Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eden's Pubs of the Past - The Seahorse Inn:

Although now reduced to a single pub town, over the years Eden has been able to boast at least seventeen hotels at various times in its lengthy history.

It was in 1843 with the construction of Benjamin Boyd's Seahorse Hotel that the Eden district got its first hotel. After arriving in Colonial NSW the previous year, Boyd & his entourage left Sydney in his paddle steamer Seahorse in December 1842, stopping in to inspect Twofold Bay along the way. Young artist Oswald Brierly, a member of the group, recorded his impressions of the then rudimentary settlement, noting in his diary that "Twofold Bay & the surrounding country was nearly as primitive in its appearance at this time as when Bass first visited in his whale boat in 1797...Our first business upon landing was to make a Large tent with some old sails, & to dig for water, which we easily found within a few feet of the surface near the beach, & having got our things on shore from the steamer, soon had everything very comfortable."

The Seahorse Inn, C. 1920s.

Setting his sights on Twofold Bay for his shipping port & as the lynch pin of his envisaged maritime & pastoral empire, Boyd purchased 640 acres at Eden's first land sales in March 1843. He quickly began developing his self named Boyd Town settlement, establishing all the necessary conveniences for the private township.

Amongst the most prominent of the features was the Seahorse Inn. A June 1843 report noted that Boyd was "...building a very extensive hotel on the ground he purchased from the government at the late sale, & a large number of mechanics are employed on the work, which is being progressed with as rapidly as circumstances will admit."

The Seahorse Inn as originally constructed.
Built mainly of rubble construction, locally sourced material used in the structure included stone, clay for bricks burnt on site & hardwood pit sawn nearby, but in typical Boyd style, a range of supplies were also imported from Sydney, including Pyrmont sandstone for the foundations, cedar & oak for doors, mantles & panelling, & the scores of tradesmen needed to complete the project.

The Seahorse Inn's ruins featured in the 1912 edition of the Illawarra & South Coast Steam Navigation Company's handbook.

March 1843 saw the an advertisement noting that "...for the convenience of passengers going to & returning from Maneroo, this Hotel will be conducted in a manner calculated to give satisfaction to the public, & as nearly as possible at English Prices..." & ever the optimist, Boyd began promoting the merits of the Seahorse Hotel before it had even been completed. It was noted in April 1843 that “...this hotel will be completed in a few weeks...”

Four months later, however, the building was still unfinished, & materials & workmen continued to arrive throughout 1843 & 1844, while in December 1844, Mary Ann Ponsonby wrote that her husband & father were engaged "plastering a large Hotell [sic]..." at Boyd Town.

The Seahorse Inn, C. 1930s.

Finally, by 1845, the inn was a going concern & in June that year Lawrence Corcoran transferred the license to John Abbot, who remained but a short time, & when it was renewed in1846, John A. Kaye was noted as the proprietor of the Sea Horse Hotel.

The Seahorse Inn, C. 1930s.

Mainly Elizabethan in style, with elements of Georgian & Tudor architecture, the inn was apparently constructed from a sketch plan drawn up by Boyd himself. Made up of two main structures totalling 22 rooms, running parallel with each other & joined by a central hall way, the building was surrounded by a brick wall broken by a number of gate ways. Taking its name from Boyd's paddle steamer, the Seahorse Inn was able to boast a billiard table, bars, tap room, kitchen, pantry, cellar, dining room, store area, bedrooms & attics, & after Boyd Town became a regular port of call for the vessels plying the coastline between Sydney, Melbourne & Hobart, it provided first class accommodation for visitors & residents.

Seahorse Inn, C. 1930s.

Captain W. H. Saunders of Edgecumbe, near Sydney, commented in 1846 that "...the hotel is now completed & is perhaps the most commodious in the colony..." while in 1848, it was described as "...a splendid hotel in the Elizabethan style (one of the most unique establishments in the colony)..."

Ben Baddeley (left) & friends visiting the Seahorse Inn, 1936.

By 1847, Henry M. Rucker was listed as the Seahorse Inn's licensee, transferring the business to Anthony Falkner mid-year & in 1848, he advertised that "...Settlers of Maneroo & the surrounding district will find superior accommodation...together with a choice selection of wines, spirits, beers, &c..."

The Seahorse Inn, C. 1940s.

Falkner continued to operate the Seahorse Inn until, in the wake of the collapse of Boyd's empire, the settlement went in to decline, so in 1850 he applied to transfer the license to the Shamrock Inn in the Government township of Eden. The Boydtown settlement, including the Seahorse, then gradually fell into disrepair until 1936 when the Whiter family bought the property & set about restoring the building.

The Seahorse Inn, C. 1960s. © The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

The Seahorse Inn from Boydtown Beach, C. 1960s. © The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

© Angela George.

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