Newspaper Articles

Grahame Thom

The Truth, Sunday, March 5, 1916

Old Sydney - The Bullivant Family - The Three Crowns - The Rag & Famish - etc.
by Old Chum No. 435

A Correspondent thus :- Can you give me any information about the original Bullivant family? I believe they kept hotels in and around Sydney....”

The name Bullivant first appears in our literature in the first thirties. In 1830 Charles J. Bullivant kept the Three Crowns Inn on the corner of Charlotte place - now Grosvenor street - and Cumberland street, now called York street North. The house was a very ancient one, built apparently in the early days of the Rocks. This was emphasised in the fact that the thirsty customer had to climb up a long flight of stone steps to reach the bar. I was in it in 1871, when it was kept by Samuel Drake. Mr Bullivant was originally an officer in the Royal Navy, and had gained the rank of lieutenant, when he retired. I was told, from incompatibility of temper. He certainly was somewhat eccentric. In life he had his coffin prepared and kept it by him till he had need of it. After leaving the Three Crowns he had a house, the Waterford Arms, Balmain; at the same time there was in that suburb Morris C. Bullivant, a waterman.

In 1850 Mr C. J. Bullivant was back at the Three Crowns, and Mr Morris C. Bullivant was still at Balmain. (I am assuming that Charles J. Bullivant, who kept the Three Crowns in the late twenties and thirties, was one and the same with Charles Bullivant of the Waterford Arms, Balmain). In 1855 C. J. Bullivant had the Golden Gate on Brickfield Hill. The house was about midway between Bathurst and Liverpool Streets, three doors south of Albion place. At the same time Charles James Bullivant was registered as at Neutral Bay, North Shore. In 1858 he is given only at Neutral Bay. In 1865 there is some confusion, Charles Bullivant and James Bullivant are mentioned as hosts of the Three Crowns. I fancy the two meant Charles James Bullivant.

In the forties George Wyer married a daughter of C. J. Bullivant. He was a partner in the firm of Hill & Wyer, wine and spirit merchants, at 522 George Street, which would then be opposite Jamieson street. Mr Wyer did not long agree with his eccentric father-in-law, gave up the house, and C. J. Bullivant again came in. From the continual in and out of Mr Bullivant I am inclined to the belief that he was the owner of the property, or that he had a very long lease. In 1865 Charles T. Bullivant had the Three Crowns, a misprint I take it, and Charles Bullivant is a dairyman at Neutral Bay. In 1866 we have George Wyer again at the Three Crowns, and Charles Bullivant Junior, gardener, Neutral Bay, and Charles Bullivant senior, on the corner of Miller and Berry streets, North Sydney - keep your eye on this corner for awhile Maurice C. Bullivant had Bullivant’s Tavern at 92 York street, which was alongside the smithy of John Davis, he of some Parliamentary and municipal fame, and organiser of many excursions and picnics at which buns and muffins and Coonanbara hats were prominent. Lassetters Limited now covers the spot. Maurice Bullivant was at this time a boat builder at Neutral Bay. It was not always called Bullivant's; it was variously known as The Constitution (opened under that name to commemorate the granting of the Constitution under which we live and have our being). In 1868 Maurice Bullivant changed it to Captain Cook.

In that year Charles James Bullivant was a Carpenter at Neutral Bay; this, I take it, was the junior mentioned above as a gardener. Charles James Bullivant kept the Rag and Famish Hotel on the corner of Berry and Miller streets, North Shore - still please keep your eye on this corner - and there was a Francis Bullivant living at 328 Castlereagh street. In 1869 all the Bullivants excepting two disappear from our record. The exceptions are C. J. and Maurice, who still keep to the Rag and Famish and the Captain Cook. In 1870 Anne Bullivant had the Captain Cook, Charles J. was still at the “Rag”, and another Charles was living at Arundel street, Glebe.

In 1872 we find Charles James Bullivant back again at the Three Crowns, and Thomas Casey has the Rag under the name of the North Shore Hotel. Still keep an eye on this corner, please. Mrs F. Bullivant is at 43 Pyrmont street, Pyrmont, and John Bullivant at South street, Camperdown. In 1874, Francis Bullivant is at 4 Darling Street, Pyrmont, and Charles James has again left the Three Crowns, and opened a new pubbery on the corner, N. W. of Mount and Walker streets, and called it the Rag and Famish. He transferred his licence in the following year to Mrs Emma Darton, who changed the name to the Albert, by which name it is still known.

The ex-lieutenant retired to private life in a stone cottage which, I think, still stands near the corner of Myrtle and Ernest streets. Here he died in 1879, and was buried in a vault in his garden which he had constructed, as he had had his coffin. A stone slab, with a Latin inscription, dictated by the old man on his death-bed, guarded the entrance to the vault, and over it hung a very fine specimen of the mulberry tree. When the property came to be sold, the purchaser objected to the vault and its contents, and they were removed, I believe, to St Thomas' Cemetery. I was offered the slab with the Latin motto, but declined the gift, and it became a hearthstone in a new building not far away. I have, however, a block of the mulberry tree, very finely polished, given me by the last tenant of the stone cottage before Bullivant's remains were removed to make way for modern buildings. The remainder of this very fine tree became firewood.

I have mentioned that Mr Bullivant was in the Navy; out of scorn for the service, he named two of his pubberies the Rag and Famish. The name requires an explanation. According to the slang dictionary , the name is applied to the Army and Navy Club, from Ensign Rag and Captain Famish, imaginary characters out of whom John Leech some years back obtained much amusement. A dictionary of idiomatic English phrases gives us this: “Rag - Gentlemen of the Order of the Rag - military officers. The rag refers to their red uniform”.

In company with Mr Michael D’Arcy, of the Customs, but previously an editor of the “Freeman's Journal”, I paid a visit to Mr Bullivant at the new Rag and Famish in Walker and Mount streets. Mr D'Arcy lived in Falcon street, and always walked from Milson's Point to his home. The arrangement of the bar struck me as peculiar. It was built up like the compounding counter of an apothecary's shop. D'Arcy could look over it: I could only look up to it. Our tipple was rum, a beverage for which Mr Bullivant's house was noted. He kept the best, and rum fanciers, not rum tipplers in the ordinary sense, travelled to Bullivant's, no matter what house he kept, to indulge their palates. Mr D’Arcy was like his old chum Bullivant, somewhat eccentric: he went to bed each evening at six o'clock and remained there until daylight. I don't follow the fortunes of the Bullivants after the death of the most noted of the name. I have done the best I could for my correspondent, and will be glad if he will, if he can, fill up any gaps I have left .

I told you to keep your eye on the corner of Berry and Miller streets. Some time after the tenancy of Mr Bullivant, the house was kept by a member or relative of the Glovers of the Rocks. A violent thunderstorm broke over the place: a mother carrying an infant was crossing the yard at the time, and was killed instantly by lightning. The baby was unhurt, and is now a strong, healthy, vigorous man. You can take your eye off the corner now.


The Truth, Sunday, March 19, 1916

Old Sydney ..... A letter from “Gad’s Hill - Concerning the Bullivants - A Family History - Another “Old Chum” - Old Bull and The Rag and Famish - A Coffin as a Wardrobe - Eccentricities” at a Funeral.
by Old Chum No 437

From “Gad’s Hill” (reminiscent Charles Dickens), Carrington avenue, Mortdale, under date 6/2/’16, I have the following highly interesting letter :- “Dear ‘Old Chum’, - As a resident of 54 years in Sydney, may I claim to be another old chum, (claim admitted with pleasure). Your interesting article in yesterday’s ‘Truth’ re the Bullivant family, brought back to my mind some of the eccentricities of ‘Old Bull’, as he was familiarly called, at the old Rag and Famish, on the corner of Miller and Berry Streets, St Leonards, as it was then called. Yes, he had his coffin in his bedroom in the old pubbery, and which he used as a wardrobe. As you say, he was noted for selling good grog, and he served every drink by measuring out what he called a noggin. (A noggin’ is a small wooden mug or cup. A ‘naggin’ in Ireland is a spirit measure: a naggin of whisky, costing threepence, or about, being the usual call, either for carrying home or using in the dram shop, by two persons. Mr Bullivant possibly measured a naggin of rum.) He always wore a red smuggler cap in the bar. He was a very profane old man, and when speaking of his son Charles, of Neutral Bay, referred to him in a very derogatory manner. ‘That old b.....!’ being a favourite phrase. The son certainly did look a bit ancient.

“As I was resident at North Shore for about 20 years, I had the opportunity of knowing the family in the sixties and seventies. I do not think ‘Old Bull’ was in the Navy; he was, I understood, a lieutenant in the Army, and for insubordination - striking his captain, - was court-martialled and cashiered, hence ‘Ensign Rag’ and ‘Captain Famish’. I remember his leaving the old Rag and opening a new building on the corner of Mount and Walker streets, and remember well the tall counter you refer to. I also knew Mr Michael D’Arcy. Bullivant afterwards sold out to Mrs Emma Darton, whose husband at one time kept the Occidental Hotel on the corner of York and Erskine streets (Wynyard Square). (Mr Darton was a mining broker, who kept the Occidental in 1872 and about.) Bullivant then moved to the red stone cottage at the then called Neutral Bay. I saw him buried. It was a peculiar sight; they could not get the coffin into the vault; some of the attendants were not to sober, and crowbars had to be used to remove the masonry. The property was subsequently purchased by Mr Wm Yeomans, senr., I believe, was made over to his daughter-in-law, who, with the family, resided there for many years.

“I omitted to mention that old Bullivant married again while he was in the old Rag and Famish, a respectable old laundress. I forget her name, I could tell you some queer stories of the ancient C. J. Bullivant, but I am afraid I should be wearying you. (Not a bit). But one little story, if space will permit: Two gentlemen from town visited his bar for a refresher, and while taking their grog, one remarked to the other, “What a dirty old bar. Look at the cobwebs.’ The old man pretended not to hear them, but presently looking over his spectacles, remarked “Are you going to stop here long?” “Well, no”, one replied: ‘no, except to have another drink’ “Ah, well”, said old Bull, “This place will b...... well have to suit you while you are here”. Yours faithfully, Samuel Stead.”

A memo re the Bullivant family reaches me :- “Morris Bullivant was the father of Charles Andrew Bullivant, and George Bullivant was the son of Charles Andrew Bullivant, and William George Bullivant at present at Moree, is the father of George William Bullivant. This George William Bullivant is making ready for the front. The sisters and brothers, also grandchildren of Charles Andrew Bullivant are all alive and live in North Sydney and Glebe. The family can still be heard of at the old Rag and Famish - now the Albert - at North Sydney. An amusing incident, in which the three brothers were concerned, may be given. They used to use the coffin as a dinghy and paddle about in Neutral Bay. Also they are branded, and have so for three generations back, their initials being put on either the right arm or on the back.” (Mr G. W. Bullivant is in the infantry, and goes to the Front on March 28. See “Truth”, 5 March 1916.

My correspondent does not say in what relationship Mr Morris Bullivant stood to Mr C. J. Bullivant of the Three Crowns and the Rag and Famish.


The Truth, Sunday, March 26, 1916

Old Sydney The Bullivant Family - Interesting Particulars - A Controversy - The Sailor's Return etc
by Old Chum No. 438

Some more light on the Bullivant family. Under date March 11th Alpha and Omega writes :- Dear Old Chum, Re your article about the Bullivant family. I knew the family from the time the old man kept the Three Crowns Inn at the corner of Church Hill and Cumberland street. After 'Old Bull' , as he was familiarly called, left the Three Crowns he took the little inn at the corner of Miller and Berry streets, then known as the Sailor's Return. Bullivant rechristened it The Rag and Famish. He shifted afterwards to the corner of Alfred and Mount streets, the house subsequently kept by Mrs Darton, which Bullivant named The Rag and Famish, and which Mrs Darton changed to the Albert, by which name it is still known. You speak of the accident to Mrs Glover. She was ironing when struck by lightning. I can give you particulars about it if necessary. (Please do so).

Again referring to the Bullivant family, I knew two sons, Morris and Charley, as a kid. At the Miller street corner I remember well the time old Bullivant took the house. The most interesting piece of furniture he brought with him was a coffin, which, to my horror, was placed temporarily in my bedroom, standing up against the wall. Bullivant afterwards utilized the coffin as a receptacle for his victuals. As a further reason for remembering it, being curious, I wanted to see what he had for dinner. I lifted the lid, it slipped, and left me with a badly jammed hand. The last time Charles James Bullivant left the Three Crowns he sold out lock, stock and barrel. 'Walk in and go out'. About three weeks after giving up possession the old chap suddenly thought of his coffin, and went back with a spring van to get it. The publican thought he would take some change out of 'Old Bull’ and refused to surrender the 'casket' . Eventually the old man got possession of it, but not before he had painted the atmosphere red.

He then went to live at Neutral Bay, at the foot of Berry street. The old place until recently was, to my knowledge, occupied by a Mrs Yeomans. He had his vault built there and was firstly buried there, if I 'm not mistaken. However, his body was taken to Myrtle street and buried there. You will find a plan enclosed showing you that it is impossible for him to have been buried at the corner of Myrtle and Ernest streets, as they are five streets apart. Morris Bullivant kept the public house opposite the Old Queen's Theatre in York street. When 'Old Bull' kept the Rag and Famish in Miller street the ancient watermen would think nothing of walking from Milson's or Blue's Point to have a glass of Bullivant's best old Jamaica rum. If he saw that the liquor was getting the best of the customer, he would not part with another drop even if sovereigns were offered for it. The last time I saw Bullivant's old coffin the boys were punting it about in Neutral Bay.

I don't think this is Alpha and Omega's first communication, but I hope it won't be his last. By a slip of the pen I wrote Myrtle for 'Merlyn street. I have lived close by for 25 years and ought to know it well. It was not, however, named when C. J. Bullivant went to live in the Stone Cottage. He was then described as living off Falcon Street, which Merlyn street is. Ernest street was not then named either. The plan sent me by A.& 0. is a very accurate one, but he places the sepulchre of Bullivant on the corner of Myrtle street and Lane Cove road; he does not show on his plan the corner of Merlyn and Ernest streets. On this corner in 1879 C. J. Bullivant lived and on that corner I saw the ruins of his vault soon after the coffin was removed to St Thomas’. A correspondent tells me that Mr Francis Bullivant of Mitchell street, Glebe, is the oldest of the family now living.

A.& 0.‘s letter opens up another avenue for inquiry. He tells us that the house called by Mr Bullivant the Rag and Famish on the corner of Berry and Miller streets was originally the Sailors Return. In 1865 it was kept by Mr Tom McMahon, and it was here Mrs Glover met her death by lightning. Now away in the mid thirties and before the original Glover - front name Thomas - kept the Sailors Return in Cumberland street, Rocks. He was a stonecutter by trade, and had come out a youth in the time of Governor Macquarie, and did a good deal of stonecutting for that ruler. Tradition and the family say that the lettering on the eastern end of St James' Church and on the front of Hyde Park Barracks, was done by Thomas Glover . The house in Cumberland street still stands, though not licensed as an inn. In that house in 1836 (March 8) Thomas Glover died by his own hand, in a fit of temporary insanity. He was but 41 years of age, as told on his tombstone, removed from Devonshire street to St Thomas’, North Sydney. In his dying moments he was attended by Dr Tawell (who died young), son of a Quaker colonist of some notoriety. Thomas Glover left a good deal of Rocks property to his descendants.



Maria and Charles James Bullivant

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