Melbourne’s first pubs opened soon after the founding of the colony in 1835. Legislation required that any licensed premises should provide accommodation, and liquor could only be served for consumption on the premises. Twenty annual licences had been issued by 1839.
Melbourne was first settled by Europeans in 1835. John Batman had negotiated a “purchase” with the local aboriginal people in April of that year. In late August and early September, parties of settlers led by John Batman and by John Lancy (acting on behalf of John Pascoe Fawkner) arrived within days of each other. The land was shared between them.
The street grid of the new settlement was laid out in 1837, the same year the city got its name. Fawkner went on to own one of Melbourne’s first pubs, on the corner of Collins and Market Streets. It was a single-storey timber and brick building of six rooms, with a tariff of two guineas a week. The hotel advertised “mental recreation of a high order,” providing guests with 12 newspapers, seven magazines and a collection of fiction and poetry.
Many of the early hotels were of primitive construction, one even being constructed of sods. A 1929 article in The Argus by “Rambler” described some of Melbourne’s first pubs:
In Collins street there was the Lamb Inn, a roystering house for stockmen, as was Michael Carr’s Governor Bourke Hotel close by. Queen street had its Royal Highlander, kept by James Connell. It was a rude structure, but an improvement on the sod built hut kept by Michael Pender, whose wife served the drinks across the rickety counter, while her husband kept his bullock team busy on the roads.
Early pubs were used for meetings, doing business and even for coroner’s inquests although some were infamous as haunts for dubious characters. As the colony became more established, the publicans profited and became more influential. The gold rush of the 1850s made many hotel-owners wealthy. The government also profited from licensing fees and fines for unlicensed or after-hours traders. Trading hours at this time were 6 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, but illegal ‘after hours’ and Sunday trading was common.