Tag Archives: St. John’s Tavern

A memorable December

In the early 1830s, walking along George Street from Sydney Cove, one soon came upon St. John’s Tavern, on the north corner of George and Bridge Streets. On the other side of Bridge Street and extending along that street was a Lumber Yard.

The Tavern was one of a number of buildings that stood on what used to be called the ‘Orphan Grant’ or the ‘Orphan House Ground’, which stretched between George Street and the ‘Stream of the Tanks’, and was bordered on the south by Bridge Street and on the north by the allotment of James Underwood. This ‘Orphan Grant’ was subdivided into six separate lots and sold off in 1827. Offered for sale at the same time was the Orphan School Grant at Cabramatta (6,000 acres), subdivided into lots, and offered for lease was farming land near Bathurst also known as the Orphan School Grant (1,000 acres, of which 20 were reserved for a possible church and school).

In October 1830 we find Thomas Brett advertising his recently opened ‘Wholesale and Retail Wine and Spirit Warehouse. St. John’s Tavern, Opposite the Lumber Yard, George-street.’ He acknowledged the ‘flattering patronage’ he had already received, and assured his friends and the public of ‘his determination to persevere in the sale of the finest articles that can be produced, and at such prices as cannot be undersold by any house in the trade.’

The name of St. John was appropriate to a tavern that housed Masonic Lodge Rooms where the Australian Social Lodge held its meetings. The feast-days of St. John the Baptist (24 June) and of St. John the Evangelist (27 December), six months apart, were particular occasions of celebration for the Masonic movement. In December 1831, for example, to honour the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist, the Australian Social Lodge ‘regaled their friends’ at ‘Brett’s, St. John’s Tavern’, while the Leinster Marine Lodge assembled at the Royal Hotel and the Military Lodge gathered in the Non-commissioned Officers’ Mess room at the Military Barracks.

December 1831 was a memorable month. On the 2nd General Richard Bourke arrived to become the colony’s eighth Governor, and on the 5th the town held an ‘illumination’, in which St. John’s Tavern took part. It was also a personally memorable time for Thomas Brett, but the outcome was not what he had originally intended. Nor was it the outcome expected by Rebecca Miller, whose guardian was Mr. William Bennett, baker, of Parramatta. Thomas met Rebecca at Mr. Bennett’s home, became an admirer, made frequent visits, wooed and won Rebecca, and received Mr. Bennett’s approval to marry her. The wedding was set down for around Christmas time, or New Year’s Day at the latest. Wedding clothes were prepared and guests invited.

However, there was a hitch. The Bennetts received warning that Thomas was already married. Enquiries were made and the family were able to satisfy themselves that Thomas had no wife in England, as had been rumoured. But by this time Thomas found himself no longer willing to proceed with the marriage, and he wrote to Mr. Bennett to that effect on 23 December.

We learn these details from the newspaper report of the court case which eventuated. The matter was heard before Justice Stephen and a common jury at the Supreme Court on 18 June 1832. Rebecca Miller, under age, through her guardian, was suing Thomas Brett for breach of promise of marriage, and seeking compensation of £1,000. William Charles Wentworth was counsel for the plaintiff, while counsel for the defendant was Mr. Macdowell, who professed himself in awe of the fame and ability of his learned colleague.

[To be continued.]

Orphan Grant land for sale: Australian 7/4/1827, p. 2. St. John’s Tavern, recently opened: Australian 29/1/1830, p. 1. Anniversary of St. John the Evangelist: Sydney Monitor 31/12/1831, p. 2. Court proceedings: Australian 22/6/1832, p. 3. Louis Green, ‘Macdowell, Edward (1798-1860)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 164-165, and online. Michael Persse, ‘Wentworth, William Charles (1790-1872)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 2, 1967, pp. 582-589, and online.

The commencement of a bright and happy era

On Wednesday 30 November 1831, ‘the sons of brave old Scotland,’ in the words of the Sydney Gazette, celebrated St. Andrew’s Day ‘with the customary honours, shewing that however far awa’, they still reverence and love the land of their fathers.’ In the evening they held a dinner at the Royal Hotel, ‘accompanied by a number of their brethren of the rose, the shamrock and the leek.’ An assembly of some 80 or 90 people, ‘comprising many of the highest rank in the colony,’ sat down to enjoy the national feast. There was enough on the tables ‘to gladden the heart of an alderman.’ Peter Macintyre, Esq., wore the costume of a Highland Chief which he had worn when welcoming the arrival of His late Majesty in Scotland in 1822. Under the chairmanship of the Colonial Treasurer, Campbell Drummond Riddell, Esq., and with the Acting Governor Colonel Patrick Lindesay in attendance, there were toasts and speeches. The new Governor, General Richard Bourke, was expected any day, and the toasts to him and Colonel Lindesay ‘were received with loud and long-continued bursts of applause.’ For the toast to the Irish-born General Bourke the band of the 39th Regiment played the air Erin go brah (‘Ireland for ever’) and for the Scottish-born Colonel Lindesay, the British Grenadiers.

Two days later General Bourke’s ship the Margaret sailed into Port Jackson ‘in gallant style’, amid high expectation on the part of the local inhabitants, and cast anchor in Sydney Cove. Captain Westmacot, His Excellency’s aide-de-camp, landed and proceeded to Government House. General Bourke stepped ashore on Saturday 3 December and took the oaths of office, and the flow of official announcements over his name began to be published.

The people of Sydney were preparing to welcome their new Governor with an ‘illumination’ – the lighting up of buildings and streets and the lighting of fireworks – and carried out their plan on Monday 5th. Volume I, number 35 of the recently founded Sydney Herald, precursor of the Sydney Morning Herald, reported that, ‘On Monday evening, the most extensive and general illumination ever exhibited in this Colony, took place.’ It noted that lamps, transparencies and candles were used to form ‘emblematical devices’ and other effects. ‘Fire balloons and fire works of every description’ appeared, and there was firing of guns by ships in the harbour. The ‘emblematical devices’ were described in more detail by the Sydney Gazette.  Lamps and transparencies were used to form words and symbols: ‘William the Fourth, the patriot King!’, ‘Forward, Australia!’, ‘Bourke’s our Anchor of Hope!’, ‘W. IV’ with a crown between the letters, a crown with ‘W.R. IV’ and ‘Bourke’, ‘G.B.’ with a crown in the centre, a crown with ‘The King, Bourke and Reform’ and ‘Honest Men and Bonnie Lasses,’ a harp with the words ‘Cead Millee Faltha’ (‘a hundred thousand welcomes’) and ‘Erin go Bragh.’ St. John’s Tavern had simply a large ‘B’ (which presumably stood for ‘Bourke’ rather than ‘Burton’s Ale’). The Waterloo Warehouse had a transparency ‘representing Asia, Africa, and America, in the act of presenting their tributary offering to Europe.’

Both newspapers reported that people were peaceful and well behaved. The Sydney Gazette commented: ‘Thus passed off this auspicious night, in honour of an occasion, which seems to be hailed by all ranks and degrees of society as the commencement of a bright and happy era in the annals of Australia.’

St. Andrew’s Day: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 3/12/1831, p. 2. Illumination: Sydney Herald 12/12/1831, p. 4; Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 8/12/1831, p. 2.