The early years of the Bush Inn


I... recommend to Your Lordship [Bathurst] that the permenant seat of Government  of this Colony should be established at New Norfolk...43

-Governor Arthur 1826



It is 1825 and the Bush Inn is now Licensed and open for business.

 The original building was a rectangular brick structure, two storeys high with a shingled, hipped roof.  It  measured thirty x fifteen feet in plan and today is the middle part of the western end of the building.  It comprises the saloon bar, public bar and office on the ground floor and the licencees quarters on the upper floor44.  

Of interest here is that although today Inn, Hotel and Tavern are all interchangeable, there were applied to different styles of establishment in the early years of the colony.  An inn was an accommodation and meal-house for the traveller, while the hotel and ale house were more local drinking places.  This difference would disappear in Australia within a few years in the new colonies until the rise of the motor inn, the motel, over a century later.

But why was it named the Bush Inn?

There are several theories as to how the Inn received its name.  

More popularly believed in New Norfolk was that the Inn was named after either David or Charles Bush.  Charles, though, can be ruled out the only Charles listed in Tasmania45 at the time was born in 1809 and died in 1813.

That leaves David Bush, the clerk to Reverend Knopwood, more about him later…

Another theory is that the name reflected the state of New Norfolk at that stage of its development-  it was ‘way out in the bush’, far removed from Hobart Town and the centre of civilisation, or that old inns in Europe and England often carried as their sign a bundle of sticks, or bush46, and there are hotels with names such as The Bull and Bush, etc.

That in those days inns had colourful names there is no doubt.  It was an English custom, and since the people of Van Diemen’s Land were there direct from England, that tradition remained.  A look at the list of those inns licensed in 1825 is a good example, with names like The Three Jolly Farmers etc, and still today in Tasmania hotels trade with names like The Star and Garter, The Good Woman, The Black Prince and so on. So the name The Bush Inn is a little unusual in that respect.


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Bush Inn, New Norfolk Melville, Henry 1834



If it was named after David Bush, who at times had been credited with either building the hotel or designing it, it would have been a ‘first’ in Australia, as it was not the custom of the time to name inns after their owners.  This theory holds many other inconsistencies, too, as there is no record of him owning or leasing the land. 

That there is a tie in between Bridger and Knopwood and between Knopwood and Bush there is no doubt.  The link between Anne Bridger and Knopwood had been established through Knopwoods diary, as quoted in Chapter One.  And the link between Knopwood and Bush is well documented.  In those days the Hobart Town Gazette carried news of wages paid to the Governments' civil officers, (as well as listing government payments for food and stores), and ‘DW Bush, clerk to principle Chaplain, wages £3 15 0 for the quarter’ was often listed.47  Bush's signature also frequently turns up as a witness to marriages performed by Knopwood.

So who was David Bush?

David Watson Bush was a convict, who arrived on the ship Indefatigable.   At age 20, he married Ann Guy, a free woman aged 18 on September the 4th 1814.48  Like Anne Bridger, it appears he was somewhat of an entrepreneur.  In 1820 he was mentioned in a letter from Lieutenant Governor Sorell to Deputy Assistant Com.-Genl Hull49


The Lt. Governor... observes by the List of persons, who supplied Wheat to the Store last Month, David Bush, who also furnished Meat during the same Period, This Person being a prisoner holding a Ticket of Leave and neither a Grower or Stock-owner.

The Lt. Governor has already remarked to Mr. Hull that, if it were the practice to admit prisoners holding farms to supply the Store, several could be found in the Neighbourhood of Hobart Town whose pretensions would entitle them to indulgences in preference to the person in question, and who hold Stock and cultivate Land.  Upon what principle Mr. Wilson can have taken upon himself to admit one who is neither, it is difficult to Conceive; and the fact cannot but cause and impression unfavourable to Mr. Wilson’s discharge of his duty, when so many considerable Growers and Stock-owners are on the Spot, who have a right to supply both Meat and Wheat.  The Lt. Governor therefore considers it indispensable that Mr. Wilson should receive, in time for next Week’s supply, a List of Settlers who are to furnish Meat during the Quarter, which will also be proper to publish in the next Gazette, and also that he should be ordered to receive no Wheat except from Growers in the Settlement, in the usual proportion to their Cultivation.


While his exact relationship to the Bush Inn is unknown, it is known that David Bush lived in New Norfolk in 1822.  At time he had a daughter aged six, according to the return of Juvenile Population Requiring Education completed that year50, and by 1827 ran the King's Head Hotel (in New Norfolk) in partnership with George Lowe51, in opposition to the Bush Inn.

Later he was the Licensee of the Tasmanian Inn, in Hobart from 1829 to 184152.  In 1831 he bought a coach (named Fair Play), that a Lt M Curling-Friend had imported from England, and this ran from Hobart Town to New Norfolk53.  

He also owned a Bake House and Shop in Campbell Street, Hobart, that adjoined the Sailors Home.  That was advertised to let in March 1861, as “for any purpose of business.  Immediate possession.  The Gas and water laid on, with Counters, Shelving &c.  Any persons commanding a moderate business would find this a good opportunity.  Rent Low.  Applications to D.W. Bush, 10 Campbell St”54.

The likelihood of David Bush having built the hotel is further diminished by other records, showing where Bridger applied for a town allotment in New Norfolk55 and then on June 24 1824 for bricklayers56.  In April of the following year, the Hobart Town Gazette carried an article stating,  “We understand with much pleasure, that New Norfolk, the favourite retirement of Colonel Sorrell, and other distinguished characters, is rapidly becoming improved.  The church [St Matthew’s], in which the Rev. Robert Knopwood, M.A. regularly preaches, has been considerably enlarged. Several most excellent buildings have been commenced, and in particular, a widow lady named Bridger has just now completed a very commodious two story house of public entertainment, which is deservedly well frequented...”57

Other dates are mentioned, though, in relation to the age of the hotel.  Usually quoted is 1815 as the date the hotel was built, the theory being that it operated without a license until 1825, though there has been no evidence come to light to prove this.  Typical of this theory is the opening of an article  written about the hotel in The Australasian Post, February 16 1950, which quotes  “...Bush gave his name to the hotel, which is the oldest licensed house in Australia, the Bush Inn at New Norfolk.  In 1815 Mrs Ann Bridger persuaded Bush to design for her an hotel standing on the wide sweeping banks of  the  Derwent River.”  However, that article went to say that Bush married Bridger...   

The Illustrated Tasmanian Mail of April 4 1925 claims it was built by Ann Bridger “Who obtained a license for it about 1810”.  That was 13 years before she arrived in Tasmania!

Anne Bridger herself didn’t take long to ‘branch out’ into other business. In 1830 she applied to purchase an additional 1000 acres [405 ha] of land at New Norfolk.  At that time she  “Already has, by grant, 500 acres [202 ha], by lease, 400 acres [162 ha] and by purchase 100 acres [40 ha].  Has erected weatherboard cottage, stockyard etc and erected 2 miles of fencing.   Has resided [for] 5 years in New Norfolk as proprietor of the Bush Tavern”58

She had tried to establish a dairy in New Norfolk, and her [son] Henry was reported to be running a butcher shop from the Hotel in the 1830’s.59    

On February 12, 1829, her youngest daughter, Ann married George Woodward, of Hobart Town, at Saint Matthew’s Church in New Norfolk.60  St Matthew’s, as noted earlier, was built in 1823, making it the oldest church in Tasmania.  The witnesses to that wedding were Joshua Spode and  Henry Bridger.  At the time Henry owned the property Broadlands.  Woodward was a surveyor, who was later sentenced to death for fraud and forgery .  He was reprieved by Secretary of State Sir John Russell.  Because of a shortage of surveyors in the colony, he was later hired back by the Government (as a Ticket of Leave man) in his trade of surveyor.61

Everything did not go well for the original Ann Bridger either.  In 1830 she was given notice that Messers I & J Watson will be put in possession of 300 acres [121ha] that she had been granted62.  The following year she received another notice that she would be required to give up another 1200 acres [485 ha] she’d leased63, and that an application for more land adjoining her original grant was refused64.  While her other business interests were failing, the Bush and New Norfolk in general were forging ahead. 

In 1826 two important questions arose that would see New Norfolk gain the attention of Van Diemen’s Land.  At first the two were closely linked, and in both the Bush Inn served as a meeting place for the discussion of the subjects in New Norfolk.

The two issues were:

#    Should the seat of government, ie, the capital, be moved from Hobart Town to a better site, and if New Norfolk was chosen as that site,

#    Where was the best place to build a bridge across the Derwent. 


These will be discussed in a later chapter.

The bridge was not immediately erected and Anne Bridger established a punt that crossed the river at the ‘Falls’.  It was one of several operating across the river at the time.  The issue of a bridge was not closed though.

Had it been erected then, the convict built causeway at Bridgewater may not have been built, and Southern Tasmania may have been geographically very different to what it is today.  The causeway, constructed from two million tons of quarried stone by 160 convicts, was commenced in 1830.

1830 also saw the building of Willow Court, another of New Norfolk’s historic buildings.  An ‘Invalid Hospital and Lunatic Asylum’, the hospital took its name from a willow tree planted in the courtyard by Lady Jane Franklin, and replaced the earlier wooden buildings at the same site.  Originally built for the housing “...of convicts as through age or infirmities have been unable to labour.”, it today houses the intellectually handicapped.

Other buildings in the town at that time included Hall Green, built by the town first doctor, Dr Robert Officer from 1823, and Woodbridge (Alloway Banks), built by the Chief District Constable Thomas Roadknight in 1825.

In 1834 Ann Bridger sold the lease of the Inn to Charles Barker, though the association of the Bridger family with the Bush was far from over.  When she left the Bush Inn it had already established a reputation for fine food and lodgings, a reputation is still holds today.  This reputation is well documented, and the stories of those visitors to the Inn in the early years of its operation are the subject for the following chapter.

Original material © November 2000 KM Roberts