THERE’S a modern looking pub trading at McMahon’s Point, North Sydney that gives no indication of its interesting connection with Colonial Sydney.
John Blue was granted a license for a two-storey sandstone inn on March 7 1854. He named his new pub after his father “Billy Blue”, better known to all as “The Old Commodore”.
An early pioneer of North Sydney, Billy Blue was a well-known identity in Colonial Sydney. He ran the punt between Dawson Point and Blue’s Point across Sydney Harbour.
Blue’s Point was named in his honour after he was given a grant of what is now a most populous and valuable part of North Sydney, lying between Lavender Bay and Berry’s Bay on the condition he run the ferry boat across the harbour.
The Old Commodore died at his home on the North Shore on May 5 1834 aged in his 90s. His son, John Blue was born at Circular Quay on July 4, 1815 and ran the Old Commodore Inn up until his death on August 21, 1891.
The Old Commodore Hotel was demolished in 1901 and a large two storey Victorian styled hotel with balcony and squat tower was constructed at the corner. That pub traded until the 1930s, when it lost its balcony and, like many pubs of the day, “modernised”.
The pub had another transformation in the 1970s when it was demolished and given a “tavern” license. That pub, the Commodore Hotel, remains trading on Blues Point Road, McMahon’s Point, a testimony to one of Sydney’s early pioneers.
Nick Bloom posted:
“Colin (who isn’t on Facebook) tells me: When they built the new pub, they started to call it ‘The Commodore’ instead of ‘The Old Commodore’, since the new owners thought the ‘old’ in the name related to the pub itself. They didn’t realise that ‘The Old Commodore’ was the nickname of Billy Blue, and not related to the age of the pub.
I grew up with stories of Billy Blue. Certainly one of the more interesting lives in local history.
He was a black New Yorker who went to the British side in the American War of Independence (as a number of others did at the time). He was pressed into naval service, ended up in England after the war and somehow got caught from some minor offence and convicted.
When he got transported to Australia, he became a bit of celebrity. On one hand black skinned people were a complete rarity (he was possibly the only one), and on the other to have service experience in the Royal Navy as well was doubly weird. Some official (legend has it that it was the governor) gave him an old naval jacket to honour his service. He wore it everywhere for the most of the rest of his life. The sight of an elderly black man getting around in a blue navy jacket led him to be known to everyone as The Old Commodore.
He was one of the very first settlers on the North Shore, and made a crust by rowing people back and forth across the harbour from his shack on Blue’s Point (named after him, obviously). His little ferry service lasted much longer than he would ever have imagined, morphing over time into a punt service for horses and carriages and eventually a larger punt service which could carry four cars. Operations continued from that same point right up until March 1932 when the new harbour bridge opened.
Drive down to Blues Point today, you’ll notice that the very end of the road is quite strange, with the road appearing to go off into the harbour and then a funny little fence forming two separate parking bays. This is the original berthing point for the car ferry, more or less unchanged, left over from before the bridge opened.
In addition to The Old Commodore Hotel, Blue’s Point and Blue’s Point Road, the street that North Sydney Station is on is also named after him (Blue Street), as is the North Shore’s largest hospitality school (William Blue College of Hospitality).
He was most probably the first ever American migrant to Australia (and possibly Australia’s first ever migrant of African ancestry too). The US Consulate in Sydney has a large oil painting of him hanging in their lobby (the Americans make a big deal of Billy Blue as “the first American migrant to Australia”, amusing considering he was actually on the British side in 1776!!).”