The History of Australian Pubs

On January 26th in 1788, ( what a coincidence - " Australia Day" ) a total of 11 ships carrying 756 convicts (564 male, 192 female), 550 officers, marines, ship crew and their families arrived at Port Jackson to establish the first white settlement in Australia
The consumption of alcohol began almost immediately the convicts stepped ashore, however no one was looking for a cool glass of beer in fact the only available beverage would have been an appalling brew known as "grog". a watered down mixture of rum and molasses. Although at first the convicts were denied spirits, it didn't take long for a thriving black-market to develop and prostitution and crime to re establish themselves as prisoners sold their services and assets cheaply for meagre amounts of alcohol obtained from corrupt and opportunist officers. Illegal stills flourished during the early years of settlement and it was not uncommon to see men and women sitting round a bucket of spirits and drink it with quart pots until they were unable to move. It was said that the population was divided into two classes, those who sold rum and those who drank it, and Grog was indeed the national currency.
In order to stop the illegal trade the government issued licenses for the sale of liqueur in April 1796 and later that year, Australia's first legal hotel, the Masons Arms, was built in Parramatta by James Larra, also that year the first recorded beverage resembling beer was brewed by John Boston However in reality during the first fifteen years of settlement there was not any significant amounts of beer brewed or sold in the colony, as the only beer drinkers in the colony would have been a few of the free settlers and some of the administrators as rum and gin were the preferred drink of the poor and working class and beer was a rich mans beverage (oh how times have changed)

The First Pub and Brewery

The problems that gin ( and spirits) had caused in London were having the same effect in the new colony and in 1804 the government attempted to supply an alternative to crudely distilled rum by establishing a brewery and in September that year Australia's first (and last) government owned brewery commenced production in Parramatta (the same area where the first hotel opened its doors a few years previously) The brewery was privatised two years later and was purchased by Thomas Rushdon who was its head (and only) brewer. In the first years of settlement the majority of migration consisted of convicts however from about 1800 onwards there was an increasing component of free settlers who where either tenant farmers who had been evicted from their leases to make way for sheep or land speculators looking to acquire cheap land in the new colony. These new settlers bought with them a different culture - they were hard working, god fearing people who did not need ( or could ill afford) to be permanently drunk . They bought with them a liking for ale and beer which in turn resulted in an increase in brewing in the colony and because of the distances involved and the lack of transport, small breweries were established to serve local communities - Warrnambool alone had 4 breweries operating in the 1890's.

The New Settlers

From about 1820 onwards the number of free settlers arriving exceed the number of convicts being transported so it is not surprising to see the establishing of an increasing number of breweries the most significant was in 1822, when Peter Degraves set up the Cascade Brewery in Hobart. It would become the longest operating brewery in Australia In the 1830's the escalation of land clearances Scotland and to a lesser extent in Ireland and England ( to make way for sheep) plus and a widespread famine in 1834-36 saw a dramatic increase in the number of free settlers arriving on our shores. They sought out land to farm ( and climate) that was similar to what they had left behind and settled predominantly in the cooler southern states.
This resulted in breweries being established to service these new settlers and in 1836, John Warren set up South Australia's first brewery, in 1837 James Stokes established the first brewery in Western Australia (it later became the Emu Brewery) and 1838 James Moss established the first brewery in Melbourne. In 1845-46 the great potato famine opened the floodgates to migration and bought about mass migration on a scale not seen before. The vast majority of the new arrivals were from the country areas of Ireland, Scotland and England and would have had a preference for beer and even the arrivals from London would have been beer drinkers and ex clients of many of the new beer shops and Public houses that were being established

The Gold Rush

The discovery of Gold in Ballarat in 1851 was responsible for attracting people from all walks of life to Australia. Their sheer numbers created markets of a size few in Australia had dreamed of before gold. Moreover, these immigrants were often young, educated and energetic and very thirsty - all that Australia need was a beer to call its own. - this happened in 1887 when two New Yorkers arrived in Melbourne with refrigeration equipment and set up a new brewery - yes it is true - two yanks teaching us how to brew beer!! Actually I believe that they were originally from Ireland so that might make it a less bitter pill to swallow.. Up until this time the local brewers only made heavy, sweet, warm, top fermented ales, but the Foster brothers brought with them the technology and yeast strains to produce a lighter style of bottom fermenting lager that could be served icy cold and more suited to the hotter climate (and the tastes of local drinkers), it was an instant success and has become Australians national drink - Just to set the record straight the Foster brother were not the first to brew lager in Australia - in 1885 Gambrinus Brewery in Melbourne became Australia's first lager brewery.
Locally only a small number of breweries survived into the 1900's notably the Ballarat brewery, affectionately known as "Ballarat Bertie" ceased brewing in 1971 and Sheldricks brewery which survived in Warrnambool until 1922.

The Western District

By the early 1840’s free settlers began arriving in the newly discovered farming lands of the Western district of Victoria ( then known as the Port Philip district ). They included farmers, merchants and adventurers looking to establish a new life in the colony, and as the new settlements grew the first community building that was generally erected was the local hotel or pub. The local pub became the central meeting point for the community providing a venue for district social and civic gatherings, a meeting room for local affairs, plus in many cases it provided accommodation for travellers and a place to stable and feed their horses.
The local pub was the main focal point of most country communities and between 1840 and 1880 there was at least one pub for every 200 inhabitants. Many of the first pubs were simple timber structures and none of these survive toady but as the communities grew, so did the size and quality of local hotels and quite a few of these still survive.
The oldest licensed hotel in the district ( still trading) is the Caledonian Inn in Port Fairy which dates back to 1844, also the Merrijig Inn which dates back to 1842 is still operating but no longer as a hotel.
In 1848 the first commercial building in Warrnambool was a hotel (the Warrnambool Hotel) which was built at the corner of Banyan and Merri streets, it is now the site of the Olde Maritime Motor Inn, The oldest licensed hotel in Warrnambool is the Commercial Hotel ( now the Whalers Inn) which dates back to 1854. In the period from 1870 to 1890 Warrnambool experienced a building boom and by 1890 there were 41 hotels in the town, some of these still operate today and include the Victoria Hotel (1867), The Western Hotel (1870) , The Caledonian Hotel (1884) The Royal Hotel (1886) and no list of local hotels would be complete without mentioning the Warrnambool Hotel which was built on the foundations of the Ozone Coffee Palace which was the built in 1887 and while it was a temperance hotel it was still a hotel.
There is also a number of charming old hotels still in existence around the region, include the Elephant Bridge hotel at Darlington, (pictured above) The Penshurst Hotel and also what is possibly the depressing sights for those who mourn the passing local pubs, the Hexham Hotel, which is a superb old bluestone pub, which due to a vanishing population in the tiny village of Hexham, will probably fall into decay and be demolished in the foreseeable future.

LOCAL PUB LISTING