The Aussie pub named after a French president: The Cropper family’s two bush pubs


‘A Bush Inn’. Picture Town & Country Journal, 1873. Inset: Elizabeth Cropper, who hosted a bush inn similar to this inn, for over 10 years by the name of the Half Way House. Inset picture: Quirindi and District Historical Society

THE Cropper family had a tragic start as hoteliers in the New England region of NSW.

The family helped establish the historic Marshal MacMahon Hotel at Wallabadah, about 18 kilometres south of Tamworth, when William Cropper took the license in 18721. However, the peculiarly named pub wasn’t the family’s first.

Elizabeth Cropper, a 55-year-old widow, built and licensed a wayside inn known as the Half Way House, about eight kilometres north of Wallabadah on the road to Tamworth, in 18672.

The opening of the inn, however, was tarnished by tragedy, after Elizabeth Cropper organised a ‘house warming’ for her newly completed pub.

Louisa Jane Barnes, about 11 years of age, was among a party invited to celebrate the opening on July 26 1867 when on her way to the remote pub she fell from her horse and was killed. The horse either kicked or trampled her, causing instant death3.

Cropper’s Half Way House was so named because it was located midway between Murrurundi and Tamworth, on the Main Northern Road, at a location known as ‘Billy Wiles Gully’.

Unfortunately, the death of her husband, soon after the family’s arrival in the district, forced Elizabeth Cropper to look for other means of support for her family.

James and Elizabeth Cropper came from Lancashire, England to NSW in 1841, before the family made the move from Sydney, north to the Liverpool Plains4.

James had gained work as a shepherd on James Loder’s Quirindi Station property before his tragic death at the age of 565. He contracted blood poisoning through skinning a diseased sheep and died in 18616.

Elizabeth, now 49, was left with six children to support, including 14-year-old William, who would later take on many responsibilities helping his mother manage a busy Cobb & Co coach stop at Billy Wiles Gully.

Cropper’s Half Way House became known and respected for good stabling, clean bedding and wholesome food. It also became the stopping and changing centre of Cobb & Co’s mail coaches, as well as evolving into a social centre where dances were frequently staged.

A young William Cropper would have learned his hospitality skills at the Half Way House, before, at the age of 25, taking the reins of the Marshal MacMahon Hotel at nearby Wallabadah in 1872.

Describing a journey by coach between Murrurundi and Tamworth, a correspondent for the Empire newspaper reported on November 29 1873:

Five miles beyond [Wallabadah] we reached the ‘Half-way House’ hotel kept by Mrs. Cropper, who gave us a good dinner, which we were surprised to get, being only coach passengers I need hardly say it is not usual to give coach passengers a capital dinner, or even time to eat what is laid down; this exception is there-fore recorded.

While hosting the Half Way House, Elizabeth Cropper’s Irish son-in-law, Denis Hogan built a new pub at nearby Wallabadah. Hogan gained a conditional license in January 18717, and, at the age of 28, he opened the pub for business in March 18728.

The Marshal MacMahon Hotel joined two other pubs already trading in Wallabadah – The Post Office Hotel and the Royal Oak9. Today, the Marshal MacMahon is the sole survivor.

Interestingly, Hogan, from Tipperary, named his new pub in honour of Marshal Patrice de MacMahon (b.1808 – d. 1893), a French army general and politician, with an Irish ancestry. MacMahon was also President of France from 1875 to 187910.

Elizabeth Cropper’s daughter, Jane had married the storekeeper, miner and businessman, Denis John Hogan in 186811.

Hogan, who also had built other places of business in Wallabadah, seems to have overreached financially with the Marshal MacMahon Hotel, and he was declared insolvent in April 187212.

As a result Hogan was host of the Marshal MacMahon Hotel for only a few weeks, and on April 1 1872, he was forced to transfer the license to his 25-year-old brother-in-law, William Cropper13.

‘The Marshal MacMahon Hotel by W. Cropper’ C.1875. Interestingly, the pub sign also includes an image likeness of publican William Cropper. Picture: Quirindi and District Historical Society

Meanwhile Elizabeth Cropper continued as host of the Half Way House for just over a decade before she relocated to Wallabadah. The wayside inn at Billy Wiles Gully was not re-licensed in 1879, and closed for business.

After the Half Way House’s closure, Elizabeth Cropper operated a general store and post office, with her daughters, Jane Hogan and Annie Cropper, near the Mashal MacMahon Hotel, at the corner of Maria and Coach Streets, Wallabadah.

Elizabeth Cropper died at the age of 91 at Wallabadah in 190314.

Meanwhile, after five years as host of the Marshal MacMahon Hotel, William Cropper, at the age of 30, married Pauline Cramer in 187715. He retired as publican to become a farmer, transferring the license of the Marshal MacMahon Hotel in 1878 back to Denis Hogan, who had by this time securely re-established himself in business16.

With is wife Jane, Denis Hogan hosted the Marshal MacMahon for another decade before selling the pub in the late 1880s.

Hogan died at Wallabadah at the age of 51 on August 10 1895. The Maitland Mercury reported on August 13 1895 that his funeral was largely attended and that the old Irishman “had a peculiar charm of manner, which endeared him to all who came in contact with him”. His widow, Jane also died at Wallabadah, at the age of 82 in 192117.

Marshal MacMahon Hotel, Wallabadah, about 1879 when Denis Hogan was host. Picture: Supplied.

William Cropper meanwhile lived-out his life in the district as a farmer. His wife died in 1889, while the old innkeeper, who had helped service the Cobb & Co coaches at his mother’s wayside inn, and who had hosted an old Australian pub named after a French president, died at the age of 77 in 192418.

The Marshal MacMahon Hotel was known as the Wallabadah Hotel when this photo was taken in 1924. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The Marshal MacMahon Hotel, 2013. Picture: Jan Smith, Flickr

*Additional information from Julie Yeomans for Quirindi & District Historical Society. Also, I would like to acknowledge the help of members of the Australian Ancestors – Family History Researchers Facebook Group, for their help in establishing birth and death dates, especially Fiona Hawke and Marion Harrison.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023

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  1. Maitland Mercury newspaper April 4 1872
  2. NSW Government Gazette 1867
  3. Sydney Empire newspaper July 29 1867
  4. NSW Assisted Immigrant Passnger List 1828-1896
  5. Family Notices, Sydney Morning Herald, January 23 1861
  6. Freeman’s Journal, July 12, 1923
  7. NSW Government Gazette 1871
  8. Maitland Mercury newspaper April 4 1872
  9. NSW Government Gazette 1872
  10. Wikipedia, Patrice de MacMahon
  11. NSW Birth Deaths Marriages
  12. NSW Government Gazette April 12 1872
  13. Maitland Mercury newspaper April 4 1872
  14. NSW Births Deaths Marriages
  15. NSW Births Deaths Marriages
  16. NSW Government Gazette 1878
  17. Family Notices, Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 1921 and NSW Births Deaths Marriages
  18. NSW Births Deaths Marriages

Categories: Australian Hotels, NSW hotels

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2 replies

  1. The 1841 English Census has a James and Betty Cropper living in Rochdale with 5 kids, not including William (he would have been born in Australia if he was 14 in 1861). They were both aged 40 in 1841.


  1. Marshal MacMahon Hotel, Wallabadah – TIME GENTS

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