By MICK ROBERT ©
WHEN the doors of Weir’s Hotel closed for the last time in 1937, it left just one pub – the Royal – trading in the former gold mining town of Hill End.
Hill End, which once boasted over 25 pubs during the height of the 1872 gold rush, and had an estimated population of about 8,000 people, was but a shadow of a once thriving township.
Hill End, on the NSW Central Tablelands, owes its existence to the gold rushes.
The discovery of the precious metal in the early 1850s gave birth to the towns of Tambaroora and Hill End, then known as Bald Hills.
When Weir’s Hotel, originally established as the Cricketers Arms in 1862, finally called last drinks, a correspondent to the Lithgow Mercury reported on July 8, 1937 it was done “in right royal style, by quite a number of frequent and satisfied customers, who had gathered for harmony, and to pass reminiscences of bygone days”.
There’s little doubt one of those reminiscences told over a frothing glass of beer was the tale of the ‘red string bundle’.
In the early 1870s a careless miner, who had had way too many drinks, accidentally left a bundle of clothes at Weir’s Cricketer’s Arms. Almost 10 years later, while hostess, Alice Weir was having a clean-up, she found a bundle of shirts, and in a pocket discovered a roll of notes tied with a red string. She replaced the bundle, until a fortnight later when she overheard a miner in her bar lamenting the loss of money while on a drinking spree to his mates.
In one of Hill End’s many pubs 10 years previous, he had lost over £300. “All I can remember,” he told his mates, “is rollin’ the notes and tyin’ them with a piece of red string”.
Alice Weir couldn’t believe her ears, and immediately retrieved the roll of money to return to the miner. The story was published in Smith’s Weekly on March 22 1919:
A Piece of Red String
It was in the early 70’s when a miner, as careless with money as gold was easy to find, left a bundle of clothes with Mrs. Weir at the Hill End Commercial [The hotel was the Cricketer’s Arms] Hotel, now run by her nephew, Larry Weir. In the late 70’s, while having a clean-up she found in a bundle an old shirt, and in the pocket q roll of notes tied with a red string. She replaced the bundle. A fortnight later a dilapidated stranger came in and asked, “Is it good enough for a drink, Missus?” “Yes, come along.” “But there are five of us.” “I don’t care if there are twenty-five of you.” Five prospectors who had climbed the Mountains from the Turon and Macquarie Rivers entered the bar, while their angel served out five pewters of beer, which they gulped in silence. Silently, too, she refilled the pewters. Soon all started talking. This was the story of the lankiest of the five: — “Well, mates, I know you won’t believe it, but I came to Hill End with £500 in one roll of big notes.” (Jeers.) , “I knew you wouldn’t believe me — but it’s God’s truth. I got through a lot of the money in a month’s spree, but what became of the balance — over £300 — I’m damned if I know. All I can remember is rollin’ the notes and tyin’ them with a piece of red string. Then came more jeers during which Mrs. Weir left the bar, but they subsided the moment she returned with the old shirt, from the pocket of which she produced the red-string-tied roll, upon seeing which the six-feet-three lump of humanity gave way to tears, and was allowed to embrace the best-looking woman in Hill End. He also wanted to divide the £370 and to do lots of other generous things. “No, my good man; the sight of your face, the look of gratitude and those tears are enough reward for me. No — no more drink either. Keep your money, my dear fellow, and thank your lucky stars instead of me.” They left, and a few minutes after her husband came in with: “What game is this? I found the kid outside playing with it — where did she get it?” It was a tenner.
Among the early and most durable of Hill End’s publicans were John and Alice Weir.
An Irishman, Weir had arrived in Sydney at the age of 21 in 1855, before – like many thousands before him – he made his way to Hill End in search of fortune.
Weir, at the age of 28, established the Cricketer’s Arms in 1862 in what is today Clarke Street, Hill End. The following year he married Alice Johnson, and the pair went on to raise a large family while hosting their pub.
The husband and wife team would prove a resilient pair, John mining for gold, while Alice hosted their pub. Together they ran the pub for 20 years.
The Cricketers Arms, later simply renamed ‘Weir’s’, would become the second last of more than 25 pubs to trade in the once booming gold town. Today only the Royal Hotel survives from those heady days.
The Weirs though were not the first publicans in Hill End.
The Bathurst Free Press reported on April 14 1852 that the population of the district was around 1,200, and prospectors were busy building slab and bark huts as a substitute for flimsy calico tents.
“Substantial stores are springing up on all sides, and numerous applications have already been made for publicans’ licenses on this favoured spot.”
The Sydney Empire reported on July 22 1852 that publicans at the new diggings at Tamboora were making great profits.
A license ‘to retail fermented or spirituous liquors’ near a busy digging locality is a sure fortune, and it is questionable whether there are men on this side of the Blue Mountains, no matter what their pursuit, who are making money so fast as the Tambaroora bonifaces. If a man can put up with all kinds of insult, and for a time cast comfort of every description to the winds, or what amounts to pretty much the same—if he can bring himself to sacrifice a couple of years of his lifetime in serving grog and pocketing money, amidst smoke, noise, profanity, and dissipation, at a profitable digging place, he may, with common prudence, spend the rest of his existence in ease. The sums taken weekly by some of them are perfectly astounding.
On the road to Tambaroora from Sofala in October 1852 there were reportedly two pubs, one of which, about nine miles from the Tambaroora diggings, was a pub by the name of ‘Tom’s accommodation house’. The other house was about half-way between Sofala and Tambaroora.
A Sydney Empire correspondent reported in October 1852 that John Dean had recently died from excessive drinking at Tambaroora. Dean, who went by the nickname of ‘Jack the Devil’, was said to have made a wager with another miner at Tambaroora that he could drink 30 glasses of gin within a limited period.
He performed the brutal feat, but was quickly afterwards taken violently ill, and in a short time, evidently in consequence of the liquor he had swallowed, he ceased to exist. Although the case was one which peculiarly demanded investigation, the Commissioner did not think so, and the unfortunate victim of drunkenness was consigned to the earth without any inquiry whatever. As his death was sudden, and attended with circumstance which allowed that he had been actually killed by liquor, an inquiry ought certainly to have been made, in order that the publican who was so far concerned in the matter by serving him grog, might have received the punishment he merited, if he was really to blame in the transaction. In these out-of-the-way places, abuses such as these exist without much fear of detection and publicans, especially at Tambaroora, allow scenes of riot and of drunkenness to be enacted at their houses, even on Sunday at which the Commissioners, as they can not be ignorant of them, must certainly connive.
Tambaroora, located 5kms to the north of Hill End, was the larger of the two mining centres. By 1853, Tambaroora had 11 pubs, while its smaller neighbour, Hill End had four. The entire gold mining district of Tambaroora had in total about 20 licensed pubs in 1853.
The gold rush began to decline during the late 1850s, and with it the number of pubs. The Tambaroora correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald reported on July 18 1857 that the total number of public-house licenses issued for the district, which contained an area of some 30 by 25 miles, was 16; six of which were in Tambaroora and two at nearby Hill End. “No very great amount of business appears to be doing either in these houses, or in the stores,” the correspondent reported.
By 1869 the district had a combined population of about 2,500, and the two towns supported nine pubs, six in Tambaroora and three in Hill End.
In 1869 Hill End had Weir’s Cricketers Arms, Wythes’ Adelaide Hotel, and Williams’ All Nations Hotel. However, this all changed the following year after the discovery of rich gold reefs at Hill End.
A second gold rush came with discover of a reef near Hill End, resulting in the demise of Tambaroora. By 1872 Hill End boasted an intoxicating 25 pubs, while its neighbour Tambaroora had just seven watering holes.
The year 1872 was Hill End’s peak, and also marked the opening of its grandest and most enduring pub – The Royal, which proved to be the town’s survivor, outlasting all which it followed, and all which proceeded. It continues trading to this day in Hill End.
The long lost pubs of Hill End & Tambaroora, 1872
Meanwhile, the Weir family changed the name of the Cricketer’s Arms to Weir’s Hotel in 1873 while, despite the ever-growing competition, managed to build a successful and profitable business.
Weir’s Hotel was reportedly one of Hill End’s most popular pubs with both local drinkers and for tourist accommodation. However, by 1875, Hill End and neighbouring Tambaroora had seen their best day.
The gold was on its way out, and with it the town’s population – and its pubs – began a dramatic decline.
The number of pubs in Hill End halved within a three year period! From 25 pubs in 1872, there were just 11 pubs to service the thirsts prospectors and miners in 1875.
Hill End & Tambaroora licensed hotels 1875
To Suit the Times Hotel, Clarke St., Hill End, Stephen Swain
Junction Hotel, Tambaroora and Hill End Roads, Mary Jane Brown
Western Hotel, Hill End, Simeon Isaacs
Miners Arms, Lower Turon, William Bragg
Waverley Hotel, Hill End, Alexander Bishop
Creasey’s, Hill End, Edward Creasey
Victoria, Hill End, Ann Curnow
Club House, Clarke St., Hill End, Patrick Coyle
Tambaroora Inn, Tambaroora, Thomas Cooper
Commercial Hotel, Tambaroora, Lewis Clarke
Hargrave Hotel, Mudgee Rd., James Dagger
Empire Inn, Hill End, Henry Humberstone
Commercial Hotel, Hill End, Daniel Lobb
Maitland Camp Hotel, Maitland Camp, John McEwen
European Hotel, Hill End, Patrick Mellow
Crown Hotel, Hill End, John Rosevear
Hunter River Inn, Tambaroora, Jean Grenateau
Steel’s Hotel, Hill End, Alexander Steel
Royal Hotel, Tambaroora, Luke Salkeld
Royal Hotel, Hill End, Jane Standen
Albion Hotel, Lower Turon, Thomas Traxler
Fountain Hotel, Maitland Swamp, William Turnan
Weir’s Hotel, Hill End, John King Weir
Reefers Hotel, Hill End, Joseph Wythes
Australian Hotel, Hill End, John Weal
The writing was on the wall for Hill End’s publicans as thousands left the town, and their customers took their thirsts with them. By 1880 there were just eight pubs remaining in Hill End proper.
Licensed Hotels Hill End proper 1880
1. Criterion Hotel
2. Reefers Hotel
3. Empire Hotel
4. Commercial Hotel
5. Club House Hotel
6. Royal Hotel
7. Weir’s Hotel
8. Australian Hotel
The population had dramatically dropped from an estimated 8,000 in the early 1870s, to 1,223 in 1881. The decline in the number of pubs continued as peoples left in droves through the 1880s, with the Reefers Hotel turning off its taps in 1881, the Australian following in 1882, and the Criterion pulling-up stumps in 1883.
By 1885 there were just four pubs remaining in Hill End proper – Michael Ackerman’s Club House (established 1871), Alfred Baxter’s Commercial (established 1872), Matilda Smith’s Royal (established 1872) and John King Weir’s Weir’s Hotel (established 1862). In nearby Tambaroora, one pub was clinging on for survival – Mary Cooper’s Tambaroora Inn.
After more than two decades as hosts, the Weirs leased their Hill End pub, and relocated to Drake, about 44 km east of Tenterfield, in 1885 where they hosted another pub and where John took-out gold mining leases. The couple hosted the Great White Rock Hotel at Drake until 1897 before retiring to Paddington, Sydney.
One by one the last of Hill End’s pubs closed, the Club House Hotel in 1895, after the owner and host, Michael Ackerman was declared bankrupt, and in 1904, John Millen’s Commercial in Short Street.
With the closure of the Commercial in 1904, Hill End township was left with just two pubs to compete for a continuing declining population – the Royal, and Weir’s Hotel.
Read more about the history of Hill End’s Commercial Hotel at the Time Gents story: Hugh Hanna and Hill End’s Commercial Hotel, 1872 – 1904
John King Weir died in Sydney in 1902 at the age of 68. After his death, his widow, Alice, famous for the tale of the ‘red string’, had inherited the Hill End pub, and leased it to her nephew, Laurence ‘Larry’ Weir in 1902.
Alice Weir retired to Sydney, before the pioneering publican’s death at her daughter’s residence in Kensington at the age of 83 in 1927.
Larry Weir had come to Hill End at the age of two with his parents and had witnessed first hand the boom and bust of the township. His father, Thomas, was a school teacher at Lambing Flat and later Long Creek before establishing a cordial factory at Hill End.
Larry was one of the first children to attend the Hill End Public School, and as a young man also operated cordial factories at Hill End and Mudgee.
After his marriage in 1902 to Aspasia Williams at Hill End, the couple took over running Weirs Hotel.
At a licensing court appearance, Hill End’s two remaining pubs had to justify their existence at a local option hearing. The court was considering whether to close one of the last two remaining pubs. The Mudgee Guardian reported on the condition of Weir’s Hotel in March 1923:
The main building was constructed of wood and iron. It was old and out of date. The total number of bedrooms for the use of the public was five. There were two dining rooms. The Royal Hotel was the better building. The population of the town was 400, and the whole district about 800. Gold mining was the chief industry. There was a revival of gold mining. There mines were working and a number apart from mining, grazing was the principal industry. The trade was of new leases had been taken up equally divided between bar and accommodation. The hotel was well kept, and was clean and comfortable inside… Mr Weir, licensee of the hotel, said the hotel was in the Weir family for nearly 60 years. He was paying 25 shillings per week rent, but had to pay rates and taxes and keep it in good repair. He had an average of six boarders. The tariff was 8 shillings and 10 pence day, or 35 shillings per week for ordinary boarders. His was a commercial house. His takings were £13 a week from the bar; he could not say what the house takings trade would be. He considered there was room for two hotels in Hill End.
In contrast, Eyre’s Royal Hotel, just up the road, was described at the same court hearing as a two storey brick building that was “in a fair state of repair”. Of the pub’s 27 rooms, there were 15 bedrooms, 13 of which were available for the public. The Mudgee Guardian reported:
The trade was about equally divided between the bar and accommodation. The hotel was well conducted. Oswald Forbes Eyre, licensee and part owner with his sister, deposed that his tariff was 30 shillings a week and £2 2 shillings. He had three boarders at the former scale, and two at the latter. His average taking were about £15 per week including boarders. Two hotels could serve Hill End. There were big prospects of Hill End booming before long.
Both pubs survived the court hearing, and went on to trade another day.
Together Larry and his wife Aspasia would host Weir’s Hotel for almost 30 years.
Aspasia died in 1930 at a private hospital in Sydney at the age of 63, while Larry died two years later in 1932 at the age of 76. The Mudgee Guardian reported on September 26 1932:
The death of Mr. L. Weir was announced on Tuesday, September 20, at the age of 76 years, at his residence, Weir’s Hotel, Hill End. Mr Weir’s death came as a great shock to the district, where he was very widely known and respected… His wife predeceased him by two years. The late Mr Weir conducted an hotel business (Weir’s Hotel) for the past 30 years, during which time he made and held a wide circle of friends. Prior to entering hotel business he conducted cordial factories at both Hill End and Mudgee. Deceased came to Hill End at the early age of two years, and remembered fully the early mining boom days. He was one of the first children to attend the local public school in the position it now stands. He was one of a family of twelve. Six of the family predeceased him. His father was well known in the educational world, having at one time taught school at Long Creek. The hotel business is at present being carried on by Mr. A. W. Longmore as manager.
After Larry Weir’s death, his son Noel took over the license for a short period, followed by Harold Weir until 1934.
The last host of Weir’s Hotel was Dallas H.W. Rodda, who surrendered the license. The hotel closed for business on June 30, 1937. The Lithgow Mercury reported on July 8 1937:
Hill End Landmark Closes Doors
A correspondent writes: — The old landmark known for the past 75 years, as Weir’s Hotel at Hill End, has closed its doors as a licensed house, it was closed in right royal style, by quite a number of frequent and satisfied customers, who had gathered for harmony, and to pass reminiscences of bygone days. During the past 75 years there had been but only seven proprietors, two only of which were not related to the Weir family, from which the hotel took its name, being founded by the late J. K. Weir in 1862, when alluvial diggings were flourishing in the Hill End district, and at about the time of the commencement of reef mining in the colony, which was being conducted by an old English company at Dirt Holes, Tambaroora. Hill End grew out of the New South Wales gold rush of the 1850s.
The closure of Weir’s public house, left just Eyre’s Royal in Hill End.
The Royal Hotel, established in 1872, was owned by the Eyre family when Weirs Hotel closed in 1937. They would own the pub for 76 years before its sale in 1967.
Career hoteliers, William Henry Eyre bought the Royal in 1891, but would have a short stay as host. He died while licensee in 1894, and his widow, Sarah too the reins after his death. Sarah would host the pub until her death at the age of 70 in 1913.
Sarah’s recently married son, Oswald Forbes Eyre, and his wife Gertrude, took over the management of the pub in 1913. The couple hosted the pub until Oswald’s death at the age of 76 in 1955. Hid widow, Gertrude continued as host until1959, when she leased the pub. Gertrude Eyre died in 1967.
After 76 years of ownership, the family sold the pub to Owen Charles Maginess in 1967, who in turn sold it to the National Parks and Wildlife Service in March 1970. The NSW Government, through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who manage much of the heritage listed town, own the Royal to this day.
The Weir’s departure in 1936 was no big win-fall for the Ayre family, who owned the Royal Hotel. In a feature article published in the Sydney Sunday Herald on March 29 1953, the Eyre family, who still owned the pub, indicated that despite the Royal being the only pub in town, the business struggled.
Now the Royal Hotel, the school, post office and police station hold the township together. There are other hotels, too, but they are empty shells and their verandah posts lean drunkenly beneath rickety balconies… The townsfolk say there is only one gold mine in Hill End now – the Royal Hotel. But the publican, Mr. Oswald Eyre, shakes his head and says it is not the same as when he was a boy. Like most people in Hill End, Mr Eyre is an easy-going man – even for a publican. It was no trouble for him to open the bar to a couple of thirsty travellers, although it had been locked for the lunch break. The Royal is the heart of Hill End, and it still beats stoutly, especially on Saturdays, when the selectors come in from their sheep stations and the fossickers from their claims.
The Royal is indeed a relict from the past, a fact that is immediately realised when setting foot in its wonderful public bar room. The room has changed little from when the Eyre family pulled beers for thirsty farmers and gold prospectors and miners.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023
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