James Squire is generally acknowledged to be Australia’s first commercial brewer of hopped beer. His tavern, The Malting Shovel, at Kissing Point on the Parramatta River, was licensed in 1798. He grew Australia’s first hops and was supported by a government that saw beer as a more acceptable beverage than rum and other strong spirits.
James Squire was transported to Australia as a convict on the First Fleet. He had been convicted of highway robbery after stealing five hens and six cocks. Sentenced to seven years’ transportation, he left a wife and three children behind in London. Soon after arriving, Squire began to brew beer. His early efforts were reputedly not well-regarded. A tombstone in Parramatta Cemetery bore the legend:
He who drinks Squire’s beer
On the expiry of his sentence in 1795, Squire was granted 30 acres of land at Eastern Farm (Kissing Point). He soon expanded this holding by purchasing land from other ex-convicts. He opened ’ The Malting Shovel’ Tavern on the shores of the Parramatta River about half way between Sydney town and Parramatta and a licence was issued on 19th September 1798 for the sale of ‘spirituous liquors’ at a cost of 5 pounds, renewable every year. Squire also became a farmer, growing grain and hops and raising sheep. He later operated a bakery in Kent Street, Sydney.
James Squire died in 1822 and was buried in Sydney’s Devonshire Street cemetery, where Central Station now stands. His son carried on the business, but died three years later. The James Squire brand was revived by craft brewer Chuck Hahn in 1988. The operation, now called the Malt Shovel Brewery, was bought by Lion Nathan and is now owned by the Japanese brewer Kirin as part of the Lion Group.
In 1902, James Squire’s remains were moved to a new cemetery at La Perouse, prompting a contemporary writer to pen the following:
One of the First Fleeters who earned a right to reverential remembrance and record, in the pages of history, was James Squire. He was a brewer by trade. In the course of business, he made some slight mistake, such as, in these times, would be settled up by a fine, and probably an admonitory lecture from the Bench. But Mr. Squire lived in times when mountains were made of mole-hills: so he was sentenced to seven years’ banishment to New South Wales.
Shortly after arrival in the settlement, he received a free pardon. He settled at Parramatta where in 1804 he brewed the first beer made in Australia. And yet there are hundreds of thousands who daily consume more than they need of the beverage, who never heard of Squire, and have never been educated in the knowledge of all that they owe to him. And such is the incapacity of man to recognise true greatness, and his liability to discern it where it does not exist, that no memorial or statue to the memory of Squire is in existence in Parramatta ; nor do the worthies of that ancient town seem to realise that its chief claim to historical distinction lies in the fact that it boasted the first brewery in Australasia. Squire grew the first hops ever grown in the land. In 1803 he planted five acres, and reaped 15 cwt. of hops of good quality, therefrom.
Altogether a remarkable person, he died in 1822 at Kissing Point and was buried in the Devonshire Street Cemetery. There he lay under a tombstone upon which the following inscription was engraved :—
To the Memory of JAMES SQUIRE,
Late of Kissing Point, Who died May 16, 1822.
He arrived by the first fleet, and by integrity and industry acquired and maintained an unsullied reputation. Under his care the hop plant was first cultivated, and in this settlement he created the first brewery, which progressively matured to perfection.’
One would think that a patriot of this superior order, would be entitled to undisturbed sepulture. But what the Chinese grant to their great men, we deny. The other day, the bones of the first brewer were removed from their grave-bed, and carried away to the new cemetery at La Perouse. And by-and-bye, when it has been decided that a public recreation ground is badly wanted put there, and that the La Perouse Cemetery should be so utilised : or an observatory, or a national fish-curing factory ; it is likely enough, that the first brewer‘s bones will be carted away to some other temporary resting place. And probably, in some future utilitarian age, they will be ground up for manure. In which case, let us hope, they will find final rest and use in a hop plantation.
Squire was a worthy man. And, indeed, there were very many able and honorable felons sent out in the first and second fleets,and almost immediately emancipated, upon arrival. This is a circumstance casual and ill-informed critics, such as my Lord Beauchamp, do not take into account, else they would talk less about the ‘birth-stain ‘ of Australia, and discover the real origin of the push, energy, and intelligence that have characterised her people. They who struck into the wilderness and hewed out fortune, were not men to be ashamed of; nor should their virtues be lost to sight in contemplation of the fact that, subject to brutal and irrational laws, they had been classed with those of whom, indeed, nothing good is recorded. Consider ! The wide area of country from Liverpool to the mouth of the Hawkesbury was opened up, and made to bloom and flourish, by honorable and industrious settlers. And yet two-thirds of them had “left their country for their country’s good.” It was well for this country that they did so.
The Murrurundi Times and Liverpool Plains Gazette (NSW : 1874 – 1907; 1926 -1929) Saturday 7 June 1902
It appears that the publication slightly misquoted the text on the gravestone. An article published on the SBS website in 2014 shows a photograph of the gravestone. The James Squire website quotes the inscription as follows:
In sacred memory to the remains of Mr James Squire, late of Kissing Point, who departed this life May 16, 1822, at 67 years. He arrived in the Colony in the First Fleet, and by integrity and industry acquired and maintained an unsullied reputation. Under his care the hop plant was first cultivated in this settlement and the first brewery was erected, which progressively matured to perfection. As a father, a husband, a friend and a Christian, he lived respected and died lamented.