Changes afoot at one of Newtown’s oldest pubs: Looking back at the Milton Hotel

By MICK ROBERTS ©

WITH a few changes in the wind after the sale of Newtown’s Kuleto’s Bar to a well-known Sydney publican, Time Gents takes a look back at the colourful history of one of the suburb’s oldest pubs.

While some watering holes have been around for just as long – or longer – Kuleto’s Bar trades on King Street from what is believed to be one of the oldest pub buildings in Newtown. While pubs like the ‘Town Hall’ and ‘Marly’ have been around for a long time they were completely demolished and rebuilt during the 1930s.

First opened as the Hampton Court Hotel in May 1875, and later the Milton Hotel from December 1885, Kuleto’s was frequented by some of Newtown’s toughest drinkers in its day.

When former cop, Bob Elliott became host in 1893, he took-on a tough gig.

If anyone was capable of handling the eclectic mix of drinkers, who included factory labourers and the occasional member of Sydney’s notorious razor gangs, it was Elliott. He had recently retired as a senior-constable with the NSW Police Force, serving more than 13 years in central Sydney, during which time he had his fair share of confrontations with some of the city’s toughest and most ruthless criminals.

Elliott was 38-years of age when he left the police force in 1893, marrying 41-year-old Sarah Jane Graham the following year and remaining host of the Milton Hotel for 17 years.

One Saturday afternoon in 1896, Robert McLean and two mates attacked the Milton Hotel by smashing ornate stained glass windows in the front doors, and assaulting Elliott.

The trouble began when McLean refused to pay for his drinks, prompting customers to force him to cough-up the money, before he and his mates left. However, they didn’t leave without a fuss, returning to attack the pub with bricks taken from a cart that happened to be passing at the time.

The men were eventually fined £5 each, with McLean, who assaulted Elliott, and his mate, George Peterson, sent to gaol with hard labour for six months.

McLean went on to become a career criminal, eventually arrested and charged for murdering George Bushell in a fight at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Tamworth in 1916. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to penal servitude for 15 years.

The Prince of Wales Hotel, Tamworth, C1920. Picture: Australian National University, Noel Butlin Archives. Inset: Robert McLean. Picture: Museums of History NSW, Gaol Inmates/Prisoners Photos
Kuleto’s Bar, Newtown, 2022

From next month Kuleto’s Bar will trade as ‘King Street Public House’ and, the new owner tells us that the venue will offer “a local neighbourhood hotel experience”. 

Kuleto’s was reportedly sold by Donna Ansenio after 43 years of ownership for $7.2 million.

The new owner – who will reveal all in the new-year – is one of Australia’s few fifth generation publicans, and has plans to re-establish Kuletos as “a friendly local pub”.

“The hotel will open in daytime and continue its late trading, offering food and entertainment,” he told Time Gents.

“It will also have a function space, and I look forward to joining the King Street Newtown community and welcoming customers in the new-year.”

The Milton Hotel was first licensed in May 1875 after the license of Hampton Court Hotel at Tempe was removed to a purpose-built three-storey brick building located at what is today the northern corner of King and Stephen Streets, Newtown.

The Hampton Court Hotel originally traded from a large house overlooking the Cooks River in Tempe. The hotel was first licensed in 1871 and was a popular tourist destination for Sydneysiders at the time, with picnic grounds, and other attractions.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on February 18 1875:

HAMPTON COURT HOTEL TEMPE

GARDENS, COOK’S RIVER.

The finest drive out of Sydney, and a most cool and pleasant retreat for wedding and picnic parties. Magnificent picnic grounds. Luncheons provided. Drinks in the bar at Sydney prices. Quoits, bowls, skittles, billiards, &c. N.B – The entrance to these splendid gardens is situate on Cook’s River Dam. JOHN PORTER, Proprietor.

Within a few months of this advertisement the license had been removed from Tempe to a new hotel at Newtown by it owner John Porter.

The new replacement hotel in Newtown is believed to have been built by wealthy Sydney property owner, James Bridger.

James Bridger arrived in NSW at the age of 12 aboard the ‘Blonde’ with his three siblings, George, William and Elizabeth, and his parents, 43-year-old John and his 39-year-old wife, Bethia in 1849.

James mother ran a boarding house in Clarence Street Sydney, while his father John was employed as a miller. As an adult, James became a “master painter”, and he wisely began purchasing properties.

With his wife, Eliza, who he married in 1858, James Bridger would have a large family, and make his home in Alma Street, Darlington where he continued to build on his large property portfolio.

The pub gained a reputation as a haunt of ‘larrikins’ or members of Sydney’s notorious razor gangs in the 1880s. In a letter to the editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph on January 4, 1881, the writer complained of the ‘larrikins’ who gathered outside the Hampton Court Hotel.

NEWTOWN LARRIKINS

Sir, — on three different occasions when walking in King-street, Newtown, I have been struck on the hat with a stick by larrikins as I passed; but last night, about 9 o’clock, when passing the Hampton Court Hotel, I was kicked on the leg by one of a mob that was standing there. I turned round and said to the fellow that did it — on whose villainous-looking face the word scoundrel was unmistakably branded — “What did you that for?” but instead of answering, he looked down his nose, and in any direction but at me. Had I been the ruffian’s own age, instead of over 60, it is probable that I should not have been molested. The larrikins of Newtown appear to be a specially privileged class. One Sunday evening, a short time ago, I saw some 20 or 30 of them standing in front of the chemist’s shop opposite the post office, just leaving room for people to pass between them in Indian file. I do not believe there is a place in the colony where the scum and dregs of society are allowed the same licence as they are in Newtown. I remember a policeman in Liverpool who had been in the Guards who was a greater test to the toughs than all the policemen in Newtown put together.

Going by newspaper advertisements, it seems major renovations were undertaken to the hotel during 1882. During April tenders were called for bricklayers, and the following months, plasterers for five rooms.  

A long list of licensees hosted the hotel during the 1880s, with many not staying for more than two or three years. Notable among the publicans who had a short stay was James Cook.

Cook was at the helm of the pub for only a couple of months when in July, 1882 he was charged by police for “wholesale robbery”. He spent a short time on remand in Darlinghurst Gaol, where – while awaiting trial – he was declared insolvent with large debts.

Cook was eventually cleared of the robbery charge and found not guilty. However, the financial damage was done, and he never returned as licensee to the Hampton Court Hotel.

The tendency for licensees to have a short stay at the Hampton Court Hotel continued through the 1880s as the pub gained a reputation for rowdiness and illegal ‘after hours’ trading. The Sydney Evening News reported on Friday 5 June 1885:

SELLING AFTER HOURS.

Terence Mahon, licensee of the Hampton Court Hotel, King-street, Newtown, was charged with having sold liquor after hours on the night of May 18. Mr. Fitzgerald appeared for the defence. Senior constable Mackie deposed that he saw a light in the defendant’s bar at about 11.50 p.m., and saw him filling a flask with measurer. The witness then saw a man and woman leave the premises by the back door. The man had a lemonade bottle full of whisky, which the constable seized. He also gave his name and address. The man had been summoned, but no such person could be found. The defendant denied having sold any liquor after 11 o’clock. He was fined £4, with costs 5s 6d. The usual order as to costs was made.

Licensee, Alexander Ireland was successful in applying to have the hotel’s name changed from the Hampton Court to the Milton Hotel on December 22 1885.

The revolving door of publicans stopped spinning for almost 20 years in 1893 when retired police constable, Robert James Elliott took the reins.

Irish born Elliott and his wife, Sarah would host the pub for 17 years during a period when the Milton Hotel was a favourite watering hole to some of Sydney’s nastier drinkers. He was host when a teenage boy was reportedly kicked to death outside his pub in 1904.

Daniel Ryan had recently come from the ‘bush’ to the ‘big smoke’ in search of work. Late on a Saturday night in December 1904 the teen found himself caught-up in a brawl outside the pub. According to witnesses, Ryan was knocked to the ground and kicked to death.

While a coroner’s inquest found an open verdict, three men were later charged with manslaughter for his death. However, the three accused, James M’Ateer, John Griffiths, and Edward Tyndall were found not guilty in connection with his death, with the jury believing the youth accidentally fell during the brawl.

Meanwhile James Bridger continued ownership of the hotel he built at the corner of King Street and Stephen Street Newtown until his death on July 10 1895 at the age of 56. His wife, Eliza died in 1902.

After the death of James Bridger, brewery giant, Tooth & Company purchased the hotel from his estate in April 1898.  

Bob Elliott continued as licensee after Tooth & Company’s purchased of the pub, and he remained as host until 1910. Elliott died at Marrickville aged 77 in 1932.

Tooth & Company made further additions and alterations to the hotel in 1914, as the revolving door of licensees returned to the Milton Hotel after Elliott’s departure.

Ristuccia’s Milton Hotel, Newtown, 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The high turnover of hosts didn’t escape the notice of the NSW Licensing Court in 1938 when 30-year-old casual barman John Cosgrove applied for the transfer of its license. The Sydney Sun reported on January 5, 1938:

SUSPICIOUS OF ‘DUMMIES’

On many occasions applicants for hotel licences at the Licensing Court had been nothing more than ‘dummies’ acting on behalf of undesirable people, the Chairman of the Licensing Court (Mr. Laidlaw, S.M.), said to-day.

Often these “dummies” had no financial interest in the hotel, and the actual control of it was placed in the hands of a person not acceptable to the Court.

Addressing John Cosgrove, 30, a ship’s steward, who was applying for a transfer of a licence to the Milton Hotel, Newtown, Mr. Laidlaw said that he was quite within his rights in making inquiries in public as to the applicant’s personal affairs and social status.

Cosgrove stated that he had been working as a casual barman for the last 19 months. In that time he had earned £60 and was paying £1775 for the hotel.

Mr. Laidlaw: Where did you get the money? Cosgrove: From England. I’ve been carrying it around with me in my pocket. Sometimes I’ve hidden it. He stated that he had worked his passage from England to Sydney and had won some money in a sweep stake.

Licensing Inspector Sharpies told the Court that Cosgrove was a man of good character and there was no reason why he should not receive the licence. The application was granted.

Interestingly, Cosgrove remained at the Milton Hotel for less than 12 months before yet another licensee replaced him as host.

Milton Hotel, Newtown, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Tooth & Company completed further alterations to the ground floor of the hotel, which consisted of a public bar and a parlour that seated 20 people, to the value of £2,800 in 1954.

The remaining two storeys comprised of public accommodation, including three single rooms, and one double room for guests. The top storey was a two bedroom private quarters for the licensee.

Milton Hotel, Newtown, 1960. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The accommodation was removed from the hotel, and the business given a new direction after Tooth & Company sold the freehold of the historic building to Ronjon Pty Ltd in September 1979. From about this time the pub traded as a cocktail bar known as ‘Ceccini’s’.

Although the official name has remained the Milton Hotel, owner, Donna Ansenio began trading as ‘Kuleto’s’ in the 1980s, and it’s operated under that name for over 40 years.

With Ansenio’s decision to retire, the freehold of Kuleto’s was sold in October 2022 to a well-known Sydney hotelier, who, while intending to retain the cocktail bar, will take the business in a new direction.

Ansenio told online publication, Pubtic the sale of the beloved Newtown pub remains bittersweet.

“I will leave Kuleto’s and the Newtown community with a very heavy heart, as it has been my home for the better part of 42 years,” Asensio said.

“Nonetheless, I’m elated with the outcome that HTL Property has delivered on Kuletos and look forward to seeing what the incoming operators will do with some fresh ideas and direction.”

Do you have memories of the Milton Hotel? Scroll down to the comments section below to share your stories.

Licensees of the Hampton Court/Milton Hotel, Newtown 1875 – 1979

May 1875 – 1876: John Hemmens

1876 – 1876: Mary Bade

1876 – 1879: Thomas Noonan

1879 – 1881: James Larkins

1881 – 1882: Joseph Brown

1882 – 1883: James Cook

1883: William Scott

1883 – 1885: Terence Mahon [McMahon]

1885: Name changed December 22 1885 to Milton Hotel

1885 – 1886: Alexander Ireland

1886 – 1887: William Rankin

1887 – 1888: Alfred Hynard

1888 – 1889: James Burgess

1889 – 1891: John Cahill

1891 – 1892: James Bridger (owner)

1892 – 1893: John Earnshaw

1893 – 1910: Robert James Elliott

1910: Richard H. Griffin

1910 – 1911: Alfred H. Harris

1911 – 1912: James Freeman

1912 – 1913:  Michael Whelan

1913 – 1915: Thomas Dalton

1915 – 1919: George H. Herdsman

1919 – 1920: Sadie Frankel

1920 1923: Arthur Inkster

1923 – 1924: G. Pannell

1924: J. F. McInerney

1924 – 1925: Mrs K. McHugh

1925: A.F. Chapman

1925 – 1929: C.C. Martin

1929 – 1930: Antonio Ristuccia

1930 – 1931: Frances Ristuccia

1931: Jack L. Sims

1931 – 1932: Charles Wilson

1932 – 1935: F.E. Ralph

1935 – 1936: Leslie E. James

1936 – 1937: Charles W. F. Shaw

1937: Joseph J. Bartimote

1937 – 1938: George Craig

1938: John Cosgrove

1938 – 1939: James Jeffries

1939: Demetrius E. M. Seaton

1939: Robert C. Baillie

1939 – 1940: Matthew J. Thurbon

1940 – 1941: Patrick V. Stokes

1941: William Campbell

1941 – 1947: Ada M. Watson

1947 – 1950: Edith May Davies (Ada Watson’s daughter)

1950 1951: Arthur John Frederick Davies

1951: Raymond Norman Heidtman

1951 – 1955: Henry Hansen

1955 – 1959: David Hynd (died 24.5.1959)

1959 – 1970: Millicent Hynd

1970 – 1972: Edith Ingrid Harris

1972: Stanley Anthony Karantoni

1972 – 1976: William Desmond James Garvin

1976 – 1979: Brian John O’Connor

1979: Tooth & Co sells to Ronjon Pty Ltd

1979: Gary Robert Davis

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2022

* With thanks to member of the Australian Ancestors Family History Research Facebook Group, including Lorraine Newland, Peter Downes and Kate Taylor, for their assistance.


Subscribe to the latest Time Gents stories


PAYPAL BAR TIP

If you would like to support my work, you can leave a small tip here of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like in the box below. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.

$2.00


OR DONATE BY DEBIT OR CREDIT CARD

Don’t have PayPal? Instead, you can make a secure debit or credit card donation to support my work. You can leave a $2 donation here, or you can increase the amount after clicking or tapping into the icon below. Your patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs and research.




Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

Tags: , , ,

What's Your Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: