An Irish landlady who began an Illawarra hotel dynasty

Scarborough Hotel, Scarborough
Scarborough Hotel, Scarborough. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.


Sarah Lindsay, later Broadhead: Pioneering Illawarra landlady. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

OFTEN overlooked in the pages of history, women played a central role in the day to day functioning of inns and hotels. The wives of the region’s pioneering publicans were often young and their duties were physically demanding.

Husband and wife teams rarely could afford to employ staff and as their children grew older they were put to work helping in the business. They were a tough breed with the hours of a 19th century publican and his family long and draining.

Pubs opened from 4am to midnight six days a week and all day Sunday for guests prior to 1862. The region’s landladies were awake at the crack of dawn tending the residential and dining needs of their guests. They carried out the laundry, cooked, pulled beers behind the bar – they were the backbone of a well run colonial inn.

One of these pioneering women was Sarah Lindsay who became the matriarch of an Illawarra hotel dynasty. She was a landlady of at least three different pubs in the Illawarra and witnessed the industry grow from the days of the humble coaching inn to the imposing grand hotels of the railway era.

Her sons and grandsons went on to own and operate hotels and the family name became synonymous with pubs in the Illawarra for over 100 years.

Born Sarah Bryen in Fermanagh Ireland in 1838 she landed in NSW with her farming parents as a three year old. In 1854, at the age of 17 she married William Lindsay. The following year the newly weds opened the Farmers Hotel at Unanderra on the hill overlooking Kembla Grange along what would later be the Princes Highway catering for coaches, travellers and the local farming community.

Sarah and William hosted their timber inn for 25 years on the Main South Coast Road before their eldest son George took the reins. The Lindsay pub dynasty had begun.

However, William fell ill with dropsy within a few months of moving to Clifton and moved back to the Farmers Inn to convalesce leaving Sarah running the rowdy, put profitable, miners’ pub. She was left a widow at the age of 47 with the death of William in 1881.

Sarah caused quite a stir in the village when she remarried Alfred Broadhead within a couple of months of her husband’s death. Her new husband gained the license of the Clifton Inn where they remained as hosts until the early 1890s.

The Broadheads answer to competition with the opening of the Imperial Hotel across the road from their inn during 1884 was the building of a grand two storey brick and sandstone hotel at South Clifton in 1886. The Scarborough Hotel was opened for business at a cost of 3,000 pounds on June 21 1887 to coincide with the officially opening of the South Coast Railway. Although it would be another month before the building was licensed to sell liquor a few glasses were more than likely raised to toast the occasion.

Sarah and Alfred continued as hosts at Clifton leasing the Scarborough Hotel to their son Edward Lindsay until they finally moved into their new pub in 1892. They remained at the helm of the Scarborough Hotel until 1912.

Sarah hadn’t quite finished raising eyebrows and after the death of her second husband Alfred Broadhead in 1914 the pioneering landlady moved into her grandson William’s Port Kembla Hotel. It was here at the age of 84 she married for the third time a 60 year-old Port Kembla cab driver by the name of William Matthews in 1922.

The marriage caused some concern within the family with her children worried her new husband was a gold-digger and had his eyes set on Sarah’s large property holdings, including the Scarborough pub. Tooth and Company, who had a lease on the Scarborough Hotel, reported in 1924:

Walter McClaren, son-in-law of the owner, a lady aged 87, who married within the last two years a man about 60 (called today). There are several sons and daughters, and McClaren is evidently anxious to see the hotel converted into cash before the old lady dies.”

As a result her eldest son, George and son-in-law Walter McClaren became trustees of her estate before her death. The grand old lady of hotels died of “broncho-pneumonia and senility” aged 96 and was buried in the Woronora Cemetery on June 2 1934.

Sarah’s Illawarra hotel dynasty continued with her sons and grandsons hosting three Port Kembla Hotels from the 1920s through to the 1950s. An end of an era came with the last Lindsay, William hosting the Steelworks Hotel (Great Eastern) in 1955.

A century had passed since Sarah and William Lindsay began their hotel dynasty by opening a little timber inn over looking Kembla Grange in 1855.

First published 2014, updated 2020.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020


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