Theatrics, drama and drinking at colonial inn
By MICK ROBERTS ©
AMID the clanging of pewter mugs, narrating of bawdy poetry, raucous sing-a-longs, and of course, the ale induced bellowing of theatrical recitals, stood Sydney innkeeper, William ‘Bill’ Dind.
Dind was one of Sydney’s best known Colonial innkeepers. He was also one of Sydney’s most colourful theatre managers; although he’s occupation was arguably, first and foremost, host – a man who loved to entertain.
Dind’s Milson’s Point pub on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour was adorned with hundreds of photographs and images of actors, and celebrities of the day. The pub’s walls were filled with the images, said to be the largest collection of its type in the southern hemisphere.
At different times, Bill Dind had two pubs on Sydney’s North Shore at Milson’s Point. His first sat at the entrance of today’s North Sydney Olympic Pool, in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge’s granite pylon, while his second, traded further up the road. It was the pub further up the road that became a favourite with Sydney’s theatrical community.
The pub was the haunt of colonial entertainers and celebrities, actors and actresses, and legal and literary folk, who would gather to be “wined and dined” by their larger than life host.
This is the story of ‘Bill’ Dind, who first entered the hotel business at the age of 23 in Tasmania. He was one of 19 passengers who arrived in Hobart Town on May 23 1834 after a four month journey from London aboard the barque Duckenfield.
At 21, in a new developing colony, he had the world at his feet. The young Londoner wasted no time establishing himself in the colony. He married Eliza Rebecca Patterson in 1834, and they had a child, William Foster Jnr in 1836.
Dind gained the license of the Mitre Tavern at the corner of Argyle and Collins streets, Hobart, that same year, and embarked on his long career as a hotelier. He went on to host at least another two Hobart pubs, the Mogul Tavern (1838) and the Bricklayers’ Arms (1839) before embarking on a new adventure, in another colony.
The Tasmanian publican arrived in Sydney with his wife, Eliza and child, William Jnr, during the summer of 1840. He was granted the transfer of the license of the inn, Cornwallis Frigate in Pitt Street, Sydney on July 31.
The Cornwallis Frigate was one of Sydney’s oldest inns, established in about 1809 by Joseph Morley. When the newly arrived publican took over the license, the inn sat opposite the Victoria Theatre, which Dind would later manage and lease.
Later that year, he changed the name of the hotel, which also acted as the ticket office to the Victoria Theatre, to ‘The Clown’ to attract Sydney’s theatrical types.
After Dind’s departure, The Clown was re-built in about 1847, and renamed ‘The Shakespeare’, which sign it bore until it ceased to be a hotel in the early 1880s. The long room at the rear of the inn was reported to have been embellished with scenes from Shakespeare, painted by the brush of colonial artist, Andrew Tarning.
Dind in July 1844 took the license of the Star and Garter, a little pub on the opposite side of the road, a little north of the Victoria Theatre on Pitt Street. He had only been pouring ale at the Star and Garter a few months when a Scotsman, complete with pipes, strolled into his pub, dressed in highland costume.
Having amused drinkers by playing several tunes, the Scotsman laid down his instrument, and was about to light his pipe, when a soldier of the 99th Regiment, Joseph Cavenagh, knocked him to the ground, hitting him in the mouth with a brickbat.
Cavenagh was taken away and confined to his post and subsequently punished for drunken and disorderly conduct by the military authorities.
Dind remained as host of the Star and Garter until the Christmas of 1847, when the following year he was given the opportunity to buy the Cornish Arms Hotel, which overlooked the harbour at Milson’s Point.
The Cornish Arms was established by John Whitford when he was granted a license in April 1844.
Thirty five year old Dind, his wife, Eliza, 34, and their 12-year-old son, William Jnr, moved into the Cornish Arms in 1848. It was quite a journey to get to Sydney’s North Shore in those days.
Only one small ferry-steamer ran at irregular intervals, but licensed watermen – ‘aqua-Uber men’ of the day – tussled for hire from the Queen’s wharf at Circular Quay, doing a busy trade.
The Cornish Arms was a two minute walk from the Milson’s Point jetty, and besides a popular resort for Sydneysiders visiting the largely undeveloped beauty of the North Shore, the pub was the favoured drinking hole for the ‘watermen’. Many kept their boats in a large yard behind the pub.
A couple of years after gaining the license of the inn, Dind changed the pub’s name from the Cornish Arms to the Lily of St Leonards Hotel.
There’s some mystery behind the pub’s sign. There’s little doubt though that it was named after the book, The Lily of St Leonards, a story set in Edinburgh Scotland in 1737, which also went to the stage. The book told the story of young Effie Deans, a flower collector, who falls pregnant in an extramarital relationship.
Dind’s love of the stage and literature no doubt influenced his decision to rename his pub. Although, there seems to be more to the pub’s unusual name. It’s likely it could also be racially motivated, named after an Aboriginal woman from the “Lavender Bay tribe”.
The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on January 15 1898 that the name of the pub “seems, indeed, to embody a piece of the humour of the early days, for in Mr Dind’s time the painted sign of the hotel was an aboriginal woman. The notion of painting the Lily of St. Leonard’s was not a work of supererogation.”
The sign, featuring a picture of an Aboriginal girl flanked by two lilies, sat outside a white painted brick and stone cottage, containing a bar, 12 bedrooms, a billiard room, kitchen and washhouse. The land had a 100 feet frontage to Milson’s Point Road on the east (Alfred Street), 112 feet to the south to Western Wharf Road, 126 feet to Walter Street (Paul Street) to the north, and to the west by the property of North Shore Ferry Company.
The Queanbeyan Age, on October 26 1871, gave the somewhat politically incorrect description of the Lily of St Leonards. I’ve toned it down a little, as it was a little racially inappropriate:
North Shore visitors landing at Milson’s Point are aware that the first house of refreshment that solicits their patronage is The Lily of St. Leonards. As till recently neither picture nor portrait graced the signboard, everybody was at liberty to guess what or to whom the Lily of St Leonards applied. A new landlord, however, has very soon put an end to all guessing on the subject by exhibiting on a bran new board ‘The Lily of St Leonards’ as large as life, in the form of a black gin…. as black as Erebus. There is nothing lilaceous about the lady, save and except what appears in the colour of a formidable set of ivories that might excite the envy of a shark…”
The Lily of St Leonards continued trading under that name until about 1910 when its sign was changed to the Imperial Hotel. The State Government resumed the Imperial Hotel in 1946 for harbour-front recreational land, and the then owners of the hotel, the Waterhouse family, transferred its license to Chatswood. The Imperial Hotel was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for the North Sydney Olympic Pool’s 25 metre pool.
Meanwhile, returning to Dind and the Lily of St Leonards Inn. In 1856, Dind gave-up its lease at the age of 42 to manage the Royal Victoria Theatre in Pitt Street Sydney. However, he had a vision to establish his own pub, where Sydney’s bohemians, could gather. Dind wanted a place for the city’s community of artists, actors, musicians, journalists and lawyers to socialise, and he purchased property further up the hill on the north-east corner of Alfred and Fitzroy Streets to build his landmark pub.
“To that old cottage inn, on the slope of the hill, not far from Milson’s Point, came all the prominent actors and actresses of the time,” reported the Sydney Daily Telegraph, in the reminiscence of T. H. Barlow on August 25 1923:
It was “the thing” to pay Dind’s a visit, and chat over stage triumphs, or, perchance, failures, and visitors were well catered for at this theatrical house… Mr Dind was an authority on all matters pertaining to the stage, and he possessed a magnificent collection of portraits of stage celebrities, well displayed on the walls of the hotel. With the actors and actresses came many legal and literary men, and “dined and wined” in that North Shore inn. There are still many residents of “the Shore,” and many Sydneysiders, too, who have pleasant recollections of Dind’s, and its visitors.
Sydney’s grand man of theatre never took the license of his new hotel, although he called it home for many years. His 22-year-old son, William Foster Dind took the license in April 1858. Simply given the sign, ‘Dind’s Hotel’, the cottage inn boasted broad verandas affording an uninterrupted view of the harbour, and city, with fine gardens and extensive grounds.
William Jnr, and his wife, Jane raised 11 children during their long rein at the pub. Jane died at the hotel in 1885, while her widower continued as host, notching up 32 years as host when he retired in 1891 to allow his eldest son, William Don Dind to take the license.
The third generation Dind behind the bar, William Don, though would have a short rein as host of his family’s pub. He died at the young age of 34, four years after gaining the license of Dind’s Hotel in October 1895.
The Grim Reaper would be a regular visitor to Dind’s Hotel at Milson Point during the 1890s. The matriarch of the Dind family, Eliza Rebecca died on November 22 1893 at the age of 79 years, ending 59 years of marriage to the theatrical publican. Two years later, in January 1895, William Dind, the well-known theatrical publican, died at his residence at Mossman Bay. He was 82.
During his colourful life he had made a distinctive mark on Sydney’s social life, and at the time of his death was the oldest theatrical manager in Australia. His demise ended more than 40 years since he became associated with the Prince of Wales Theatre, and the Victoria Theatre in Sydney. He was for several years mayor of the borough of North Sydney, and his death was widely reported.
Sadly, just seven months after the patriarch’s death, his grandson, William Don and his wife, Mary Ann, who were hosting the family’s Milson Point hotel, lost their daughter, Ina, who died at the age of one year and 10 months in August 1895.
When William Don died at the age of 34 in October 1895, it was left to his widow, Mary Ann to run the pub. However, she too met an untimely death less than two years later. Mary Ann was just 31 years of age when she died at her parents’ hotel, the Shipwright Arms in George Street, North Sydney on April 25, 1897.
Although the freehold of the hotel remained in the family, with Mary Ann’s death, ended the Dinds association with its management. George Goosey became licensee in 1897, and the following year Kate McConnell took-over the pub.
Kate, a widow, was an experienced hotelier and would go onto to host the hotel for almost a decade. With her husband, George, they operated the Bee Hive Hotel on the south-east corner of Auburn and Clinton Streets, Goulburn.
After George’s death in 1887, Kate relocated to Sydney, where, at the age of 55 she gained the license of Dind’s Hotel. Kate had the pub for almost eight years, before the Dind family decided to build a new hotel on the property in 1905.
The Sydney Sportsman reported on February 1 1905 that the “old Dind’s Hotel, of historic memory, though not to be demolished, will in a few weeks cease to be, as a new and up-to-date concern has been erected on the corner”.
By the middle of the year, Kate McConnell’s new hotel at the corner of Alfred and Fitzroy Streets was completed and was operational. However, the publican landed in hot water when the police charged her for selling grog without a license.
Kate argued that she had a license for the original inn, and because she had joined the new premises to the old, it was unnecessary to apply for another license.
The court agreed, and ruled in Kate’s favour on August 17 1905. The police appealed the decision in February 1906, however Kate won out and remained host until April 1906.
Kate went on to host the Star of Freedom Hotel at the corner of Moncur and John Streets, Woollahra in 1908, and the Grand Pacific Hotel at Watson Bay before her death in 1909 at the age of 66.
There was a long line of licensees at Dind’s Hotel after Kate left, with the hotel rarely out of the news. There were reports of assaults, selling of adulterated liquor, and robberies. Tragically, on April 1 1920, a young returned soldier, Bruce Todd fell from the balcony of the hotel. The 25-year-old was taken by ambulance to the Royal North Shore Hospital where he died from a fractured skull.
The owner of the hotel, Tooheys Brewery, were given conditional approval to remove the license of Dind’s Hotel to Broughton Street and Crescent Place, North Sydney on May 19 1937. A new hotel was built by the brewery, and the final order was granted to remove the license of Dind’s Hotel on March 7 1938, allowing the Kirribilli Hotel to open for business.
The Alfred Street site was resumed by the NSW Government and given to the local council for parkland in 1938. Toohey’s auctioned the content of the old hotel in February, which included the furniture of nine bedrooms, before calling for tenders in March 1938 to have both premises demolished.
Today the site is parkland.
Cornish Arms Inn
1844 – 1848: John Whitford
1848 – 1849: William Dind
Lily of St Leonard’s Inn
1849 – 1855: William Dind
1855 – 1858: Thomas William P Barnes
1910: Name changed to Imperial Hotel
Resumed by NSW Government in 1946 for recreational land
License transferred to Chatswood
Demolished early 1980s
Dind’s Hotel, Milson’s Point, licensees
1858 – 1891: William Foster Dind Jnr
1891 – 1896: William Don Dind
1896 – 1897: Ann Dind
1897 – 1898: George E. Goosey
1898 – 1905: Kate McConnell
New hotel opened 1905
1905 – 1906: Kate McConnell
1906 – 1908: Charles H. Way
1908 – 1909: Evan O. Davies
1909 – 1910: Francis Mullen
1910 – 1911: Annie Mullen
1911 – 1920: John Hall
1920 – 1922: Alfred J. Edwards
1922 – 1923: William J. Richards
1923 – 1924: John D. McFadyen
1924 – 1927: Arnold Charles Docker
1927 – 1933: Eldred John Jessup
1933 – 1936: Clifton E. Joy
1936 – 1936: Dorothy C. Joy
1936 – 1938: Arthur F. Brown
Licensed transferred to new building
1938 – 1948: George Barton (died August 2 1948)
1948 – Lily Florence Barton
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2019