Historic Pubs of Sydney

Built in 1842 by George Paton, using convict labor, the Hero of Waterloo is one of Sydney’s oldest hotel buildings, although it wasn’t licensed as a hotel until 1845. Although the sign which overhangs the front door looks very quaint, these days, signs like this were introduced so that the largely illiterate population of early Sydney was able to distinguish the names of hotels according to images. In addition to the mandatory signs, hotels were also required to have gas lights over the entrance, and at one point it was estimated that 60% of Sydney’s artificial light came from hotels. It is also believed a series of tunnels connected the Hero of Waterloo (and other hotels) which it is said were used to shanghai and transport unfortunate drinkers onto slave ships. These were some of the fascinating things I discovered on an historic pub crawl run by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

Time Please, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Turk’s Head, the Bird in Hand and the Hero of Waterloo – pubs in The Rocks and Millers Point have a fascinating story to tell. This walking tour explores the meanings behind the pub names; the characters that once drank in them, and will bring to life the community that lived around them. Concludes with lunch at a local hotel.

The tour, which commenced at Susannah Place Museum in the Rocks, began with some information about the different types of hotel which were found in the early days of the colony. It was explained that inns, taverns and public houses appealed to different classes and often served only a particular type of alcohol. It was also explained that in the early days of the colony there were many hotels which served alcohol, although many of them bore no resemblance to a modern hotel; sometimes they were just a room in someone’s house. On the site of the archaeological dig, opposite Susannah Place, there were several hotels in just a small area, often with colourful names such as the Whalers Arms, depending on what type of clientele they wanted to attract. Amongst the pubs we visited were the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel (pictured). It was established in 1841 and was built, initially as a house. Another popular hotel in The Rocks is The Orient. The name derives from the very first Chinatown located in Sydney.

Hero of Waterloo
Lord Nelson Hotel

Perhaps the most interesting story we were told, though, concerns the tiles on the outside of many inner-city pubs. The introduction of six o’clock closing during the war years acted as a catalyst for the Australian phenomenon known as the “six o’clock swill”. With only an hour in the pub after their working day was over, it became common practice for men to guzzle as much beer as they could in a drinking frenzy. To cope with the demand, publicans extended bars to the length of the room and smashed out walls if necessary, to maximise the service areas. Tiles covered the face of the bars and lower six feet of the walls. Carpets were ripped up and replaced with linoleum for easy cleaning. To meet licensing requirements that alcohol could only be served to men who remained standing, a railing was added beneath the bar counter, where they could fasten their belts to stop from falling over. The end of the six o’clock swill finally came when trading hours were extended until 10 pm, in 1955.

A great tour… lots of fun!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: