Queensland hotels of long ago

THE old pubs of Queensland were recalled by William Lees in an entertaining feature story published in ‘The Queenslander’ newspaper on September 5 1935.

In his story, he tells of the shanties and inns of outback Queensland and the legendary hotels of Brisbane, their dubious reputations, and the even more dubious liquor they sold.

Lees reveals how customers in the 1840s often would refuse to drink from of an unlabelled bottle because it was an indication that the home-made brews of “sulphuric acid, painkiller, bluestone, spirits of salts, and sauce” often burnt the labels off! He explained how one ex-publican was ruined through dropping a bottle of home brew on to the bar-room floor. It smashed to pieces and burnt his uninsured pub to the ground!

By William Lees

SLOPPING through the muddy water, swag up, or along dust, strewn track, the wearied swagmen welcomed the sight of the distant “pub,” and cheerily, almost, marched on to its welcoming. The Abbott buggy swung its way past the swaggie and drew up for the rest and refreshment of its occupants. Bullocky, drover, stockman, commercial carrier, and coach driver pulled up to its portal for rest and comfort.

BUT this was years ago. Out along the old-time roads and tracks these hostelries have gone, almost, like the men of the past. Motor cars have to make their hundred and more miles journey in the day between town and township, and their owners pay little heed to these amenities of but a few years gone, and give but little thought of their worth to the travellers in the olden days.

Legends, good, bad, and medium, are associated with these old homes, pubs, or shanties, whatever they may have been named, from the “Do Drop Inn” to the “Carriers’ Arms” or “The Bush man’s Retreat,” and the stories are an integral part of the history of this continent.

In those now distant pioneer days men did “meet and part or a while lingered here”; some were from far away lands, some outward bound, others just “hands,” making their way to pastoral, mining, or timber centres, some never to return; a few to re-trace their steps with joyous intent to revel in the soft, or hectic, life of the towns. The first public house recorded in old Moreton Bay was the “Captain Piper,” which was built in Russell Street. South Brisbane, 92 years ago, and was kept by John Williams. The same year David Bow opened the “Victoria” in Queen Street, on the site now occupied by the Carlton. This “Old Vic” or “Bows” was a great centre of conviviality with the “haut ton” of those days.

THE clerk of H.M.S. survey ship Bramble, in his “Journal of the Voyage of the Bramble,” records that Lieutenant Yule got away from the riotous mob of squatters and sports who were holding high revel and went to his room to sleep. That availed little. Failing to break in the door the mob climbed on to the rafters of the unceiled room and made “Whoopee” with farmyard cries, cheers, and toasts to Yule, who had got into bed, and remained there. After 3 a.m. they all went to bed except those who had already fallen from their perches and lay snoring upon the floor of that very tired officer’s bedroom! On the return trip Lieutenant Yule stayed at the “Sovereign.” In Stanley Street, South Brisbane, was the “Commercial,” kept by John McCabe. The “Woolpack,” in Melbourne Street, South Brisbane, and the “Brisbane,” at the corner of Russell Street, were also first-timers, the fact of the shipping of the old Hunter River S.N. Co., Ltd., coming to the only wharf, then near to the present Victoria Bridge, and the trade from Limestone and the West and the Logan district, influencing this in crease in hotel accommodation.

On the north side was the Caledonian, in George Street, near the old hospital, where is now Tritton & Co.’s premises, kept first by Ale Wright and later by Thos. Chambers.

THE “Sovereign” was built in Queen Street in 1847 by R. E. Dix. and afterwards conducted by Jim Collins, followed by Jas. Powers, father of Mr. Justice Powers, and, “until the Great Fire of 1864, by that old Colonist, George McAdam.

The “Sovereign” was named after the vessel which was wrecked in the South Passage in March, 1847. R. E. Dix and his wife were the mate and stewardess on this vessel, and were amongst those who were saved; later they married. Subsequently, in the fifties, they kept the “Bush Inn,” Fassifern, a fine road house on the way to Spicer’s Peak Gap. Nehemiah Bartley writes that Mrs. Dix had pretty brown eyes and hair of the same colour; was a good pianist and above the style of most innkeepers’ wives of that period in old Moreton Bay.

The “Sawyers Arms,” where Phillips’ Auction Rooms now stand, was opened in 1845 by Jerry Scanlan. The “St. Patrick,” later the “Sportsman’s Arms,” now site of the Courier Building, was owned by W. Sheehan, with Mat Stewart, as landlord, and then Johnny Jones. Mat Stewart later owned the “Donnybrook,” where Alexander Stewart & Co.’s premises were built. This hotel was later the “North Brisbane,” and, when George Dickson was licensee, was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1864. THEN there was the old “Steam Packet,” at the foot of Creek Street, by the old ferry punt. On the South side again was the “Harp of Erin,” owned by A. A. Graham, whose widow changed the name to the “Steam Packet,” and married F. D. Mercer. Jas. Donald kept it in 1853, and in 1854 R. E. Dix took it over. Overland built the ‘Clarence” at the corner of Boggo Road, and Crump was on the opposite side at the foot of College Hill, while further on, where now is the “Railway Hotel.” was an old bark-roofed slab humpy kept as a fruit shop by a Mrs. Tynan. At the Five Ways was a one-storey brick structure with shingle roof, the “Woolloongabba,” a great calling place for those travelling to or from Ipswich or the Logan.

TO the west, south, and north (when Gympie opened) “pubs” sprang up like mushrooms on all the roads, helped by the establishment of Cobb & Co.’s and other coach services. Some were good, some bad, and others worse, with the liquor to suit.

One, the “Oxley,” built in 1860 by John Macdonald, was a great centre for sporting men, a race club and course being formed in 1884 near the Ipswich Road. From Brisbane south-ward, and along the road to Stanthorpe, were some quaint old places, as the photographs on Page 22 show. Ipswich — old Limestone — had a good number of inns, McDonald’s being the main squatters’ retreat, with Sullivan’s also popular.

Some of the old pioneers who made this their centre were A. Hannibal, McArthur, Pollet Cardew, John Deuchar, John Brewster, of Rosevale, W. Turner, of Helidon, W. Davidson, of Canning Downs, and Captain Vignolles. Then there was Jubbs, on the Main Range, with the “Royal Bull’s Head” of Bill Horton, and Meahan, who built the first inn at “The Swamp,” Toowoomba, while Captain Withers kept the “Queen’s Arms,” now the “Club,” at the Margaret and Ruthven Street corner, the starting place for Cobb & Co.’s coaches.

Many of us still remember the “Mellum Club Hotel” on the old Gympie Road, now Landsborough, with genial cost Harry Dyer, and Schubert’s slab and shingle accommodation house where now is Woombye, and Martin’s “Half Way’ (to Tewantin), with Mount Cooran rising its great height near by.

WESTWARD, as the country became occupied, the first building usually was an hotel, and one could mention scores — Ascheman’s at Charleville, a great meeting place for carriers, droving plants, mail coach, boundary riders, shearers and station owners with their four-in-hands, spare horses, and black boy as general help. Some, perhaps, will remember the old hungry cow, which came up the passage into the dining room looking for some thing to eat, and becoming angry at being turned out flicked off with a sweep of her tail the whole of the contents of the sideboard; or the old “pub” at Dulbydilla when Frank Lemon, a well-known carrier, mounted his horse in the dead of the night, and rode through the dining room and out by the passage way.

Once I went out from Cunnamulla to Thargomindah. Slushing our way over the semi-flooded track from before daylight we reached the “Mud Hut” near midnight. After our meal I quickly turned in, and I remember a middle-aged nurse who was with us, and had never been west, moving all the furniture against the door of the next room! Four a.m. and breakfast for a fresh start, when I was told that on the evening before we arrived a mulga snake had been killed in my room. They did not tell me this before, us they thought that perhaps his mate would come looking for him. And the mulga is a diabolical type of snake!

At Eulo, 47 miles from Cunnamulla, was the Royal Hotel, kept by Mrs. Grey, the “Eulo Queen.” This hotel was built of mud—pise from the near-by Paroo River—and was the centre of great doings in the eighties and nineties, when the Yowah field was producing magnificent opals. Later the hotel was gutted by fire and for years the remains looked like some old medieval ruins.

And there are stories gathered on that old line of Cobb and Co.’s from Port Douglas to Granite Creek and Herberton, and on to Georgetown. One is an old story of a tired school teacher, who, on arrival, desired a bath, and was directed to a small galvanised iron en-closure. Disrobing she looked around for the water, then heard the voice of the landlord over head and the rattle of a kerosene tin. “Stand over a little, miss,” came the startling request to the nudist. “When you get under the shower I’ll pour the water in.”

At California Creek (Gurrumba), where the partitions of the rooms were only 7ft. high, there had been a wedding party, and I was surrounded by a happy lot of roysterers throughout the night. At the “Evesham Change House,” on the Longreach — Winton track, everything was done splendidly; fine linen and table ware, flowers, and good meals well served! The housewife, a fine type, could speak several languages. She had joined Bayley and Barnum’s Circus in Italy as a young girl and journeyed round the world; then married and went to the Evesham Change with her husband. As a hostess she was splendid.

ONE remembers also the “Boar Pocket” pub on the track from Cairns to Herberton, posts, split paling sides, and shingle roof. The “Catfish,” on the Gladstone — Banana track; the old “Broadsound Hotel,” that great meeting place of carriers from and to Peak Downs and Copperfield over the awful Connors Range; of “Smithfield” pub on the Barro — the start for the Hodgkinson — and the tragedy there, when the great flood swept the township away; of “Hides and McColl’s,” Cairns, a meeting place of men from all the seas, and mining camps, and New Guinea. Then there was the “Ravenswood Hotel,” in the palmy days of W. R. O. Hill and Macrossan, and a certain landlord and his wife, at one place, who alternatively went on a spree, each persisting while drinking in marching about in nature’s garb. Bogantungan had 16 “pubs” when the Central line was under construction, and some-still tell of the epic fight of a grandson of Governor Bligh.

AS for the quality of some of the liquor sold in those far-away days, Bill Bowyang tells that one never took a drink out of an unlabelled bottle, be cause the home-made brew of sulphuric acid, painkiller, bluestone, spirits of salts, and sauce would come through any bottle and burn its label off.

Bill said that once he overtook an ex-publican, carrying his swag on the Croydon track, who told him that he had been ruined through dropping a bottle of home brew on to the floor. It smashed to pieces and burnt his un-insured “pub” down!

Memories are all that remain of scores of old time hotels from “the border to the Gulf, gone like the men who used to sing:

The wide expanse and the laughing wind,

And the open road for me,

With the winking stars in the roof of the sky,

A night-light clear to see.

Over the rim of the world.

Into the crimson sunset glow,

Where the gum trees raise their arms in prayer,

When the banner of night’s unfurled.

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Categories: Brisbane hotels, Queensland hotels

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1 reply

  1. You might be interested in this article of mine ..re the Oxley Hotel… https://urungamaiden.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/tall-dark-and-smiling/

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