South Coast hotel's fascinating goldrush history

Robbie Burns Hotel, C. Late 1920s, from Tooth and Co. Yellow Cards, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University
Robbie Burns Hotel, C. Late 1920s, from Tooth and Co. Yellow Cards, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University

One of many similar establishments in the area at the time it was built in the 1850s, Wyndham's Robbie Burns Hotel has a fascinating history.

The large number of hotels that opened around 1860 were developed to service travellers making their way to the Kiandra goldfield, the highest goldfield in Australia, approximately 90km north-west of Cooma on the Snowy Mountains Hwy.

For those from Melbourne and Sydney eager to strike their luck in the Kiandra goldrush, the quickest way was to travel by steamer to Eden and then via horseback or foot, which resulted in inns and hotels popping up within half a day's ride of one another, to quench the thirst of miners and provide somewhere to rest their heads.

Robert Turbet originally constructed the Scottish Chieftain Inn - also recorded as the Scottish Chief - on the current Robbie Burns site at Wyndham, while The Old Stockyard Inn was erected by John Love on the river flat at the western end of town.

Robert Turbet, courtesy of John Turbet.

Robert Turbet, courtesy of John Turbet.

MaryTurbet, courtesy of John Turbet.

MaryTurbet, courtesy of John Turbet.

Both Turbet and Love applied for and were granted licences for their respective houses in September 1860 and in April 1861. The Twofold Bay and Maneroo Observer reported "...Wyndham is a newly laid out government township...There are two hotels and one or two other houses..."

Innkeeping in those days was rather a hazardous occupation, as masked men roamed the country sticking up those most likely to have money or goods.

The inns continued to operate until 1865 when both were burnt to the ground.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Adviser reported, "Mr Turbet had scarcely time to save his children, which he providentially did by rolling them up in the bedclothes and rushing out through the flames himself being in a state of nudity, not having time to put his clothes on."

The Bega Gazette reported when Turbet's building was destroyed, "This is the second public house destroyed by fire in the above township. We might with truth say (if we wished to be sensational) that the whole township of Wyndham was completely destroyed by fire, as the said township comprised only two houses, both inns, one being destroyed by fire some time ago, the other last Sunday morning. An inquest will be held next week."

Turbet used his £500 insurance money to erect new premises on the same site. This building would later become known as the Robbie Burns, run by Robert and wife Mary, who had 10 children, and the premises remained in the Turbet family for almost 100 years.

The reason behind the Scottish Chieftain/Robbie Burns naming isn't confirmed, but clearly harks back to Turbet's heritage.

A fact hidden from his descendants for more than 150 years, Turbet was a convict. He was sentenced to 10 years by Edinburgh Court of Justiciary and transported to Australia on the Adelaide in 1849, reportedly then taken by the steamer "Shamrock" to Eden, to fulfill a labour shortage.

He became a customs boatman in Eden, then applied for the publican's licence at Wyndham.

Turbet died in 1894 and is buried at Wyndham Cemetery.

Robbie Burns Hotel, 1931, from Tooth and Co. Yellow Cards, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University.

Robbie Burns Hotel, 1931, from Tooth and Co. Yellow Cards, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University.

Like many small town hotels, the Robbie Burns was to form an important part of the community, and when the school, constructed between Wyndham and Honeysuckle, burnt down in January 1869, lessons were conducted in the hotel until 1871 when a new slab school was constructed on the present site.

When the dairy farmers of Wyndham were considering establishing a dairy factory in that centre, they held their meetings at the Robbie Burns.

In 1903, the Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported the establishment was a "very superior hostelry" and the family as "well and favourably known".

As the only hotel in Wyndham, "The Robbie Burns is a treat to the traveller, who is not likely to ask how far it is to the next township, as is the case in many places".

  • Special thanks to Angela George and Pat Raymond for sharing historical information related to the Robbie Burns Hotel.
This story Historic goldrush starts Robbie Burns Hotel's fascinating story first appeared on Bega District News.