Lake Macquarie History

The Travellers Rest Hotel

(Palmer's Pub)

The junction of Cessnock Road, Palmers Road and Wakefield Road was once a place of great importance. It was here that the Travellers Rest Hotel, or Palmer's Pub as it was more widely known, stood during the late 1800s. The hotel provided a much needed rendezvous point for timber-getters and teamsters hauling their horse drawn loads along the convict built road.

From a bark hut on this portion of land, a man thought to be named Bailey, is said to have sold liquor in the 1860s, as well as supplying vegetables and eggs, farmed from behind his hut, to sprouting townships along the coal seam. Doug Saxon in his book Pits Props and Sleepers (The story of Awaba) speculates that one of Bailey's daughters died "when a horse and cart she was driving to market could not negotiate a steep section of the road and the horse, cart, driver and produce capsized back into a gully".

In an 1881 map of Awaba, Castlemaine Brewery and Woods Bros Co. Ltd are shown to be the owners of Portions 1 and 72. The hotel was built on Portion 72, with a new estate, Ryhope, earmarked for Portion 73. A few blocks were sold, however little development took place. Some time in the 1910s, Samual Brown purchased 120 blocks of the estate, approximately 20 hectares. In a 1968 article in the Newcastle Morning Herald, Mr Brown, then 79, was still in possession of roughly a third of the land. He expressed a desire to see a development at Ryhope.

According to Doug Saxon, company records from 1884 indicate that Thomas Palmer was buying from Castlemaine Brewery. In 1885, the NSW Government Gazette shows Thomas Palmer was granted a Publican's Licence.The hotel had a change of licensee, for in 1887 a transfer of licence went to Thomas Bailey, who was then granted a one year licence until January 10, 1889. It is unknown the the reason for this change . Palmer was again granted a one year licence in April 1889, which continued through to 1897. It was around this time that the hotel ceased trading. Thomas Palmer remained at the hotel until his death, date undetermined, though it is believed to be in 1917, where a Thomas Palmer's death is registered in Toronto. According to Doug Saxon, he is buried in an unmarked grave in the Uniting Church grounds in Brunkerville.

photo: boxing day

The hotel was the site of great fun and games. Mr Palmer's horse racing was well renowned and drew interest from far and wide. Shown left is the advertisment from December 1884, found in the Newcastle Morning Herald. In a 1960 article in the Newcastle Morning Herald, Cynthia Skrine reported that the horses were "specially trained bush hacks" who were "ridden by their owners" and were "fast enough to bet on". In addition to the horseracing, the article of 1884 also advertises "Athletic Sports" for the day after the horseracing event.

In the article, Ms Skrine reports that the establishment was a "rip roaring rumbunctuous" place and that "fights flared at the drop of a hat". Originally from the Midlands in England, Thomas Palmer was a "pugilist with a name". "Joey Straight-up" had a reputation that kept his rugged, strapping, impulsive clientele under control, taking on any who dared. Newspapers of the day indicate that Palmer was a volatile man. In August 1894, neighbour Thomas Bailey sued Palmer for assault, claiming he was attacked, unprovoked. Witness Thomas Lord, did not care to give evidence for either party as he was too drunk at the time the incident took place. The assault was proved and Palmer was required to pay a fine and all costs.

Thomas Palmer can be found in a few Newcastle Morning Herald articles. In September 1887, he writes a letter to the editor, concerned about the state of the Wallsend to Cooranbong Road as it contributed to the deaths of the Buxton Family. Later that year, William Ashton sued Palmer and his wife for assault. This time the verdict was in favour of the defendant. In January 1890 Thomas appeared in court on charges of gambling. He was found guilty and was ordered to pay costs. An inquiry into the death of miner, James Johnson was held at the hotel as reported in the paper on October 9, 1894. Johnson had been found dead at the Travellers Rest Hotel after a fight with William Sidebottom.. The verdict was "We find that the deceased met his death by a blow administered by William Sidobottom under great provocation, and we further find the said William Sidebottom guilty of manslaughter." Sidebottom was then committed to stand trial. Another article found, dated September 1896, mentions Thomas Palmer in relation to cattle stealing and lastly in 1907, an inquiry into mining names him as a person of interest.

photo: travellers est hotel

Built with the advent of the extension of the railway from Hawkesbury in mind, as well as the promise of the new township, Ryhope, the hotel enjoyed success while the line was under construciton. Its completion, and the failure of Ryhope to eventuate, was also to be its undoing. Shortly after the railway line was finished, with nearby Awaba as a station, business for the hotel reduced significantly and sadly closed its doors. Gone was the need for teamsters and bullock drivers to stop, the railway provided a new transport means for business to convey their goods.

The 1913 electoral roll reveals that Thomas Palmer and his wife, Jane still resided at the hotel, even though trading had ceased and Palmer no longer held a licence. Castlemaine Brewery demolished the pub soon after Thomas Palmer's death and according to Skrine, "carted away any part of it that was worth salvaging".

Sadly, the picture above is the only one in existence, to our knowledge, and is a digital copy of the one found in Pits Props and Sleepers (The story of Awaba).

Reference List

Saxon, Doug & the Awaba Public School (1988) Pits Props and Sleepers (The story of Awaba) Awaba Public School Parents and Citizens Association, Awaba, NSW.

Skrine, Cynthia M. "Fun and Fights at Palmer's Pub", Newcastle Morning Herald, 25/6/1960

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate , Monday 26 September 1887, page 6

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate , Friday 8 June 1888, page 7

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate , Tuesday 21 August 1894, page 7

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate , Friday 25 September 1896, page 7

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate , Thursday 5 December 1907, page 2