How karma played a role in the history of the Kogarah Hotel

The former Kogarah Hotel, now a Buddhist temple. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.
Edmond English Kogarah Pioneer 1818-1912
Edmond English built the Kogarah Hotel in 1879. Picture: Supplied.


THE Asian belief of Karma – a spiritual notion where intent and actions influence the future – played an interesting role in the story of a pub in Sydney’s south.

The Kogarah Hotel, at the southern corner of the Prince’s Highway and English Street, was the venue for a meeting of the Anti-Chinese League in 1888.

The meeting established a branch of the League, a lobby organisation formed to protest against Chinese immigration. The meeting conjured up enough interest for a branch to be established at the Kogarah pub, where the group held regular meetings. Ironically, the old pub, where once the members boasted of how they turfed the Chinese from the Newtown Markets, would in its distant future become home to a Buddhist monastic order.  Today, the former pub is the headquarters of the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple, founded in China.

The Kogarah Hotel traded for less than 40 years, before its taps ran dry in 1916.

The hotel was built by Irishman Edmond English in 1879 to take advantage of the traffic travelling the Main South Coast Road, before the opening of the Illawarra Railway.

The teams made Kogarah a resting place for the night, and, to take advantage of the passing trade, 61-year-old Edmond built the hotel, putting his 29-year-old son, James in charge.

Kogarah was a busy district for the overlanders, and the pub, lying along the road, became a popular meeting place between Sydney and the South Coast.

Edmond had fled his homeland after his father’s part in the 1878 Irish Rebellion, an uprising against British rule. His father had led the rebels through the town of Tipperary, and was sought by the authorities; but through marrying into a Protestant family, and because of the influence they possessed with the Government, he was never arrested.

The threat from authorities persisted though, and a young Edmond, who worked as a foreman on the railways, married Elizabeth Gavin, before they fled to Sydney to start a new life in 1850.

Soon after their arrival in Sydney, Edmond headed to the goldfields of Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Turon. In his early 30s, he left his young wife and boy in Sydney, and walked the 350km to the Turon River goldfields, north-west of Bathurst.  Interviewed in a Sydney newspaper in 1911, he recalled: “I walked from Sydney to the Turon diggings and back. Indeed I walked the distance twice, for I returned to see that my wife was well.”

The Irish adventurer was successful on the goldfields, and returned to Sydney wealthy, purchasing a farm at Kogarah, consisting of 87 acres, for £400 in 1854, where he started farming.

English Family Kogarah 1890
The English family on the occasion of Edmond’s 90th birthday. Edmond is pictured fifth from the left, second row, with his son, Jim, who hosted the Kogarah Hotel to the right (sixth from left). Picture: Supplied.

In Edmond’s 1911 interview he recalled: “I started the first market garden, but you will understand that I had first to clear the ground and put up a house. The present house, with some additions, was built of locally obtained stone, and I may say that practically I built it myself… Railways were not even thought of along the southern suburbs, and unless you got a lift in a team or a gig, there was no way of getting into the city but on shank’s pony.”

Also worth mentioning in his 1911 interview, is a recollection of the infamous fight between Laurence ‘Larry’ Foley, the undefeated champion Australian middleweight boxer, and Sandy Ross.

On March 18, 1871 Foley fought Ross over 71 rounds before police intervened. Edmond said that a “great supper” was given at his Kogarah house the night after the encounter: “The police were out looking for them,” he said, “for pugilism was against the law then, but one eye must have been shut, for they could see where the crowd was round Frog Hollow (near Como Bridge) where the fight took place. The police were across the river, and remained there. It was a great time!”

Edmond can also be credited with founding the home ground of arguably Australia’s most successful rugby league club, the St George Dragons.

The Kogarah Hotel sat on 40 acres of land, and to the immediate south-west, he built recreation grounds in the mid 1880s, which became popular with pigeon shooters. Known as the Kogarah Grounds, the venue also became popular with local football and cricket clubs. Later it would be the home ground of the legendary St George, Dragons. It officially was known as Kogarah Park when acquired by the Department of Lands in 1896 and dedicated a public park.

Control of the park was eventually passed to the Council of the Municipality of Kogarah in 1906. It’s now known as Jubilee Oval.

The ground hosted its first game of rugby league in March 1936 when the St George Dragons were defeated by the Newtown Bluebags in an exhibition match. The Dragon’s first official game was played on the ground on April 22 1950 in which the Dragons lost 17-15 to South Sydney.

Just four years before the Kogarah Railway Station opened, a publican’s license was granted for the Kogarah Hotel in June 1880. At the age of 29, Edmund’s son, Jim took the reins of the newly completed hotel, and he remained host for over a decade.

Trade at the pub continued steady after the opening of the Illawarra railway in 1884, with an extra six rooms added to the building in 1889.

The end of the wayside hotel came with the NSW Government’s Local Option Poll in 1914. The vote across the state to determine the amount of licensed premises in electorates meant that two hotels were to close in the seat of Kogarah within three years.

As a result, the Kogarah Hotel and nearby Yowie Bay Hotel were forced to shut in 1916.

Edmond – a widower after the loss of his wife Elizabeth in 1892 – never witnessed the demise of his pub, and died on July 24 1912 at the age of 94. His son Jim, who had retired from the bar of the Kogarah Hotel in 1891, died on October 26 1922 at the age of 71, leaving a wife and large family.

Today their landmark wayside hotel survives, unlicensed, on the Princes Highway beside the hallowed turf of Jubilee Oval at Kogarah, a testimony to a pioneering family.

First published 2018. Updated 2022.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2022

The former Kogarah Hotel, Princes Highway, Kogarah, 2018. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

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2 replies

  1. Hi Mick, Great article.

    I note with interest the role the English’s Kogarah Hotel played in establishing a branch of the Anti-Chinese League.

    In Chapter 8 of D.J. Hatton’s “The English Family of Kogarah (A History of Kogarah 1854-1912)” it states: “With the taking over of the market gardens by Chinese, the English family again played a role. The Chinese regularly went back to China to visit their families and before they left they had to have a certificate about their residence in Australia. This certificate the English family were happy to give, and in return they were recipients of jars of ginger on the arrival of the Chinese back to Australia”.

    I am just curious about the apparent contradiction.


    Warm Regards,
    Geoff English (Great, great grandson of Edmond English).

  2. I can’t see a contradiction, Geoff. The fact that a branch of the anti-Chinese League was formed in the pub doesn’t mean that Edmond English was in support. At the end of the day, business was business… The League would have hired the pub’s assembly room for the meeting (and more than likely sunk quite a few ales as well).

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