From Hotels of Ballarat

Ballarat is a large provincial city in Victoria. The area was in the north west part of the Wathaurung people's lands, and the word "Ballarat" is a Wathaurung word for resting place. It was first settled by squatters in 1838 establishing large pastoral runs for sheep. Gold was discovered in August 1851, and was followed by a huge influx of people hoping to become rich.

Early days[edit | edit source]

During the early days of the gold rush sale of alcohol was banned on the goldfields, which naturally led to a large illegal trade known as "sly grog". The first licensed hotels were permitted in 1854[1] but these were restricted to being on land purchased within the town boundary. No other hotels could be opened within half a mile. However, this soon created problems in Ballarat, as the miners followed the gold leads which was leading back into town. This article from February 1855 discusses the problems:

The occupation of the Flat by storekeepers and others carrying on business has given rise to considerable discussion and ill-feeling, and from late events it would appear likely to continue both for some time longer. According to some regulation, hotels are not allowed to be opened nearer the township than half a mile, and at one time store's were not permitted within a quarter-of-a-mile. In both instances the Government seemed desirous of protecting the rights of those who had purchased allotments, and exposed considerable capital on the township. This would not be so unreasonable in itself in ordinary cases but like in other matters, so in this, Ballarat was singular, inasmuch as all its celebrated leads headed for the township. Naturally enough, the miners, pitched their tents close to the leads, and as a consequence, the storekeepers followed the miners. This was the state of matters in the beginning of spring ; some of the owners of township property considered themselves aggrieved, held a meeting and sent a deputation to His Excellency, who shortly after informed them that the regulation thus referred to would be carried out. The store keepers on the Flat and some, others presented a counter memorial, and the result was that they were allowed to remain. In the interim, several handsome stores were got up, the New Road became the great centre of business, frontages began to command high prices, and though on Crown lands, the stores along the road were transformed into permanent premises, and the New Road became a street.

There has been some sharp work before now, as to the granting of licenses to hotels, all of which up till of late were outside the half mile boundary, one house, however, has just applied for a license and it is situated so close to the recognised line, that it has become a matter of nice measurement. Assuming that township proprietors should be protected, that the miners should have stores close at hand, and that the Government should, when a proper occasion presents itself, attend to the revenue, we think that we can shadow a plan to meet all the requirements of the case — and it is this — let the ground fronting the new road be surveyed, cut up into allotments and sold. By this means the present township proprietors could not complain— the, stores could accompany the miners, and the line ; and the half or quarter-mile of debate able country be made a source of revenue. From all that we can see the Government, must soon provide means of repurchasing most of the present township, as the rich leads are apparently going through it. By the means which we have hinted at, there can be more money raised than would effect this object, the mining interest would be properly attended, a better throughfare for business would be gained, and the present grumbling would be done away with. Of course, in the laying out of the allotments care should be taken to leave openings, so that where the Flat had been thoroughly worked, a proper township could be laid out.[2]

Hotels in Ballarat[edit | edit source]

Ballarat was famous for its many hotels, both as a gold rush town, and later during the days of large scale company mining. These hotels were varied, from unknown, unlicensed, sly grog tents of canvas, to large and opulent buildings like Craig's Royal Hotel. To work out exactly how many hotels there were is no easy task. Some hotels only had a brief existence, and while there names were later remembered, no other evidence has survived, and their locations are unknown. Many hotels had the same name; names like the Victoria Hotel or the Prince of Wales Hotel being very popular. Hotels often changed names, so the building could be the home of several hotel businesses over the years; some publican's changed premises taking the names with them. In more extreme cases, the hotel building itself could be moved; the Scandinavian Hotel is reported to have been at several locations in the early days of the gold rush. Names could often be a form of national identity, it was Americans who had the United States Hotel and the Washington Hotel.

In 1938 Ballarat celebrated its centenary, and the Argus newspaper published a short history of hotels in Ballarat:

Historic Hostelries: When Ballarat Had 477 Hotels. THERE was never a goldfield yet discovered which had not at the height of its fame its saloons, or hotels by the hundred. There was a period in the history of Ballarat when there was an hotel for every few hundred of the population — men, women, and children. The population was 60,000 and there were 477 hotels open from 6 a.m. till midnight. Not a few of them, played prominent parts in the chequered history of the city. As early as 1852 there was an hotel of sorts — a tent kept by a man named Meek, who seems to have been a writer in his spare time — which was known as the Trooper's Arms. Meek and his tent have long since disappeared, but the first real hotel to be built in Ballarat still stands — Craig's Royal Hotel. It was not Craig's originally. It was first known as Bath's, since it was built by one Thomas Bath, who was among the first purchasers of a block of land at the first land sale on the goldfields. It was originally a single-storied wooden structure. Bath brought the material for it by road from Geelong, and paid £80 a ton cartage on it. By June, 1853, it was doing such a roaring trade that a two-story extension was begun before the year was out and finished before the battle of the Eureka Stockade was fought. Since then it has been extended again and again. In the present building a ceramic tablet commemorates the fact that the livery stables run by the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon were once part of the structure.

In those early days all stores and liquor came through Geelong by road, paying the same terrific cartage rates that Bath paid on the timber for his hotel. During 1853 when Bath's was not the only hotel that went up — it is on record that one man, who owned or in some other way had control of 122 hotels, or grog-shanties, paid £1,500 a week for seven months in cartage charges on liquor for his houses! Craig's was never one of the grog shanties. It acquired something of a reputation in those pioneering days, which time has preserved to it.

The Unicorn Hotel, an early hostelry whose walls house reckless memories, was built in 1858. It was built on the property of the Unicorn Goldmining Company, and took its name therefrom. In the days of the diggings it was the rendezvous of the financiers of the goldfield. Stock and share brokers, speculators and financiers had their offices on its premises. Its safes were full of gold dust and nuggets and papers relating to claims of fabulous worth. For many years the room that is the present dining room was the Exchange call-room, and echoed to the voices of the shouting, gesticulating brokers. In addition to the brokers and financiers, however, the hostelry was the early day resort of sportsmen, and has remained so ever since. For the last 28 years the licence has been held by the Beacham family, which now owns the property itself.

The Red Lion Hotel also dates back to the riotous days of the diggings. It is an historical hotchpotch built mainly of wood, partly single-storied, partly double, which has been so added to and altered that it is difficult to-day to say where the original structure began and where it ended. In any case it is destined shortly to disappear. As soon as the Centenary celebrations are over it is to be completely rebuilt. For the last 60 years the hotel has been the property of the same family-the family of the present licensee's wife.

Then there is the Buck's Head — in its name a reminiscence of just such an English inn as so many of the early diggers cherished in memory. It was one of the first stone buildings to be erected on the goldfields, and still preserves much of its original aspect. There are many more, of course. The roaring, brandy-bibbing days of the goldfields are gone. The law and order that the Queen's officers failed to establish with muskets and bayonets came with adult suffrage and constitutional government, but the bar-shelves of quite a number of hostelries still standing once held liquor brought from Geelong at £80 the ton, and worth almost as much as the gold dust the diggers passed across the bars to buy it.

Attached to many of the hostelries were so-called music halls, including the notorious Metropolitan, which was according to contemporary chroniclers, the scene of nightly orgies. It was in that Ballarat that Lola Montez, the European dancer, was greeted on the stage with a shower, not of flowers, but of bags of gold dust, the tribute of enthusiastic diggers. The city had a stormy passage in the later seventies when unemployment brought larrikinism in its wake. Those days saw the decline of the famous Theatre Royal, the foundation stone of which had been laid by the great tragedian G. V. Brooke. Its decline, according to contemporary report, was due to the "invincibleness of its fleas."[3]

List of Ballarat's hotels[edit | edit source]

List of people[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1979, Flett, James, "Old Pubs: Inns, taverns and grog houses on the Victorian goldfields, The Hawthorn Press, Melbourne
  2. 1855 'BALLARAT.', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 21 February, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jul 2018,
  3. 1938 'Historic Hostelries', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 7 March, p. 13. (Ballarat Centenary Souvenir), viewed 10 Jan 2017,

External links[edit | edit source]