St Leonards Inn: A South Australian pub hosted by a family for almost a century

st leonards inn SA 1934
The St Leonards Inn, St Leonards (Glenelg) 1934. Picture: Supplied

AFTER an unbroken record of close to 90 years the licence of the St Leonards Inn, in the South Australian bayside town of Glenelg, finally left the McDonald family on September 11 1933.

The pub had been handed down among the McDonald clan for nearly a century and was one of the first publicans’ licences granted in South Australia.

The pub was established by John McDonald in 1848. The last family member to operate the pub was Don Gilmore, a nephew of the daughter of John McDonald, in 1933.

The pub was sadly demolished about 1965, and replaced with a car park. A new sprawling pub was built to the rear of the site and today continues trading under the name of the Watermark on Anzac Highway at Glenelg North.

The following history of the pub was published in the Adelaide Mail on Saturday, June 11, 1927:


One Line of Publicans Historic St. Leonards Inn

To be owned and conducted by one family for nearly 79 years is the record of St Leonards Inn, St Leonards (Glenelg SA).

John McDonald, a pioneer who came to South Australia in 1839, established the St Leonards Inn in 1848, and the hotel has remained in possession of the McDonald family ever since. Today Miss H. McDonald, a daughter of the original owner of the inn, is the licensee, and the following list of licensees shows how tight a grip the McDonald family has kept on the historic public house :-

1848-1884 – John McDonald.

1884-1902 – Mrs. John McDonald (wife of original licensee).

1902-1927 – Miss Harriet McDonald (daughter of original licensee).

st leonards inn st leonards sa 1848 2
St Leonards Inn, St Leonards 1848

John McDonald came from Glasgow to South Australia in 1839, and, still preserved at the St Leonards Inn, is the original licence which gave him power on December 11, 1848, to become host of that hotel. As with most official documents issued in the early days of the State, it has its humors.

The licence says that by it John McDonald is empowered to keep an inn or public house in the village of Glenelg, the name or sign to be the St Leonards Inn.

The licence then gives in detail the liquors the licensee had a right to sell, and specifies such beverages as ale, beer, and other malt liquors, wine, cider, ginger beer, spruce beer, brandy, gin, rum, whisky, cordials, and other spiritous and fermented liquors.

Significantly enough the licence is signed by the Collector of Internal Revenue.


John McDonald came from hardy stock, and 79 years after he opened the St Leonards Inn three of his daughters are still living upon the premises. Their names and ages are:-

  • Mrs. J. Gilmore, 80
  • Miss A. McDonald, 75
  • Miss H. McDonald, 69

Though the original building built by John McDonald in 1848 has been added to and altered, it is still retained as part of the present building.

In and around the hotel there are many things reminiscent of the early days when St Leonards Inn was a typical old English hostelry.

John McDonald was the first man to run coaches from Glenelg to Adelaide, and up to a year or two ago the inn had a cobbled stable yard, which in the old days rang from the impact of iron-shed hoofs of horses, and the shouts and greetings of ostlers, drivers, and passengers, even as if it were some old English inn be-loved of Dickens. Preserved at St Leonards Inn is an old iron contrivance with which John McDonald used to stamp out the tickets issued to passengers on his coaches.


Rooms with fireplaces and rooms with sunken floors breathe the spirit of the old time inn and the present dining room at St Leonard’s Inn, once housed the beauty and chivalry of the province of South Australia.

Close by St Leonards inn, Government Cottage, the home of the early Governors of the State, was situated, and often the big room at the inn was commissioned for a ball or other festivity. An old-time inn would not be such with out stables, and that accommodation at St Leonards Inn was famous in other days.

Old-time horse trainers, such as Walter Hickenbotham, Jack Davis, and others, quartered gallant , thoroughbreds there. Famous horses which have snuffled in St Leonards Inn looseboxes were Mora, Bluecap, Step Out, Sport Royal, Stagelight, and Yeneda.

St Leonards Inn, today, however, with all its old associations, is much more of a modern hotel than it is an old-time inn.

Mr. J. D. Gilmore, who manages the hotel for his aunt, and her sisters, indicated this when he was asked if the old stables were still used. “Yes,” he said, “significantly, as motor garages.”

st leonards inn today
The Watermark, Anzac Highway, Glenelg North. Picture: Google

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Categories: Adelaide hotels, South Australia Hotels

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1 reply

  1. My Great grandmother Sister and Husband ( Rose and Herbert Rodgers) together with their son Herbert Keith Rodgers and Alexander Stewart Beattie (Beattie is my fathers great Aunty) owner the St Leonards from 1934-37

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