Hobart’s Liverpool Street was ‘infested with prostitutes’ and pubs that were the ‘worst dens of infamy’

The Help Me Through The World, at the corner of Liverpool and Barrack Streets, Hobart.


COLONIAL Hobart was home to some of the most notorious pubs, not only in Tasmania, but all of Australia.

With odd names, like the Pickwick Tavern, Labor in Vain, Good Woman, Lame Horse, Surely We Have Done Our Duty, and Help Me Through The World (which we will come to a little later in the story), swinging from sign boards outside their bars, Hobart’s pubs were plagued by issues of drunken crime, prostitution, hocussed or adulterated liquor, early last century and were often overcrowded, dirty and poorly run. There were some truly fearsome pubs in Hobart Town.

Violence, theft and other criminal activities were commonplace, with much of it being fuelled by excessive alcohol consumption. The crowded and chaotic nature of many of the pubs led to an atmosphere of lawlessness, with little respect for authority or social norms. There was little regulation of the pubs at that time, and the police struggled to keep up with the rising levels of crime.

There was the Hope and Anchor Tavern, said to be Tasmania’s first, established in 1807, and which continues to trade to this day.

The pub was a meeting place for sailors, whalers, and ticket-of-leave convicts, who were continually dragged in front of the local magistrates to answer crimes of drunkenness and fighting. The Hobart Town Advertiser reported on December 24 1861 that John Blake, a ticket of leave holder, “was charged with misconduct, he being a prisoner of the Crown, and being in the Hope and Anchor public house during divine service on Sunday”.

Blake was sentenced to three months hard labour for his indiscretion. 

In Liverpool Street, a one kilometres stretch of road in central Hobart traded at least 17 pubs in 1845.

The Hobart correspondent to the Launceston newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, reported on July 13 1907 that Liverpool-street was “a nest of pubs from top to bottom” and was where “whalers painted the town red and demoiselles of the pave took charge of Liverpool-street under the gaslight”.

Liverpool Street, Hobart. Picture: Australasian Sketcher, July 24, 1880.

The correspondent recalled pubs like the Notorious Man, at the corner of Liverpool and Campbell streets, the Waterman’s Arms, George the Fourth, the British, and the Duke of Clarence at the corner of Murray and Liverpool streets. There was the Emu, Glasgow Wine Vaults at the corner of Harrington-street, and the City of London Arms.

Also in Liverpool Street traded the Red Lion and Hibernian, situated each side of the Workmen’s Club, and, one of the most infamous, the Help Me Through the World, at corner of Barrack-street. Nearly all these pubs, reported the Daily Telegraph, were “dirty drinking shops, frequented by the lowest of the low, and a menace to the peace of the city”.

There was Elizabeth Bell’s infamous Garrick’s Head Inn, which traded in Liverpool Street from the early 1850s. The pub was described in 1861 as “infested with prostitutes” and one of Hobart’s “worst dens of infamy”.

No less than seven brothels reportedly operated from tenements in the pub’s backyard. Bell’s license was refused on December 1, 1860 for allowing prostitutes in her pub. After an appeal, she was granted a new license on the condition that the tenements were not let to prostitutes. Bell ignored the instruction, and over the following 12 months no less than 12 women were arrested for prostitution in the pub’s courtyard.

Not surprisingly the Garrick’s Head Inn lost its license in December 1861.

The Help Me Through the World, also in Liverpool Street, was another of Hobart’s disreputable pubs.

There have been two pubs in Hobart with the sign of Help Me Through The World, and another in Brisbane Street, Launceston.

The first Help Me Through The World opened in Collins Street Hobart in 1829, and closed for business in 1839.

The second and more fabled Help Me Through the World traded for just short of 40 years on the north-east corner of the intersection of Liverpool and Barrack Streets in Hobart.

The location of the Help Me Through The World” at the north-east corner of Liverpool and Barrack Streets, Hobart. Picture: Google Streetview

The pub was established by former convict Francis Caines, who was sentenced to life in the colonies for ‘highway robbery’ in 1825.

Born in Bitton, Gloucestershire, England in 1807, Caines was a young man of 19 when he arrived in Hobart aboard the ship ‘Woodman’ in 1826.

Caines soon found his feet though and after receiving his ticket of leave married Susan Phipps in 1834. The couple were ‘gifted’ a parcel of land by Susan’s father, George Phipps, in 1839. The land was bounded on the north-west by Liverpool Street and on the south-west by Barrack Street to the Hobart Town Rivulet.

Caines first tried to open a pub on the corner in September 1842. However, he was refused “a new license”. The following year, his persistence paid-off, and Caines was granted a license for the ‘Help Me Through The World’. He remained host of the inn for five years, before the death of his wife, Susan at the age of 32 in 1847.

Caines immediately gave-up the pub and returned to his trade as a butcher. He leased his pub to James Williams.

Like his father-in-law had done for him, Caines gifted the pub to his only child, Elizabeth, and her husband, Nicholas Ray after their marriage in 1852.

Francis Caines, the founder of the pub with a most unusual name, died in his residence, Liverpool Street, Hobart, on April 27 1862 at the age of 56.

Meanwhile, the new owners of the Help Me Through The World, Nicholas and Elizabeth Ray, never hosted the pub for any length of time, and leased the two-storey inn to a long list of licensees over the following 28 years.

Like his father-in-law, Nicholas Ray was a butcher by trade and ran a shop beside the pub at the corner of Liverpool and Barrack Streets.

A Hobart Colonial Times advertisement for the ‘Help Me Through The World’ on February 27, 1849

During this time the Help Me Through The World gained a reputation as one of Hobart’s seedier pubs, the haunt of sailors, soldiers, prostitutes and con-men, and licensees were repeatedly fronting the magistrates for trading illegal hours.

The pub was surrounded by tenement housing. Narrow, low-rise apartments, the tenements were single rooms housing entire families, and were built ‘railroad style’, without windows and had poor ventilation. They were basically slums.

Early last century, Liverpool and Barrack Streets were known for tenement housing. The area was home to working-class families, unable to afford better housing due to limited job opportunities and low wages.

The slums were characterised by dilapidated housing structures that lacked basic amenities like running water, electricity, and sanitation facilities. Families were forced to live in cramped spaces with little or no privacy. The high density of population meant that diseases could easily spread and epidemic outbreaks were common.

The Help Me Through The World was frequented by a cast of shady characters who called the tenements adjoining the public-house home. Customers reportedly had direct access to the pub through a back laneway from the tenements for easy discretionary drinking out of legal hours.

Some of the hosts of the pub were just as shady as their customers.

The wife of publican, Timothy Troy was sentenced to prison for stealing money from a customer! Mary Troy was “confined to penal servitude for a period of six months” in March 1870.

The judge, when sentencing, reportedly “dwelt particularly upon the fact that as the keeper of a public place of resort, the woman Troy ought, instead of herself being guilty of robbing visitors to her house, to have exerted herself to keep inviolably sacred the persons and property of those who should visit the place”.

The pub’s notoriety grew, and in December 1874 authorities had had enough.

The license was cancelled after police reported the sordid reputation to the magistrates. However in January 1875, Nicholas Ray, owner of the premises, was successful in convincing the magistrates to have the premises relicensed. He argued that he would endeavour to engage a responsible tenant to take-over as a publican.

Ray’s assurances though were hollow. Husband and wife, Arthur and Catherine Tibballs would become the last hosts of the Help Me Through The World.

The pub’s new licensee, 32-year-old Arthur James Tibballs, was repeatedly fined for trading outside legal hours. By 1878 the pub’s reputation had reached the mainland with Victorian newspaper, the Kyneton Observer reporting: “It is not often that hotels are as true to name as this. At a public house in Hobart Town, called ‘Help me through the world’, a man, named O’Callaghan, drank himself to death in a few days”.

O’Callaghan, a seaman, had booked a room at the Help Me Through The World after his whaling vessel Asia moored in Hobart Harbour. He collapsed at the Tibball’s pub after drinking excessively and was taken to Hobart Hospital where he died.

An inquest suspected that his drinks may have been “hocussed”, a common practice at many of Hobart’s more ill-famed pubs at the time. Nicotine and other illicit substances were often added to colonial liquor during these times for preservation and to give it a bit more of a kick.

An analysis of the contents of O’Callaghan’s stomach found the presence of nicotine in sufficiently large quantity to cause death. However, publican Tibballs told the coroner’s court that O’Callaghan, while excessively drinking, was also a heavy smoker and chewer of tobacco.

The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence, that death was caused by inflammation of the lungs, hastened by excessive drinking and tobacco juice.

When applying for his license renewal in December 1880 the Superintendent of Police reported that the pub had been badly conducted; “that it was surrounded by improper houses, the inmates of which frequented the public-house; and that the applicant had been fined for Sunday trading”. The Hobart Mercury reported on December 2, 1880:

“It was known to many that the premises were miserable in the extreme, that they were surrounded by improper places, and that scenes of a most disgraceful character were enacted in and around the house. It was really one of those low dens which he considered it was the duty of the magistrates to put down. Not only was it objectionable in other respects, but it did not contain accommodation for travellers. The rooms might be there, but he was informed that they were quite bare. He should therefore vote against the granting of a license.”

The licensing magistrates heard that neither publican Tibballs nor his wife were suitable hosts. When authorities visited the pub, they “found every room in a disordered state, and there were a lot of people there who should not be in the place”.

The license of the Help Me Through The World was refused on the grounds of the character and conduct of the applicant, and the insufficiency of the accommodation provided by the house.

An attempt to relicense the pub the following year failed.

Catherine Tibballs died at the age of 43 in 1895. Her widower, Arthur Tibballs, the last host of the Help Me Through The World, lived to the age of 70, and died in 1913.

The owner of the Help Me Through The World, Nicholas Ray died four months before the pub lost its license, at the age of 55 on August 2 1880. His wife, Elizabeth, died at the age of 44 on Christmas Eve 1880.

The former pub became a butcher shop, and later a grocery store. It’s unsure when the building was demolished, although the building was still there in 1915.

Help Me Through The World licensees

1843 – 1847: Francis Caines

1847 – 1849: James Williams

1849 – 1850: Samuel Chase

1850 – 1850: William Howard

1850 – 1852: John White

1852 – 1853: Elisabeth White

1853 – 1856: William Dalgleish

1856 – 1856: Nicholas Ray

1856 – 1858: Charles Wright

1858 – 1858: James Emery

1858 – 1860: William Moxham

1860 – 1862: John Monk

1862 – 1865: Henry Elliott

1865 – 1866: Nicholas Ray

1866 – 1869: Timothy Troy

1869 – 1870: John Spellman

1870 – 1871: Nicholas Ray

1871 – 1874: Thomas Dunphy

License refused

1875 – 1876: Nicholas Ray

1876 – 1880: Arthur Tibballs

Hotel closed for business

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023

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