The Assembly Hotel, at the corner of Hunter and Phillip Streets, Sydney, was famous for its teetotalling cockatoo in the 1940s. Smith, as he was known, was said to be a religious cocky, and always bowed its head when the licensee played hymns.
The Assembly Hotel was established in April 1876 and traded on the site for over 85 years before its closure and eventual demolition. However, the story of selling liquor from the site goes back a lot further to when Jane Muckle operated a sly-grog shop at the corner.
A storekeeper, Mrs Muckle sold grog from the corner from at least 1825. The Australian reported on September 15, 1825 that she was charged by Doctor Halloran, with keeping a disorderly house in Phillip street.
“The complainant stated that on Sunday night a number of soldiers and women entered the house during the hours of divine service, and had afterwards issued from it in a state of drunkenness, and had created considerable noise in the neighbourhood to the great annoyance of the inhabitants. He further stated that he had witnessed repeated acts of disorder and drunkenness in the house during the last three or four months. Several very respectable witnesses were called on behalf of the defendant, who spoke generally to the proper management of the house; and that it was conducted in a very exemplary manner.
Interestingly the case was dismissed when the magistrate found that Mrs Muckle did not have a liquor license, and therefore the Bench “had no authority”.
Later, in the 1830s, Richard Marr opened the Three Tuns Tavern at the corner, which later became Gannon’s Sportsmans Arms Hotel in the 1840s.
The pub had another sign change in the 1850s, when it was known as the Lord Nelson, before it was sold from the insolvent estate of publican, Henry Goodwin in 1860.
From 1860 it was used as a boarding house, before Sydney publican, Michael O’Neill leased the property and advertised for tenders to make additions and improvements to the old building in 1876. O’Neill had previously hosted the Corn Stalk Inn at King Street.
O’Neill and his wife, Bridget purchased the freehold of the property in 1883 and ran the pub for 21 years before their retirement in 1897.
To the O’Neills’ horror, 50-year-old Thomas Reidy, a stonemason, was found hanged in the backyard of the pub on May 2, 1885.
O’Neill was alerted by his wife that Reidy, an Irishman, was lying in the yard in a fit. The publican rushed into the yard, where he found Reidy standing, leaning forward with his feet resting on blocks of wood, and his back resting on the wall. At first the publican thought that Reidy was in a fit, and he went to lift him up, when he realised that he was suspended by a clothes line, which was round his neck, and was affixed to a beam.
Reidy was placed in a cab and taken to the Sydney Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The Assembly Hotel is probably best known for its part in the infamous 1916 Liverpool Soldiers Riot, which would lead to the ‘six o’clock swill’ and early closing of pubs throughout the state.
The riot started as a protest against camp conditions at Casula, and caught the military and many officials by surprise. The AIF recruits’ drunken behaviour became known as “Black Monday” and was condemned as unpatriotic and made NSW “the shame of Australia”.
The police were powerless to control the hundreds of soldiers, who raided city pubs for booze and generally vandalised the streets.
The drunken soldiers targeted businesses with German affiliations – such as Kleisdorff’s tobacco shop in Hunter Street and the German Club in Phillip Street. One section of the “mutinous soldiers” also rushed the bar of the Assembly Hotel, helping themselves to beer.
In the end the police called other military recruits from the Sydney Showgrounds to assist in bringing the soldiers under control.
The temperance movement demanded the closing of all bars until the war was over. The state government instead agreed to a referendum on early closing. The referendum, on June 10 1916, voted in favour of 6pm closing of pubs throughout the state – a supposedly temporary measure to reduce drunkenness during the war years that would endure for almost 40 years.
The Assembly Hotel, owned by H. M. Lawes, had extensive additions made to it in 1926 and in 1933 the building was completely demolished and replaced with new premises.
British Breweries, makers of the popular Richmond beer, gained a tie of the pub in 1940. It was during this time the pub became famous for its teetotalling cocky. The Sydney Sun reported on August 25, 1946:
PROUD BEAUTY SCORNS THE DEMON RUM
YOU can see Sydney’s only religious cockatoo any time in the saloon bar of the Assembly Hotel, Phillip-street. The cockatoo, called Smith, lives there, but he:
- Refuses alcohol of any kind, and cannot be tricked. He is shown turning his head away from a glass of beer.
- Has a vast but pure vocabulary.
- Bows his head to the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” (from an old-timer’s repertoire)
“Smith” is 11 years old, but has frequented bars only since Mrs. V. Smith, the licensee’s wife, got him six months ago.
Amazing to drinkers is the way Smith can preen his snowy feathers with supercilious calm amid the hubbub in the bar.
Old hands remember the Saturday-regular who struggled into the bar the day Smith arrived and ordered a middie. While lifting the glass, he became aware of beady eyes intently surveying him.
“Struth, how like the missus,” he muttered, despairingly.
The pub reverted to a Tooth’s tied house in April 1950 when Sydney businessman, David Foster Powell bought the pub.
Powell bought the freehold of the Assembly Hotel from H. M. Lawes for £80,000 in April 1950. Tooth’s lent him £75,000 of the money on condition the brewery had a ‘tie’ on the Assembly for the following 30 years.
Powell also owned of the freehold of the Kurrajong Hotel at Erskineville, as well as a car service, which at one time had 50 hire cars and taxis.
Powell was the last host of the Assembly Hotel. The pub closed for business in April 1961, and was later demolished. It’s license went into “the pool”, which later enabled the “new Wentworth Hotel” to open on December 12 1966.
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