There’s History in Those Walls!

There’s History in Those Walls!

Let me tell you the incredible history of a small town pub in the Adelaide Hills that very few know of …

The tiny town of Gumeracha is currently best known for being home to the World’s Biggest Rocking Horse, the place the Medieval Fair is held each year, and of course the local wines. However up until around the mid 1900s the local pub was a tourist attraction, and not just for the beer, it was for the thousands of names written on its walls. It was so well-known that it even gained the reputation of being Australia’s largest “visiting book” hotel in the process.

The town, which was founded by William Beavis Randell in the 1850s, has had a pub there almost as long. The map below is a portion of a town plan of Gumeracha dated from 1860, and shows that the corner block (where the hotel is) was owned by A Vorwerk, who is also listed as the first owner of District Hotel from 1861.

portion of town plan map of Gumeracha, dated 1860

portion of town plan map of Gumeracha, dated 1860

Here’s an extract from the Gumeracha 1839-1939 book:

“The main front walls of the District Hotel are composed of a local chalkstone, and probably on no other walls of a building in any other part of Australia are engraved so many names and initials. From ground level up to the top of the balcony roof there are a thousand or more of them, many of them representing people who in later years became very prominent in the State. As is only natural, callers at this old hostelry scrutinise the names on its walls with the very greatest interest.”

And from a newspaper article on the History of Hotels dated 2 June 1951:

South Australia has a hotel with the largest “visiting-book” of any in Australia. It is the District Hotel at Gumeracha, a two-storied corner building of very soft sandstone. From pavement to roof the outer walls are covered with names and initials so that there is hardly a square inch vacant. Thousands of penknives must have scraped away busily over the years. Some names are dated back to 1876.

looking down the main street of Gumeracha with the District Hotel on the right, 1888/1889

looking down the main street of Gumeracha with the District Hotel on the right, 1888/1889

the District Hotel at Gumeracha, c1910

the District Hotel at Gumeracha, c1910

Initials and coats of arm engraved into the bricks of the hotel at Gumeracha c.1936. [photo source: State Library of South Australia, PRG 287/1/4/4]

Initials and coats of arm engraved into the bricks of the hotel at Gumeracha c.1936.  [photo source: State Library of South Australia, PRG 287/1/4/4]

What a treasure this would have been – not just to see, but also for historical purposes. Sadly the walls were covered over around the 1940s-1950s I believe, and with it, so much history simply disappeared.

But wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the stories of those who visited the hotel? Did locals etch their name into the walls? I’m sure many were visitors from Adelaide or beyond. And who were the ones ones who went on to become prominent in the state? So many questions …

While the hotel has been through many, many owners, the hotel itself has surprisingly only had two name changes in its long history. Beginning as the District Hotel back in 1861, this continued though until 1959, when its changed name to the Gumeracha Hotel, which is still is today.

the Gumeracha Hotel in the 1950s

the District  Hotel, c.1950

Gumeracha Hotel, 2013

Gumeracha Hotel, 2013

The following is an extract from the book “Hotels and Publicans in South Australia 1836 to 1984”, by J.L. “Bob” Hoad

Owners of the District Hotel, Gumeracha
1861 – 1861 Vorweck, A.
1862 – 1864 Williams, J.
1864 – 1865 Pearce, S.
1866 – 1866 Jahn, H.
1867 – 1868 Day, E.
1869 – 1873 Hewish, H.
1873 – 1875 Cobb, J.H.
1875 – 1878 Rundle, John
1879 – 1880 Rundle, James
1880 – 1881 Scheck, Charles
1882 – 1889 Scheck, Carl
1890 – 1891 Scheck, L.
1892 – 1892 Scheck, Mrs L.
1893 – 1902 Gerhard, Mrs E.
1903 – 1904 Humphries, W.J.
1905 – 1914 Finch, Mrs H.
1915 – 1919 Tidswell, Mrs F.
1920 – 1921 Tidswell, H.R.K.
1922 – 1926 Coe, Mrs Ethel
1927 – 1927 Corcoran, P.M.
1928 – 1931 Corcoran, Mrs Catherine T.
1931 – 1935 Jonas, John D.
1935 – 1936 Clarke, John C.
1936 – 1938 Bruggemann, Fredk. E.
1938 – 1944 Venner, Mrs Nellie Emily
1944 – 1945 Simpson, Thelma Josephine
1946 – 1947 Cosgrave, Patrick Thomas Joseph
1946 – 1947 Walkom, Colin Douglas
1947 – 1952 Cosgrave, Patrick Thomas Joseph
1952 – 1953 Cosgrave, Jessie Eileen

Owners of the Gumeracha Hotel, Gumeracha
1953 – 1/1963 Roden, Mostyn John Anthony & Mary Geraldine
1/1963 – 3/1963 Childs, William Albert Edward
3/1963 – 5/1963 Roden, Mostyn John Anthony & Mary Geraldine
5/1963 – 1966 Hayes, Sydney Walter & Marie Teresa
1966 – 1969 Kessner, Jessie Josephine
1969 – 1970 Caon, Luigi & Roma Pearl
1970 – 1973 Kennedy, Robert Angus & Alexius May
1973 – 1976 McDonald, Stanley Richard & Fay Doris
1976 – 6/1983 Shields, Graham Edward & Barbara Marion Joyce
6/1983 – 6/1983 Cooper, Malcolm George
6/1983 – 1984 Shields, Graham Edward & Barbara Marion Joyce

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2 Responses to “There’s History in Those Walls!”

  1. Crissouli says:

    I remember the Rocking Horse, but couldn’t recall the signatures at the hotel..now I know why.

  2. Jane liedig says:

    Beautiful article , well done Alona cheers Jane

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