The White Horses of Newtown & St Peters: Three pubs with a rich & sometimes dark history

The only known photo of the original White Horse Inn at Newtown, shortly before demolition. Picture: Sydney Morning Herald, March 27, 1914.


WHITE Horse Inn owner and coach operator, Jimmy Richardson reportedly faked a gold strike at Newtown during 1852, attracting hundreds of fortune-seekers to the sparsely settled township less than six kilometres from Sydney.

Richardson’s coaching company was said to have benefited greatly from the hoax ‘rush’; but also attracted a few shady characters to Newtown in search of making a ‘quick-buck’.

After sinking a few too many ales at the White Horse, an elderly man was asked to leave the inn about 9pm one Saturday night in November 1852. Two hours later he was found horribly battered, supposedly the victim of a robbery, not far from the pub. He died soon after from his horrific wounds.

This is the story of three Sydney pubs – either side, and slap-bang in the middle of Newtown – known as the White Horse.

For as along as anybody could remember, until recently there had always been a pub in Newtown, and neighbouring St Peters with the sign of the White Horse.

The last at St Peters, closed a couple of years back, and reopened earlier this month (December 2022) with the new sign – wait for it! – of ‘The House of Music and Booze’. Ouch! Sad, that the inner-Sydney suburbs of St Peters and Newtown, home to pubs with the name White Horse since 1848 was unable to retain the last with the historic sign.

The first White Horse was established by James Richards in 1848, and, during its existence, was the terminus for the omnibus between Newtown and central Sydney.

The single-storey timber inn was located on the east side of King Street, just south of Newtown Railway Station, and was set back from the road, with a circular driveway running through a large front garden.

The White Horse was built of lath-and-plaster, with “great logs” as under-beams, trimmed slightly on the top, but nowhere else. The inn was built about 1838 – years before the railway arrived in Newtown in 1855.

Practically the only other structures in the area were bark huts, occupied by workers at Garsed’s (afterwards Eggleton’s) brickyards, located just at the rear of the inn.

The White Horse was a regular place of call for the mail-coaches, and travellers to and from the South Coast. Timber setters and gardeners, employed between Cook’s and George’s Rivers, were also regular visitors.  

Richards arrived in the colony of NSW about 1815 as a two-year-old boy with his parents. In 1839 at the age of 26, he married 21-year-old Lucy Ann Hadley, and the couple became hosts of the White Horse Inn, on George Street, Sydney in 1841, where they remained until 1844.

Now with three young children, Richards began a coaching service between Newtown and central Sydney in 1845. His coach, Defiance travelled between his old pub on George Street to the Newtown Inn, Newtown for six pence.

The following year, Richards took the license of the Newtown Inn, which he operated with his wife Lucy and four children until 1848, later replacing his coaches with omnibuses.

Richards opened Newtown’s first White Horse Inn in 1848. He was licensee for a short time, returning to his omnibus business, and leasing the pub to Joseph Blackstone the following year.

Although he relinquished the license of the White Horse, Richards, with his family, continued to live on the premises, which were the terminus for his omnibuses.

While at the White Horse, Richards, in November 1852, was reportedly behind a gold rush hoax that attracted hundreds of men to Newtown in search of their fortune.

Prospectors like this converged onto Newtown in 1852 after a hoax discovery of gold. Picture: The Pictorial Australian 1886

Richards and a neighbour were said to have staged the ‘salting’ of a paddock near the White Horse Inn. Reporters from the Empire newspaper – one with gold mining experience – visited an old brick pit where Richards and his neighbour had claimed they found a small amount of gold.

When the reporters arrived at Newtown they were met by Richards who took them to the water-filled pit where one of his daughters happened to be panning. The reporter at once smelt a rat when the girl miraculously panned a small amount of gold. The Empire reported on December 4 1852:

From a fair and impartial consideration of the case, it appears to us clear, that a most impudent and a well concerted deception has been practised on the public, of which many respectable persons have allowed themselves too easily to be made dupes.

While Richards’ business ventures benefited from the influx people to Newtown, the hoax also attracted a criminal element.

During the ‘rush’, a regular customer at the White Horse was brutally murdered after leaving the pub one Saturday night in November 1852.

After sinking a few too many ales, William Hall, 77, was asked to leave about 9pm. He was found horribly mutilated and barely alive two hours later.

The elderly man had been bashed with a fence paling and his crutch sliced open with a knife when he was attacked by a ‘group’ not far from the pub.

Four people were arrested in connection with the horrific murder however, after appearing in court later that month they were discharged for lack of evidence. The sadistic murder remains unsolved to this day.

A couple of years later, Richards lost his second wife, who died aged 36 in 1854. With four children aged between eight and 14, he – like many men of that era – quickly remarried Eliza Smith in 1855.

With the arrival of the railway from Sydney to Newtown in 1855, Richards decided to sell the White Horse and move his family to Stanmore where he continued his omnibus business.

Scottish immigrant, John Richardson was 25 years of age when he bough the White Horse in 1856. Richardson, also an omnibus driver, was a single man when he bought the White Horse Inn. His parents, John and Catherine Richardson managed the inn while their sons, John and James drove omnibuses between Sydney and St Peters.

The Richardsons extended the White Horse by adding a large assembly room in 1857, and further extensions were undertaken in 1861 when the inn was “thoroughly renovated” and a new wing added, containing seven rooms.

Another sad incident occurred at the White Horse in 1863 when Emma Keep, with her nine-month old baby in arms, fell into the pub’s well.

While host John Richardson Snr. was able to save the woman, her baby sadly drowned. The Sydney Mail reported on Saturday, June 13, 1863:


Fatal Occurrence at Newtown — The Coroner’s inquest of the body of an infant named Annie Keep, aged nine months, was returned and concluded on Tuesday. It appeared from the evidence that the mother of the infant, wife of a gardener living at Cook’s River, came into Sydney on last Saturday afternoon, in company with a neighbour named Mrs. Streeter, who also took her infant with her. They returned by bus to Newtown in the evening, and then walked down to the White Horse Hotel to await a conveyance to Cook’s River, the time being then nearly eight o’clock. After waiting a short time they heard a cart passing, and at once ran out to get a lift on their journey. In front of the hotel is a water trough, and a few feet from one end of this trough is a well, into which (the cover being insecure) the poor woman walked. She creamed out, and Mr. Richard-son, who keeps the house for his son, ran out, and upon seeing what had occurred, he threw down to her the end of a rope which happened to be lying close by. By means of this rope the poor woman supported herself on the surface of the water, and at the same time she pressed her infant to her breast hoping to save its life with her own. The alarm soon brought a number of persons to the spot one held the rope, while Mr. Richardson put a ladder down the well, and went down, and fastened the rope round the woman’s right arm and neck. This being done, she was pulled up ; but by that time she was so much exhausted that she was necessitated to loose her hold of her infant, and she almost lost her own life through the rope being placed round her neck. The body of the child, quite lifeless, was got out a few minutes after-wards. Until very recently the water has been drawn from the well through a pump, but as this pump got out of repair, the cover was taken off the well, and the water taken therefrom in buckets. In this way water was drawn out at one o’clock on Saturday, and the cover (which consisted of loose boards) was not properly replaced afterwards, hence the sad occurrence. A lamp is supposed to be kept burning outside the house every night, until ten o’clock, and it was observed that this was burning when the poor woman was rescued from the well; but it was not satisfactorily proved that it was burning before the occurrence. Mrs. Keep swears positively that it was not burning or she would have seen the well. It should be mentioned that the well is twenty-eight feet deep, and that at the time of the occurrence there was a depth of eighteen feet of water in it. The coroner in summing up pointed out that there had been great negligence in regard to the covering of the well, and that there was evidence to show who had been guilty of this negligence. The jury after deliberating a considerable time returned the following verdict. — “We find that the deceased Annie Keep died from asphyxia by reason of her mother falling in to a well with her, which well was not properly secured, but the jury have no evidence by whose negligence this happened. ‘ A rider was attached, recommending the Coroner to communicate with the proper authorities on the subject, in order that the well in question and other dangerous wells in the neighbourhood might be properly secured for the future.

John Richardson Senior died while host of the White Horse aged 62 on November 22, 1865. Despite some reports saying the White Horse Inn closed for business about this time, licensing records show that it continued trading for another five years after Richardson’s death.

The ‘White Horse Estate’, including the old inn, was advertised for sale by Richardson and Wrench in 1866.

The estate included 11 freehold building sites “between the Congregational Church and Orimbah Terrace, opposite Camden Terrace and the College”.

Lot five of the 11 properties featured “the out of repair former White Horse Inn”, with a frontage of 105 feet to Newtown Road (King Street), and 140 feet to White Horse Road, near Newtown Railway Station.

While the advertisement stated the “former White Horse Inn”, there’s little doubt the pub continued to trade up until 1870, with NSW Government records showing Richardson’s widow, Catherine as licensee up until her death.

Soon after Catherine Richardson’s death in 1870, the White Horse Inn was sold to local builder, John Smith, who later subdivided the property.

With the sale of the old White Horse Inn, 40-year-old John Richardson Jnr decided to continue the tradition of the White Horse by leasing the Hero of Waterloo Inn, located on what is today the south-west corner of the Princes Highway and Victoria Street at St Peters.

John Richardson Jnr married Honora Rowan in 1871, eventually having one child together, Bremner J. Richardson, who was born in 1873 and died in 1909 aged 36.

After leasing the Hero of Waterloo at St Peters, Richardson immediately changed its sign to the White Horse Hotel.

The old Hero of Waterloo Inn had traded along the “Cook’s River Road” at St. Peters since at least 1853.

When Richardson moved into the building in 1871 it was described as a brick building on stone foundations, with shingled roof, containing bar, three front parlours, back parlour, three bedrooms, large billiard-room, kitchen and cellars. The pub sat on property with a frontage of 49 feet 6 inches, by a depth of 107 feet.

The old White Horse Inn at Newtown was eventually demolished in 1914. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 27, 1914:

The old White Horse, silent witness of much history, is being pulled down at the present time, and soon it will be but a name and a memory. It stands, this ancient hostelry (what is left of it) on Cook’s River-road, just beyond the Newtown Congregational Church, set back a little, from the roadway, with some ornamental trees in front of it. But three-quarters of a century ago, when it was built, there were no trees in front of it; neither was the solid cemented wall there, which fences it off from the roadway. Three-quarters of a century ago that part of Newtown was heavy bush, but it had been cleared around the hotel, and there was the old-style drive in front, and the swinging signboard, and the horse-trough hollowed out of the trunk of a tree, with a well close by, from which the water for filling the trough was drawn. You may see today the spot where the old well was. The remains of an old box-pump are standing on the spot.

John Richardson was licensee of the ‘new’ White Horse Hotel at St Peters for five years.

Richardson purchased the freehold of the St. Peters property in 1874, eventually leasing-out the pub in 1876, and himself taking the license of the ‘Coachmakers Arms’ at the corner of Sussex and Goulburn Streets, Sydney. In 1877, he became licensee of the Darling Hotel, corner of Mill and Harbour Streets, Sydney, where he died on June 28, 1879 at the age of 48.

His widow, Honora took over the management of the White Horse at St Peters after her husband’s death. She built a replacement White Horse Hotel beside the former pub in 1884, and in 1892 married James Frew, who in 1892/93 became licensee.

Honora Frew died in 1910, and the pub was later sold to brewery giant, Tooth & Company in 1914.

The White Horse was completely rebuilt as a two-storey brick hotel in 1930 and, thankfully continues to grace the corner of the Princes Highway and Victoria Street at St Peters – albeit under a different sign, with limited trading hours.

The White Horse Hotel, St Peters, 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The only known photo of the first White Horse Hotel located at 21 King Street, Newtown, taken in August 1930. Built in 1878, it was demolished to make for a replacement hotel in 1936. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Meanwhile, a third White Horse opened in Newtown at the city end of King Street, in 1879.

James Richards, who had established the original White Horse Inn at Newtown in 1848, was living at Stanmore in the 1850s where he continued his omnibus business. After the death of his first wife, he had remarried Eliza Smith in 1855, who he also lost when she died in 1864.

Richards, now 60, remarried for a third time in 1873, when he took 47-year-old Emma Jackson as a wife.

The old omnibus driver was 65 years of age when he established another White Horse Hotel at what is today 21 King Street, Newtown. He was granted a license of a two-storey brick building, with balcony, to be known as the Palace Hotel in March 1878. Less than four months later, the sign was changed to the White Horse, and James and Emma Richards went on to host the pub for the following 17 years until their deaths.

James Richards died at the age of 72 on November 10 1885, and – just two days later – his third widow, Emma also took her last breath at the age of 59 on November 12. The Sydney Evening News, reported on Wednesday, November 11, 1885:

Death of an Identity

On Tuesday Mr. James Richards, of the White Horse Hotel, King-street, Newtown, passed over to the great majority. He was a native of Birmingham, England, and was brought to the colony some 80 years ago, when under two years of age. Some 45 years ago he was the proprietor of the White Horse Hotel [inn], George-street, then a coaching house. He was also one of the first to run coaches, and afterward ‘buses, to Newtown, where he has almost continuously held a hotel licence. He was married three times. His last wife and a number of children survive him.

Tooth & Company, who held a long term lease, purchased the freehold of the White Horse in 1935 before demolishing the Victorian era building and replacing it with a modern hotel during 1936.

The replacement White Horse Hotel, King Street, Newtown, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The new three-storey hotel featured a public and saloon bar, a 90 seat lounge, a parlour to seat 12 people and a beer garden.

On the upper-levels were private quarters for the licensee, and for the public, three single, one double and two twin bedrooms.

During Tooths ownership, one of Sydney’s best known and wealthiest hotel families held the lease of the White Horse for over 20 years.

Clare Leabeater was host of the Star Hotel at North Sydney prior to gaining the license of the White Horse in 1938.

Leabeater was the daughter of a well-known horse-racing identity and Sydney hotelier, Gregory Keighery.

Greg Keighery aged 84 attends his 69th Melbourne Cup accompanied by his three daughters (from left) Miss Freda Keighery, Mrs Walter Furlong and Mrs Clare Leabeater (licensee of the White Horse Hotel, Newtown from 1938 to 1959). Picture: Australian Women’s Weekly, November 12, 1952.

Keighery reportedly attended 69 Melbourne Cups during his long life, and was a member of the Australian Jockey Club, Tattersall’s Club, Victorian Racing Club, Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, and Royal Agricultural Society. In 1931, he built at a cost of £30,000, the Keighery’s Hotel, still trading today (2022) on the corner of Station Road and Rawson Street at Auburn, in Sydney’s west.

Several of his children were also successful hoteliers, including his daughter, Clare.  After separating from her husband in the mid 1930s, she was granted the license of Newtown’s White Horse in 1938. She remained host until 1959.

The hotel became a popular music venue during the 1970s and early 1980s, especially with students from the nearby Sydney University.

Tooth & Company eventually sold the property to the adjoining university, and the White Horse closed for business about 1982. In recent years the building was home to a popular book store, but seems to be vacant at the time of writing this history.

Sadly, a long tradition, more than 180 years of history in the area, ended about two years ago with the closure of the last White Horse Hotel at St Peters.

The former White Horse Hotel, Newtown, 2022. Picture: Google.
The former White Horse Hotel, St Peters, 2022. Picture: Google.

Do you have any memories of the White Horse Hotels at either Newtown or St Peters you would like to share? Scroll down to the comments section.

White Horse Inn, Newtown, licensees

1848 – 1849: James Richards

1849 – 1853: Joseph Blackstone

1853 – 1855: William Jackson

1855 – 1856: Michael Race

1856 – 1865: John Richardson Snr.

1865 – 1867: John Richardson Jnr.

1867 – 1870: Catherine Richardson

1870 – 1871: John Richardson Jnr

White Horse Hotel, St Peters, licensees

1871 – 1876: John Richardson

1876 – 1881: John Eggbeer

1881:  Francisco Mazitelli

1881 – 1884: George Amos

1884 New hotel built by Honora Richardson

1884: Honora Richardson

1884 1886: Maragret Tait

1886 – 1888: Thomas Tasker

1888 – 1889: Patrick Kennedy

1889 – 1892: John Aitken

1892: Honora Richardson

1892 – 1894: James S. Frew

1894 – 1895: Robert Duncan

1895 – 1897: Patrick J. Cassidy

1897 – 1899: Claude Levan

1899 1901: Peter Murphy

1901 – 1902: Mary H. Millington

1902 – 1905: James Smith

1905 – 1907: Jeremiah O’Brien

1907 – 1919: Allan Cameron

Tooth Purchased hotel from Richardson family May 1914

1919 – 1928: James McQuillen

1928 – 1934: Patrick Maher

1934 – 1935: A. Spender

1935: William Fox

1935 – 1936: Albert J. Sheather

1936: R. P. Hayes

1936 – 1939: O. E. Fogarty (manager for Tooths, died 1939)

1939 – 1940: Mrs Matilda M. Fogarty (manageress for Tooths)

1940 – 1941: Patrick Gilmore

1941 – 1942: Patrick C. Sutton

1942 – 1943: Mrs Clarice Murray

1943 – 1945: Marcus S. Williams

1945: W. F. Stroud

1945 – 1946: M. Carmody

1946 – 1949: Lancelot Walter Miller

1949 – 1951: Owen Belmont Campbell

1951 – 1954: Basil Raymond Barker

1954 – 1955: Walter Lea Heeney

1955 – 1957: Stanley James Richards

1957 – 1960: Douglas Edward James Richards

1960 – 1962: William Hubrey Murray

1962 – 1963: Edward James O’Malley

1963 – 1964: Albert Donald Metelmann

1964 – 1966: Raymond Brice Vidler

1966: Ernest George Hogarth

1966 – 1967: James Leslie King

1967 – 1969: Henry Kershaw Moyle

1969 – 1971: Patrick Michael Gaskin

1971 – 1974: Reginald Ernest Robertson

1974 – 1976: Kenneth William Jones

1976 – 1978: James Albert Young

1978 – 1979: Robert Linke

1979 – 1981: Kenneth John Flook

1981: Tooth & Co sold hotel to George Frederick Young and John Richard Eyles for $425,000

White Horse Hotel, Newtown Licensees 1878 – 1968

1878 March – 1885: James Richards

1885 – 1891: Anthony Gillot

1891 – 1898: Edmund Rogers

1898 – 1904: Eliza Rogers

1904 – 1905: Thomas Noonan

1905 – 1908: James Duffy

1908 – 1918: John S. Morrison

1918 – 1924: John Rogers

1924 – 1936: H. A. Haydon

Tooth purchased May 1935

Building demolished and replaced in 1936

1936 – 1937: Francis S. Whyte

1937 – 1838: Richard P. Boylan

1938 – 1959:  Clare Leabeater

1959 – 1961: Joseph McDonough

1961 – 1962: Stanley Francis Sinclair

1962 – 1963: Leslie Joshua Starr

1963 – 1964: Gladys Irene Kirwan

1964 – 1966: James Henry McMillan

1966 – 1967: Francis Samuel William Coxon

1967 – 1968: Lancelot John Arthur Rickard

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2022

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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3 replies

  1. Hi Mick, Wasnt there a White Horse Hotel in Surry Hills? Perhaps still there? I was aware it was still open early 1990’s. My father’s uncle, a worker in a box factory, won a banjo there c1929 and gave it to dad at 18 and he won the Sydney Eisteddford with his banjo in 1936. But it could possibly have been the St Peters White Horse as his Irish grandfather lived there. His gggfather was George Lane who had The Good Woman license in Sydney 1833 which is also a lively story 😂 if you are interested
    Lovely article thanks, cheers

    • Thanks for the comment, Sheri. right, there was/is a White Horse Hotel in Crown Street, Surry Hills. I only recently enjoyed a beer there. Would be interested in any content you may think be worthy of a yarn. You can email me:

  2. This is fascinating – thank you! I found this while searching for info on “Whitehorse Tce” which is an old (19th Century) name for part of Holmwood St. There is also Whitehorse St nearer the Newtown pub of course. But why “white horse” in the first place do you think?

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