The resurrection of a city pub: The Belvedere Hotel, Sydney


Belvedere Hotel, Sydney, 2018. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Belvedere Hotel Sept 1930

Belvedere Hotel, Sydney 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.


SOME pubs just refuse to die. The Belvedere Hotel at the corner of Kent and Bathurst Street in Sydney’s CBD returned from the dead after closing in the 1970s, and having its license transferred to Flemington.

Most thought that would sound the end for the historic pub. Not so. Over 30 years later the Belvedere would re-open under the same name, continuing to offer hospitality, geared more to suits than singlets, on a corner that has supported a pub since 1853.

The pub came about when John Walmsley Roberts was granted a license at the nearby corner of Hunter and Phillip streets in May 1853. However, for an unknown reason, he never opened that pub and instead in July attempted to transfer its license to the corner of Kent and Bathurst Street.

Police objected on the ground that Roberts had not yet commenced business in the Hunter and Phillip Street pub.

The Court chairman advised him that permission could not be granted to remove a license from one premises to another unless business had commenced in the first pub.

The chairman advised Roberts to withdraw the license application, “go home, get a bottle or two of grog, and sell it. That would be a commencement of business”, and he could return on Monday to make a fresh application.

Roberts took the advice, and returned the following week to get his license.

By the end of the year, Jane Coulston was licensee, and the name of the pub was changed to the Wollongong Hotel.

Coulston, a widow, had previously hosted with her late husband Samuel, the Wollongong Hotel on the NSW South Coast before opening a pub by the same name in Sydney.

While Coulston had a short stay at Roberts’ new pub, the name would stick, and it traded under the “Wollongong” sign for the following 30 years.

Three different pub buildings have traded at the corner of Kent and Bathurst since 1853. The first pub, The Wollongong, became the favoured drinking establishment of the working class of Sydney, as well as attracting a few shady characters to its bar. The Empire reported in August 1858 that George Cummins was sentenced to four months behind bars, with hard labour, for assaulting and robbing Anne Marshall at the pub.

Mrs Marshall had been out shopping at the markets, and was on her way home on Saturday evening when between nine and 10pm, she went with another woman into the Wollongong Hotel for a glass of ale. She took out her purse, paid for the liquor, and was leaving when she felt a tug at her dress. Turning, she caught Cummins’ hand in her pocket.

The would-be pick pocket, was later caught after he grabbed her by the wrist, twisted her arm, and ran off. Her purse had contained a half-sovereign and about three shillings and nine pence in silver.

The landlady of the Wollongong Hotel had a lucky escape from serious injury when she entered the bar with a candle after closing one night in May 1867.

An explosion rocked the little pub when a screw in one of the gas taps in the bar dropped out after closing one night, and the gas continued to escape unnoticed from a little past midnight until 2am.

Mrs Aikenhead, the landlady, had some reason for going to the bar, and carried with her a lighted candle. On opening the bar door the gas ignited suddenly, like a blast of gunpowder, but fortunately without doing any damage beyond frightening the hostess, and her servant, nearly out of their wits.

Another pick-pocket incident occurred at the Wollongong Hotel in June 1880 when John Fitzgerald was caught stealing £1 4s from Thomas Campbell’s pocket. He was later arrest and charged.

The second pub on the corner of Bathurst and Kent Street replaced the Wollongong Hotel in 1882.

During the rebuilding of the old Wollongong Hotel in 1882, 34-year-old Rodriguez Silva was killed from injuries he received from a crane he was using in lifting masonry.

The Portuguese immigrant was in the foundation trench, in the act of setting a stone weighing about 6.5 tonnes when the crane toppled and fell onto him, killing him instantly.

The new hotel was completed by the end of the year, and given the name “Belvedere Hotel”. Less than 30 years later the second hotel on the corner was demolished and replaced with the current two storey brick structure in the site today.

Belvedere Hotel Sydney Dec 1939 ANU

Belvedere Hotel, Sydney 1939. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Belvedere Hotel Sydney 1949 ANU

Belvedere Hotel, Sydney 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The new Belvedere Hotel, which trades today at the corner of Kent and Bathurst Streets, was designed by architects, Messrs. Spain, Cosh, and Minnett, and was built by Mr. C. Stewart for owner John Walter Smart, a Sydney magistrate who lived at Surry House, Moore Park. 

After the death of Smarts’ widow Mary Jane Smart at the age of 85 in 1916, the pub was bequeathed to her nephew, well-known solicitor, William Perry McElhone. McElhone owned the pub until it was sold to Glebe Administration Board in 1972. The last publican of the Belvedere Hotel before the pub closed on August 19 1972 and the license transferred to Parramatta Road, Flemington, was Raymond Murgatroyd.

Belvedere Hotel Sydney 1970 ANU

Belvedere Hotel, Sydney 1970, shortly before its closure in 1972. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The old pub was used as an office building for the Australian Board of Missions for a number of years before it re-opened as the Belvedere. After more than 37 dry years J&J O’Brien Hoteliers Group, behind such Sydney venues as The Marlborough Hotel, The Watershed Hotel and Jacksons on George, re-opened in October 2009.

The Belvedere Hotel spreads over three levels in the heart of Sydney’s CDB with a ground floor public bar an opulent first floor cocktail bar complete with antique Louis Chairs and velvet chaise lounges with the second floor offering an outdoor terrace.

The Belvedere’s philosophy “is to provide customers with the best quality food and beverages in a beautifully appointed intimate setting.”

Some pubs are just meant to be.

© Copyright 2018 Mick Roberts

Belvedere Hotel, Sydney, 2018. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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