Family History
Wentworth 1860-1870

Thomas McGeorge and his family moved to Wentworth in 1858 (from the Lachlin River, Forbes district) and took over as publican of the Junction Inn/Shearers Arms in 1860, close to where the wharf would be built 20 years later. He was not listed as the licensee before this.

The first Crown land sales in Wentworth were held on 16 March, 1860 and Thomas purchased a site , also close to the location of where the wharf would be built. In June 1860,
Mr Macgeorge,(sic) of the Junction Inn, is making preparations for the erection of a new public-house, to be built of brick made on the township, and if finished according to the plan will be an ornament to the township. I am glad to observe that he is giving his attention to the accommodation of the business men in the place, with the view of removing that grievance as often complained of, but so seldom rectified in country public-houses, where business men are compelled for want of private rooms to transact their business in the public taproom or bar. (The South Australian Register, 14 June 1860)

According to the publicans licences, it appears that Thomas renamed the Junction Inn, the "Shearers Arms" (after the above article was written and before an article appeared in Sept 1860 describing a fatal accident in front of the hotel where ...
a bullock driver, named Harvey, in the employ of a Mr Grace, who is en route for Snowy River diggings, drove six bullocks on to the punt, fronting the Shearers' Arms. This was done without the knowledge of the person in charge of the punt, who happened at that time to be at dinner. The bullocks proving very restive, Mr McGeorge informed the man that it was not safe to cross with such bullocks. The punt was however, started, having on board the deceased, Geoetre, and Grace; it had only proceeded about thirty yards when the leading bullocks turned completely round, and drove those behind into the river. The Pastoral Times, 7 Sept 1860)

In 1861, Thomas opened the Wentworth Hotel. It was the second establishment in Wentworth using brick. On 15 March, 1861, the Pastoral Times reported:
McGeorge's public house is now finished, and presents a very imposing appearance externally, whilst the interior offers comfort to all; above all it is supplied with what many in the township will consider a boon - namely a commercial room. It was opened on the 12th ult. in great style, and in the afternoon a handsome and liberally furnished "spread" was laid out in the principal dining-room. After the usual toasts on these occasions had been proposed, dancing was introduced, and kept spiritedly up till late.

Soon after, Thomas advertised the hotel:

THOMAS McGEORGE BEGS to return his sincere thanks to the Gentry and residents of Wentworth and the Darling and Murray Rivers, to his numerous friends and to the public generally, for the liberal patronage which he has enjoyed during the last three years, and to inform them that he has completed his NEW BRICK HOTEL, which is now open for the reception of visitors.

T.M. begs to assure his friends, patrons, and the public generally, that he has spared no expense to render his new establishment replete with every convenience for the carrying on of an extensive wholesale and retail business. The New House contains private sitting rooms for families, commercial room, bed rooms, and large dining room, all well ventilated.

A roomy and well aired 8-stalled STABLE, with commodious coach house, harness room, and groom's room, is now in course of erection. THE WINES, SPIRITS, and other liquors, have all been obtained from the first houses in Adelaide, and the proprietor trusts that his new hotel will be found in every respect worthy of the patronage of all classes of visitors.
Pastoral Times, 22 March 1961

The hotel is mentioned in an article in the South Australian Register on 20 Nov 1862 stating that:
A numerous and influential meeting was held on Friday, November 7, at McGeorge's Wentworth Hotel, to take into consideration the extension of the electric telegraph to Wentworth;

and then again in the Pastoral Times dated 25 April 1863, highlighting the growing dissatisfaction with local infrastructure.

On the 16th instant the most numerous, and certainly the most influential meeting ever held in Wentworth took place at Mr McGeorge's Wentworth Hotel, in aid of the movement now on foot to effect the formation of what are most appropriately called the "Riverine Districts into a separate and distinct Australian colony".

The article continues to describe the members' resolve to fight for independence as retaliation against the neglect of the New South Wales Government.

The large amount of revenue drawn from this neighborhood for many years has not been counterbalanced by any expenditure for improvements, even those most urgently needed. Our creeks and rivers are unbridged, our traffic is conducted solely through bush tracks, our postal arrangements are defective, and the number of our police is totally inadequate to the requirements of the district.

On 11 December 1862, the hotel was used as a meeting place for parties interested in the construction of a church at Wentworth (Pastoral Times, 27th Dec 1862) [which undoubtedly was numerous and influential!] It was also used as a venue for weddings and at times, Thomas and Jemima would attend in the capacity of 'witness' and sign the marriage certificates accordingly.

It appears that in 1863, Thomas made the decision to 'move on' (perhaps with Wilcannia as the destination in mind at the time) - he ran a series of notices in the South Australian Advertiser And The Argus (Melbourne) in 1863/1864 advertising the hotel for lease (see the following ad , The Argus 18 May 1864.
Suddenly Mr McGeorge recognised Frank Gardner from a photo in one of the newspapers he had seen, and as soon as the bushrangers had resumed their journey, Mr McGeorge got the natives to signal by smoke to the people at Wentworth that Gardner and his gang were travelling toward Wentworth.

The natives used to send news by smoke signals almost as quickly as white people send telegrams now. One way they used to signal was by building a conical shaped stack of wood, the centre of which would be filled with a mixture of dry and green boughs or grass - in fact anything that would give a good smoke. It was the way the stack was built that caused the smoke to go straight up into the air; then if there was more than one native present they would take hold of a possum skin rug or kangaroo skin and suddenly check the smoke by holding the rug over the stack, then suddenly with-drawing it. The action is repeated according to the message being sent. If only one native was signalling, he would use a green bough. The Red Indians of America had the same way of sending messages.

When Mr McGeorge's message was received by the last native, he ran in to Wentworth and gave them the news. He was well rewarded for his trouble, and everybody hastened to put any valuables they had into the safest place they could find and load all the firearms they could get. They had scouts watching the main Sydney road across the Darling River, expecting the bushrangers to come to the punt to get across. Suddenly there was a terrific clatter of galloping horses coming down Darling Street. It was the bushrangers, who had made some natives cross them and their gear over the Darling River at the top end of Darling Street while they swam the horses beside the canoes. It was a cunning ruse, which nearly cost Wentworth a few pounds if not a few lives. Those who were present said it was funny to see the people scampering to safety at the sound of the galloping horses. They had been casually mooching around attending to their various business not expecting the bushrangers to gallop down Darling Street.

The only place they made any attempt to stick up was the Wentworth Hotel. After trying several tricks to get into the hotel, they set the hay on fire in the loft and then yelled 'fire' hoping to excite Mrs McGeorge, with the idea that she would rush out and let them enter, but she calmly stood guard over the weakest door ready to shoot if need be. At one time they almost succeeded in prizing the door right open but they evidently thought better of it when they saw what sort of a welcome they would get as they caught a glimpse of a determined woman with a pistol in her hand. Gardner hurriedly called to the men to mount and they all galloped away again without causing any damage except the loss of a bit of hay by fire which left its marks on the iron roof and there were also a couple of marks made by one of the bushrangers with an axe on a post in the stables when he was attempting to chop the hay loft down as the hay would not burn quickly though but he was called away by Gardner before he had time to do much harm.

Major Lockyer was away up in the Darling at the time settling some trouble with the natives, and it is quite possible that Gardner heard of his absence and thought the coast was clear for a good haul. He did not reckon with the natives signalling.

Miss Agnes Stewart was staying with Mrs McGeorge at the time, and was sewing in the parlour when Mrs McGeorge hid the money, which was quite a considerable sum, in the fireplace.

She placed the box containing it in the fireplace and put a mat over it, on top of this she put a basket of flowers. It all looked very innocent; no one would have suspected it was anything but an ordinary fireplace. Miss Stewart has often spoken with great admiration for Mrs McGeorge's bravery, as it was only her nerve and determination that saved the situation. She had quite a number of children besides her own to protect which was enough to upset the strongest nerves.Most of the men of the town had their own homes and property to protect. There were one or two men at the Wentworth Hotel at the time of the sticking up, but they were stationed at different doors.

According to family lore however, aspects of Mrs Valentine's recollections are questionable. Another version of the story recounted Frank Gardiner disguising himself as a clergyman and travelling down the Darling River by paddleboat.

There are details of the story that can be corroborated - Mary Ann Hancock, John Hancock and Agnes Stewart were attending school in Wentworth in 1863/1864 (see articles in Pioneers McGeorge); a Major Lockyer did have a police hut in Wentworth according to the Heritage of the Wentworth Shire. Frank Gardiner and his men were on the run in New South Wales between 1860 and 1862. It is also plausible that Frank would have called the robbery off on seeing Jemima as he was reknowned for being respectful to the ladies, even returning their watches with a gift from himself. But, and with due respect to Miss Stewart's version of events, there is no further evidence to support the story ... and it's a long way for bushrangers to ride to leave empty handed. Still, it's an entertaining story!

In June 1865, the McGeorge family moved from Wentworth to Wilcannia (another township in Western New South Wales in its infancy) and built the "Five Alls" Hotel. Before they left, a Wentworth correspondent wrote:

Mr and Mrs McGeorge, who have conducted the Wentworth Hotel, Wentworth, during the Iast seven years, having lately announced their intention of leaving this town and neighbourhood, it was resolved by many of their friends to present Mrs. McGeorge with some parting token of their esteem and regard. A subscription was accordingly commenced, and the list having been filled in one day, Mr. Weltie was commissioned to procure from Melbourne a handsome gold watch and chain, as being articles very suitable for the intended object. This commission having been duly executed, a meeting of the subscribers and others was held at Mr. Davies' on Monday, the 29th May (Mrs. McGeorge having been invited to be present), when Mr. Renner read a numerously-signed address, and requested Mrs. McGeorge to accept the gold watch and chain. Mrs. McGeorge, in a few and appropriate words, feelingly returned thanks. (South Australian Register, 13 June 1865)

Thomas' brother, John took up the licence for the Wentworth Hotel for one year, in 1870 before moving on to the Racecource Hotel.

In an article in the Sunraysia Daily in 1921 entitled "Wentworth Hotel and Its Story - Sometime Court-house, Church, Hospital, Theatre, and Racecourse Grandstand" it was noted that "
the story of the Wentworth Hotel is largely the story of Wentworth, for most of the town's public activities seem to have centred, at one time or another, within the historic walls of this old hostelry."

For additional material on Western NSW Hotels, see Publicans' Licences at Rusheen Craig's fabulous website.

2013 Copyright Ruzsicska
In 1936, the Western Evening News in 1936 published a series of articles on Wentworth's early history; one such article included the recollections of a Mrs Valentine who describes a hold-up at the Wentworth Hotel by bushranger, Frank Gardiner.

The Western Evening News, Saturday 28 Nov 1936
Wentworth's Early History - Some Interesting Facts From Records And Recollections by Mrs L.A. Valentine; No. 3

Mrs Mary Ann Wright was the eldest daughter of Mr John Handcock, who with his father was the past owner of Kie Station on the Murray River. It was there that Mrs Jack Handcock died, and her grave is in sight of the present Kie homestead.

The loneliness of the bush was too much for Mr Handcock after losing his young wife, and besides it was impossible to get anyone except native women to look after his three little motherless children. The native women were wonderfully kind and faithful as nurses, but the children were requiring training and education, so Mr Handcock decided to sell his share of the station and bring the children to Wentworth and place them in the care of Mrs McGeorge, of the Wentworth Hotel, at which place they remained for about 18 months or two years, getting education as well as motherly care, as Mrs McGeorge had a governess for her own children.

It was while these children were there that Frank Gardner and his gang paid Wentworth a visit. It had happened that Mr McGeorge had important business to transact in Sydney, and he was traveling on the main coach, which ran right through to Sydney at that time. When they arrived near Euston
[106 kms from Wentworth] they were met by a number of men, who were mounted and asked quite a number of questions about the roads leading to and around Wentworth.