23 October, 2016

The old Separation Inn

While I was already in the district - so to speak - I thought I would stop by another couple of inns along the way. Both located close to the Moorabool River on the route to the goldfields, and both interwoven with the Eureka Hotel, Leigh Road; subject of my last blog post. First: the Separation Inn.
As I alluded to previously, the hospitality industry of the 19th century, was a volatile scene. Hotel owners often came and went within a few years, licensees even more frequently. Depending on the behaviour of the clientele, the number of hotels in the district, the state of the buildings, the financial situation or reputation of the licensee and a host of other reasons, publicans' licenses could be granted or denied on an annual basis. This was also the case for the less expensive beer, and colonial wine licenses which restricted what the licensee could serve (usually a cheaper product) and often attracted a less than salubrious class of patron.
An example of a publican's license from the 19th century. Image taken from
Victorian Collections
The end result it seems, was that insolvencies were relatively common and that licensees switched venues on a regular basis, often holding more than one license at a time. This was certainly the case for the Separation and the Clyde Inns on the road to Buninyong and Ballarat.
The older of the two, the Separation Inn was amongst the few public houses to be found between Geelong and Buninyong prior to the beginning of the gold rush in 1851. As I have found with other hotels, there seems to be some uncertainty as to when the hotel first opened. The publication Hotels, Pubs & Inns of the Geelong Country Districts (Jennings, 2009) indicates that the hotel was first mentioned in the Port Phillip Herald on 27th March, 1843 and was owned by George Russell of the Clyde Company. At this time, I am uncertain exactly where Russell's hotel was located and my (admittedly somewhat cursory) examination of the Clyde Company papers for 1843 showed no correspondence regarding the hotel.
Another reference to the hotel was made by Henry Mundy who passed that way with his family in October, 1844. Writing many years later in the early 20th century, he recalled that they "reached a swamp, near where the old Separation Inn used to be on the road to Ballarat" however, whether this refers to the hotel owned by George Russell, or to a later structure is debatable as Mundy passed that way many times over the following years and may have been referring to a newer building.
Regardless, it seems any original hotel owned by Russell, was not around for long. On 28th October, 1850, the Geelong Advertiser published the following notice:

What is clear, is that towards the end of 1850, Michael O'Meara (previously the landlord of the Shamrock Inn, Geelong) erected the building which by 1851 was known as the Separation Inn. It was located on Clyde Company land near the intersection of what was then the road to The Leigh (Shelford) and the Buninyong Track. Today, the intersection of Russell's Rd with the Midland Hwy lies about 350m north west of where the hotel stood.
Surprisingly perhaps, having gone to the effort of building his own hotel and with the gold rush by now in full swing, O'Meara remained as landlord only until about June, 1852. Some time between that date and October the same year, Thomas Dunlop became the new license holder for the Separation Inn, although  O'Meara retained ownership until at least July, 1854 when he advertised the property for sale. During the intervening time, the license passed briefly from Dunlop to William Rae who in turn transferred it to George Williamson in December, 1853.
Whilst O'Meara may have owned the hotel, he did not own the land surrounding it which, by 1854, formed part of the Clyde Company's purchased holdings. Section 23 of the Parish of Gherineghap on which the hotel was situated was originally sold to John Hosking and John Terry Hughes - land speculators from Sydney - in 1837. The pair borrowed heavily to finance their purchases across the country however, and in 1843 with recession beginning to bite, the company of Hughes and Hosking as well as the men themselves were forced into insolvency bringing down the Bank of Australia with them. Their fall from grace was one of the biggest financial scandals the colony of New South Wales had seen.
The fallout from their financial collapse however, proved a boon for the Clyde Company who in 1847 were able to purchase sections 12, 23 and 27 in the parish of Gherineghap which of course, included the land on which the Separation Inn stood. By May, 1854 however, George Russell had made the decision to subdivide and sell some 2,000 acres of land along the Moorabool River, including much of sections 23, 26 and 27. As part of the survey and subdivision carried out by surveyor Matthew Biddle, and in addition to an array of blocks ranging in size from 10 to 60 acres, a further 63 allotments of one acre in size were also laid out in a grid format fronting the Ballarat Rd. This new township was to be known as Gheringhap and the Separation Inn was located on allotment number 1.
Part of the survey map produced for the Clyde Company's subdivision of
sections 23, 25 and 27 of the Parish of Gherineghap. Showing the intended
township of Gheringhap. Image taken from the Clyde Company Papers
History shows that the township of Gheringhap, did not develop where or when George Russell's surveyor planned. Instead, settlement occurred later at the railway crossing about a mile closer to Geelong and a mere half a mile from the Eureka Hotel, situated at the turn off to Fyansford.
The post office opened at Gheringhap in 1869, however the railway station was not opened until December, 1877, nearly 16 years after the opening of the Geelong-Ballarat Railway. It was the settlement around the railway crossing which eventually became the little town of Gheringhap.
The Gheringhap post office, 1967. Image taken from the National Archives
of Australia, Image number B5919, 745
The Clyde Company Papers show that of the 63 one acre blocks surveyed by Biddle and laid out in a township grid, only 20 were sold, to four separate purchasers. The block on which the Separation Inn stood, was not amongst the land sold. Perhaps sensing that development of the surveyed township might not prove successful, O'Meara put the hotel on the market in July of that year. I could find no record of a purchaser, however by June, 1854 Henry Edward Hunter was behind the bar at the Separation Inn with George Russell as his landlord (Clyde Company Papers). Williamson meanwhile had moved up the road a short distance to open his own public house: the Clyde Hotel (more of which in my next post). Hunter and his business partner Lillie, signed a three year lease for the inn to commence from 1st July, 1855 at a rate of £125 per annum, however by January, 1856 he had already moved on, leaving behind their effects which were under distraint to be sold by the Bailiff to recoup costs on behalf of Russell.
The Williamson family however, were not quite finished with the Separation Inn and the departure of Hunter and Lillie, cleared the way on 1st March, 1856, for John R Williamson - brother of George - to take over the license from Hunter.
By February, 1857 however, Russell was looking for a purchaser for the inn.  His agent John Carr informed him by letter on 26th February, that whilst he had not been able to procure a purchaser, he had found a tenant willing to take on a five year lease at a rate of £150 per annum - Patrick Hawkins. Upon looking at the property however, Hawkins realised that a substantial amount of work needed to be done and reduced his offer of £150 rent to £100. This was accepted at the lower rate - for the first year (Clyde Company Papers).
Despite having a new tenant for the hotel, Russell continued to look for purchasers for the hotel and the land surrounding. After the underwhelming response to his initial attempts to subdivide and sell the land around the Separation Inn, he once again made an attempt to sell, early in 1858 (Ballarat Star, 23rd January, 1858). This time, the blocks for sale were larger, with no suggestion of a township subdivision, and a four acre block, including the inn itself was on offer to the public. This time, the Clyde Company Papers show that the Separation Inn and the 4 acres on which it stood were sold in June, 1858 to Frederick Locke.
Despite this, the April, 1859 sitting of the licensing court, shows Patrick Hawkins renewing his license and by the following year, the hotel was once again beginning to show its age. At the 1860 licensing day, Hawkins' renewal was postponed pending repairs, but was granted in May. The following month, Hawkins was implicated in a case of embezzlement when he is said to have purchased alcohol destined for someone else, however no blame appears to have been attributed to him directly when the case came to trial (Geelong Advertiser, 9th June, 1860). He was however, in trouble with the law himself later that year when he was convicted of breaching the publicans' act by repeatedly serving alcohol to an intoxicated patron over the course of several days, leaving him in what was colloquially known as the "dead room" to recover his wits before continuing his bender, allowing Hawkins to pocket the profit. Hawkins was fined 40s and ordered to pay costs (Geelong Advertiser, 12th December, 1860). Nor did Hawkins' business practises improve. By December, 1861 he was insolvent and no longer the licensee at the Separation Inn.
The new licensee was Frederick Locke who, after a delay in his application lodged in April, pending more repairs on the property, had himself taken up the license of what was by that time described as the "Old Separation Inn". Despite various financial and legal difficulties - as described in my previous post - Locke retained the license for the inn until July, 1870, however by December, 1865 and with financial pressure mounting, he downgraded his "spirit license" for the inn to a cheaper "beer license" (Geelong Advertiser, 10th May, 1865), a fact which was noted the following year when a correspondent to the Advertiser wrote on 22nd March that "the old Separation Inn, where so much money was made in the golden days, is in a sad state of repair, and is merely a beer shop."
By the end of 1869, Locke had moved to his new premises - the Eureka Hotel - at Leigh Road (Bannockburn) having earlier installed a tenant - John Johnstone - at the Separation Inn. In July, 1869 however, Johnstone in turn transferred his beer and colonial wine licenses to David Ross, an absentee tenant whose agent Frederick Stanley, ran the business for several months before applying for a beer license in his own name. It was to take effect as of the 1st January, 1870. Locke's financial failings however, meant that by July, 1870 the hotel was on the market and from this time on I found no further license applications.
Site of the Separation Inn, October, 2016
The last direct mention of the Separation Inn appeared in March, 1875 when it was announced that "the well known and old-established hotel, known as the Separation Inn, together with about 4 acres land" was for sale (Geelong Advertiser, 15th March, 1875). What became of the hotel buildings I have not discovered and despite its popularity during the early days of the gold rush, at no point in its 24 year history did I find a description of the inn or its outbuildings. Nor do I know of an image of the hotel.
Like most public houses however, the Separation Inn had a chequered career. Originally established to serve those travelling between Geelong and the grazing properties of the Western District, it later did a roaring trade in the early days of the gold rush as one of the few public houses on the road from Geelong to Ballarat. As the years passed however, increasing competition from the many new hotels which sprang up along the road and the arrival in 1862 of the Geelong-Ballarat Railway, saw business begin to decline, the hotel began to show its age and the clientele likewise may also have changed.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the inn and its proprietors began to appear more regularly in the pages of the local papers. From suicides in the vicinity to thefts, assaults, accidental deaths, murders and even one charge of bestiality, the road to the diggings could be a dangerous one.
One such example was the accidental death in April, 1854 of John Sansom, a 40 year old digger returning from the goldfields who was brought to the inn critically injured after accidentally shooting himself as he and his travelling companions passed Lethbridge, then known as the Muddy Water Holes (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 5th April, 1854). Sansom died and an inquest was held at the inn.
A second inquest was held, in June, 1868 on the body of David Corbett, a drayman on his way to Ballarat. Having stopped for a pint at Batesford and then another at the Eureka, he fell asleep on the shafts of his wagon after crossing the railway line at Gheringhap, toppled off and fell beneath his dray which was loaded with three tons of goods. The wheel of the dray passed over his lower chest causing severe injuries. By the time the other teamster travelling with him realised his friend was missing and returned to find him, Corbett was dead. As the law directed, his body was taken to the nearest public house - the Separation Inn - where an inquest was held two days later (The Argus, 11th June, 1868). Following the inquest, Corbett's remains were taken to Geelong where he was buried at the Western Cemetery.
An interesting if somewhat macabre consequence of holding a publican's license in the 19th century was the requirement that any person holding such a license must make their premises available for the purpose of holding a coronial inquest if required to do so as outlined in an "Act to consolidate and amend the Laws relating to the Licensing of Public Houses and the Sale of Fermented and Spirituous Liquors. [2nd June, 1864]". The act stated that:
Every holder of a publican's license shall at the request of any officer or constable of police receive into the house mentioned in such license or upon the premises occupied therewith any dead body that may be brought to such house for the purpose of an inquest being held thereon and for every dead body so received he shall be paid the sum of one pound out of any money which may be appropriated for such purpose and if he shall refuse to receive such dead body for the purpose aforesaid he shall on conviction thereof before any justice forfeit and pay any sum not exceeding five pounds.
Today, this requirement is no doubt obsolete and any sign of the Separation Inn is also long gone. The land on which the inn stood is now occupied by a farmhouse which fronts onto the Midland Highway and which is the home of a local fencing company. The old road to the Leigh has been realigned to meet the highway almost 2km to the north west and travellers no longer stop for a drink or a meal at the Separation Inn.
Looking along the line of the the old Leigh Road towards Bannockburn, October, 2016


  1. I had no idea that publican licensing required hosting coronial inquest when needed. And yet I'm sure I must have read that somewhere.

    1. I hadn't heard of it officially either until I found the above reference, however I know that pubs were regularly used for official purposes as they were often the only places large enough to hold the required number of people.

  2. Hello, I am the great-great-great grandson of Michael O'Meara who ran the Separation Inn on the Midland Hwy in the 1850s. I am very interested to read your blog on the old pubs of the region.

    Coincidentally I live just down the road off the Midland Highway in Batesford.

    In finding the site of the Separation Inn do you know if there is anything left of the structure or footings/foundations etc.

    I'd love to go and have a look.


    Stephen Ryan

    1. Hi Stephen,
      Great to hear from you and good to know that descendants are still in the area! My guess as to the location of the inn is based on overlaying maps on Google Earth which placed it where the house shown in the above photo is located. I do not know who owns the property and have not attempted to contact them. When I wrote the post I did wonder whether they were aware of the history of the site and whether any sign remained.
      If you do contact them to ask the question, I would love to know how you get on.
      Sorry I can't help more.