With a long & varied history dating from the 1840’s, South Pambula’s Roan Horse Inn has been used for a wide range of purposes over the years, including an hotel, police accommodation, medical practice, court rooms, post office, maternity / lying in hospital, private residence & more recently, as a bed & breakfast.
Constructed around 1845 for William Hibburd, who reportedly named it after his favourite horse, it is claimed that being skilled in carpentry, it was likely that he played an active role in the building’s construction. Having access to convict labour with at least one felon assigned to him by January 1847, he may also have utilised this work force to assist in the project.
Operating the premises as an inn by January 1848 when he was granted a publican’s license by the Eden Bench of Magistrates, he named Samuel & Nathanial Thompson as his sureties. No stranger to the inn keeping trade, Hibburd had been responsible for establishing numerous licensed premises along the road to the Monaro, including the Dragon Inn at Cathcart, the Honeysuckle Inn at Honeysuckle Creek, & the Mountain Inn at Rocky Hall.
|Hibburd's Mountain Inn at Rocky Hall.|
With the decline in beef & mutton prices in the wake of the 1840’s depression, William Hibburd, like so many others, turned his attention towards the boiling down of stock, advertising in December 1848 “To squatters on Manaroo & the neighbouring stations…I beg leave to state I shall be prepared by the latter end of February next to boil down any quantity of stock that may be consigned for the purpose; & I trust from the experience I have had & arrangements made for dispatch, I shall be able to give perfect satisfaction.”
In 1856 Hibburd’s tender of £275 for the conveyance of mail between Bombala, Pambula & Eden via Big Jack’s once a week was accepted & by 1858 he had become involved in the whaling industry at nearby Twofold Bay in partnership with Solomon Solomons. William Hibburd also participated in the 1856 establishment of the district’s first hospital, the Twofold Bay Benevolent Asylum. Capable of accommodating between twenty & twenty-five patients at a time, the facility was located in Monaro Street, Pambula, with resident medico Dr Bligh appointed as physician & Mr & Mrs Newlyn as Master & Matron. Hibburd was elected to the inaugural committee overseeing the establishment & operation of the facility.
Continuing to run the Roan Horse Inn until 1857, when he was granted a license renewal naming Samuel Thompson of Yowaka & Joseph Love of Eden as sureties, Michael Farrell had taken over by April 1858 when the Eden Bench granted his license. In 1860, a newspaper correspondent reported that “I now pursued my way towards Farrell’s Hotel, Pambula…” while the same year, Dr Frederick Homan relocated from Eden to Pambula, establishing his medical practice at the Roan Horse Inn.
As one of the few suitable places in the district, the Roan Horse Inn quickly became the venue of choice for many public meetings. In February 1858 local politician Mr Egan held a meeting at Farrell’s Roan Horse Inn, while in January 1861 William Hibburd called a public meeting at Mr Farrell’s “…for the purpose of petitioning the Government to construct a main trunk line of road from Twofold Bay to the Tablelands of Monero…”
Farrell’s license was renewed in April 1861, but by the mid-1860s, Alexander McPhee had taken over & when severe bushfires swept the district in 1868, it was noted that “…the Roan Horse Inn & Mr Bennett’s store at Lochiel had a narrow escape & was only saved by the great & untiring exertions of Mr McPhee & his neighbours…” After his death, his wife Agnes took over as licensee & in an 1871 report on the district, it was remarked that “On the opposite bank of the Pambula River is a small village called Yowaka… [here is] the only hotel about Pambula (for there is none in the township). The hotel is the well-known Roan Horse, kept by Mrs McPhee. I put up there & was well treated…” Although her license was renewed in 1872, in a December 1873 letter written by Arthur, son of Captain John Lloyd, to John Martin, he asked “When Mrs McPhee gives up the Roan Horse Hotel in Yowaka where does she go & who takes the house?”
With transport & communication slow & police thinly spread, inn keeping could be a hazardous occupation & according to one source, troopers were dispatched from Sydney to be stationed along the route to the Snowy River gold diggings, with two posted at the Roan Horse Inn. With the onset of the Kiandra Gold Rush in 1859/60, hotel & inn proprietors responded quickly to the opportunities offered by the increased traffic & situated as it was on the corner of the roads from Pambula to Eden & to the Monaro, the Roan Horse was well placed to take advantage of the passing trade. A correspondent writing in August 1860 noted that “…I now pursued my way to Farrell’s Hotel, Pambula…” Many diggers made their way to the new field via the ports of Twofold Bay or Merimbula, stopping overnight at the Roan Horse & Honeysuckle Inns.
|Looking down Monaro Street, Pambula, C. 1960s. The Roan Horse Inn can be seen in the dstance towards the right hand side.|
That year, Agnes McPhee reopened the Bombala Inn & Mr John Hopkins took over as the Roan Horse Inn’s licensee, advertising a free supper & ball on the premises to mark Pambula’s St. Patrick’s Day horse race meeting in March.
By 1880, Rossiter Smaldon (or Maldon) was in charge, followed by Robert McCarthy, who advertised in January 1882 that he had taken over the “…favourite old house…”, & in June that he had “…opened the…well-known roadside hotel with a fresh & superior stock of wines, spirits, ales, cordials, etc., & trusts for a share of public support…” June the following year however saw him advertising the lease, license, stock-in-trade, furniture & effects of the hotel for private sale “…in consequence of the intended departure of the proprietor from the district.”
|The Roan Horse Inn building, 1926.|
Mr McKay was the next known licensee, operating the premises with his wife during the 1880s, followed by Mr Abbott, formerly of Tathra’s New Brighton Hotel, by 1890. He advertised that “This old & well-known hostelry at Pambula has been entirely renovated & now looks as good as new…” The Bega Standard further noted that “…a billiard room is to be built, & a new bar will shortly be erected…”
Abbott was followed by Charles Allen who took over in 1891, advertising that he “…has much pleasure in informing the residents that he has purchased the…well-known hotel…” Noting that the premises had been “…thoroughly renovated & improved throughout…” he pointed out the proximity of the newly discovered Pambula Goldfields at nearby Yowaka & Pipeclay Creek, stating that “The Roan Horse is situated close to the goldfields, & is the best & most handy place at which those having business at the mines can put up.” Granted a renewal of his license in September 1893, he was still in charge by May the following year, but by July, Mr W. Thomas, formerly of the Towamba Hotel, had taken over. In September 1896, he renewed the Roan Horse’s license for the last time & that month, it was reported that “The hotel in question…has since been closed & we understand that Mr Thomas is vacating the premises.” Before the end of the month, he had taken his departure & the Roan Horse Inn closed its doors.
Advertised to let by H. O. T. Cowdroy in October & November 1896, William Bulgaries’ application for a publican’s license was refused by the Eden Bench in January 1897. Late 1897 & early 1902 again saw Cowdroy advertise the premises to let, & after the lease was taken up, he called for tenders in February 1902 for repainting & repair work. March that year saw Elizabeth Ann Thomas again apply for a publican’s license, but after the licensing inspector opposed the bid on the grounds “…that the reasonable requirements of the neighbourhood did not justify the granting of the license…” it was again refused.
During 1914, the premises together with eleven lots in the Cowdroy Subdivision were placed up for auction, but after failing to sell, the Roan Horse was again advertised for lease. By 1917, the Haigh family had taken up residence, & during their time at the Roan Horse, frequently allowed the premises to be used for patriotic fundraisers during WWI. 1918 again saw the premises up for lease & by the early 1920s Syd George & his family had moved in. As the South Pambula Post Master, he operated the office from the building until around 1956.
|The Roan Horse Inn in 1996.|
According to various sources, the building was also used over the years for court sessions, church services & as a private maternity hospital, in addition to its more recent reincarnation as bed & breakfast accommodation.
As one of the oldest surviving buildings of any type in the district, the Roan Horse Inn has strong associations with the early settlement & development of the area & is considered to be amongst the most socially & culturally significant examples of built heritage in the Bega Valley Shire. It has a Schedule 5 Bega Valley Shire LEP listing & has been classified by the National Trust.
© Angela George.