Hanover when extensions became necessary. The name of this hotel had been changed during the war because of the prejudice against German nomenclature. This applies also to the Hamburg, now the Oriental

plough harrow sa

THE PLOUGH AND HARROW, with its commodious stables, was once the leading city hotel for country folk. The Hotel Richmond stands there to day.

Among country people visiting Adelaide the Plough and Harrow, with its commodious stables at the rear, was once the most popular “home from home” in the city. Livery stables are now a thing of the past, however, and the Plough and Harrow has developed into the ornate Hotel Richmond, one of the most modern hostelries in the capital.

beer mugs small

HOW many people can remember where the Dolphin, which created a certain fame when one publican started selling beer at 2d a pint instead of the usual 4d in those days, was situated? It was on the southern side of Rundle street, between the Arcade and Pulteney street, but like many other famous old, taverns it has disappeared. South Australia once possessed a haunted hotel — the Fountain Inn, at Encounter Bay. This was a favorite gambling place of the whalers from surrounding districts until mysterious sounds in the night drove each succeeding family from its walls. In the old days, between 1880 and 1890, no! superstitious whaler would see the old Fountain Inn sign without crossing himself fervently. There has been little originality in the naming of South Australian hotels. There are few public houses] so startlingly named as hundreds found scattered over England, enjoying the titles of the Three Nuns, Bald-faced Stag, Pig and Whistle, and Old Bull and Bush, or as so picturesquely i described as Barley Mow, which diggers will remember near Horseferry road.

This State has a few hotels with striking names, such as the Elephant and Castle, Saracen’s Head, Crown and Anchor, Crown and Sceptre, Star and Garter, Maid and Magpie, and so on. Most of these are named after English houses, some of which have been immortalised by Charles Dickens, who had a wide knowledge of out-of-way inns in the London of his day. 

– The Mail (Adelaide, SA) Saturday 14 July 1934


If you would like to support my work, you can leave a small ‘bar tip’ here of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.


Categories: Adelaide hotels, South Australia Hotels

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

What's Your Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.