1838 Adelaide’s first permanent hotel begins trading

The rebuilt Black Bull Hotel. Image: State Library of South Australia

Originally known as the Buffalo’s Head, the hotel that became the Black Bull at first operated from a tent near the River Torrens. In 1838 it was relocated to Hindley Street, where it continues to trade today. The first publican, James Chittleborough, named his pub after the ship, the Buffalo, which had brought him to Adelaide in 1836.

James was a navy man, who had served as a ship’s corporal at the Battle of Trafalgar. Discharged from the navy as an invalid in 1830, he decided to migrate to South Australia with his wife and family. The family’s earliest residence was a reed hut in Buffalo Row, near the river. Here his wife, Maria, operated a small store – recollected by their son as the first in the colony. The store was soon complemented by a liquor license, granted to James in 1837.

The couple did well enough out of the business, the returns from which, in addition to James’s navy pension, allowed them to open the Buffalo’s Head hotel in 1838. According to accounts from early settlers, the 1840s were difficult years in the new colony. There was plenty of competition from other hotels and James turned to farming, selling the hotel to Messrs. Malcolm and Graham in 1841.

James’s son (also James) headed for the gold fields of Victoria in the early 1850s, but soon returned to his father’s farm. He then followed in his father’s footsteps, opening and running a number of hotels around Adelaide. He was the Secretary of the Licensed Victuallers Association for 27 years.

Malcolm and Graham  changed the name of the establishment to the Black Bull Hotel and put a sign on the gate:

The bull is tame, so fear him not,
So long as you can pay your shot.
When money’s gone and credit’s bad,
That’s what makes the bull go mad.

According to one account, there were some problems with the transfer of the liquor licence to the new owners. Apparently, Alexander Malcolm, who was a baker by trade, evaded the issue by selling pies and biscuits and giving liquor away to those who bought them.

The Black Bull went through several changes of name and many changes of ownership over the years. From 1868 to 1873 it was known as the Black Bull Inn, before reverting to the Black Bull Hotel. In 1878, the hotel was completely rebuilt by the proprietor, George Hubble. An article in the Adelaide Observer was enthusiastic about the improvements.

Nine years’ prosperous occupancy of that well-known hostelry has enabled him to decide upon a complete reconstruction of the building, which, although endeared by old memories as remote as 1841, has been an undeniable blemish in the coup d’oeil of the street in these modern days. … Altogether this new Black Bull bids fair to relegate the old bull to perfect oblivion, and it is pleasing to know that every preparation has been made to proceed with the building immediately.

The original hotel building stood back some 10m from the street, with a front yard surrounded by a picket fence. The new building was designed by architect Thomas English and constructed by contractor Charles Farr.  The hotel became popular with the theatre crowd, perhaps because of the proximity of the new Theatre Royal which also opened in Hindley Street in 1878. Various alterations were made over the years. Extensions to the hotel and veranda/balcony were made in 1905 and 1923. In 1913, renovations were made to the rooms,  bathrooms were updated and a new saloon bar was added.

The hotel continued as the Black Bull until 1947 when it was renamed The Berkeley. It briefly reverted to the Black Bull in 1971, but after just eight months became the Princes Berkeley. In 2014, publican John Meek decided to restore the Black Bull name and modernise the pub to attract a new crowd. The original windows and balcony from 1905 were retained but the interior was completely reworked to provide a range of bars and dining spaces.

The Adelaide City Council has recognised the Black Bull as Adelaide’s first permanent hotel. These days, when pubs don’t have to offer rooms for guests and stables for their horses, it’s a drinking and entertainment venue rather than a place to stay.  The heritage-listed former stables have become a beer garden.

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