Parramatta's Woolpack was one of the first 10 hotels licensed in Australia by Governor Phillip, in May, 1796.  Two hundred and eleven years later, it is the only one of those original licences still good for a beer.

Extracts taken from - The Fabulous “Woolpack” Story by Collinridge Rivett, Parramatta Press 1956.

No other hotel in the Commonwealth of Australia can be compared with Parramatta’s fabulous Woolpack.  The historic settlement of Parramatta has had the unique name of Woolpack associated with its destiny for nearly 135 year – quite a record, even internationally.

The Woolpack story actually began in the late years of the Eighteenth Century when Australia was but 10 years old.    On the north-east corner of Back and High Street (i.e. Marsden and George Streets) a humble structure was erected and it as one of Australia’s first hotels.  It was known in 1798 as the “Freemasons Arms” Inn.

During that year Parramatta had five registered inns.  The Freemasons Arms Inn had as con-temporaries the Inns:  “Yorkshire Grey, “Salutation”, “Crown” and also “Ship”.  With a population made up of a few free-settlers, the officials and a large proportion of convicts, Parramatta obviously found itself a topic of international conversation for nearly every man of mark you visited the settlement from old Europe had something to say about its “well conducted public houses.”  Apparently hotels in a penal settlement was something of a curiosity.  Apart from the primitative Government House, the many barracks the public stores and officials cottages, the hotels- rude and yet quaint dominated the landscape of garden convict – huts and farming fields.

So then from the red coat and convict township of Parramatta the romantic story of the Woolpack began.  The Freemasons Arms was kept by the colonies most colorful publican James Larra, a French forger who fashioned his own successful career along more agreeable lines once he settled in New South Wales.  As mentioned Larra kept his inn on the near present site of the Court House.  Good fortune came his way and his sand stock brick inn soon became one of the best known spots in the colony. 

Larra’s most popular brew came from Thomas Ruchtons first Parramatta brewery, a little way down the street on the north-east corner of O’Connell and George Streets.  Gov King gave Rushton permission to brew in 1803.  Other popular beverages were the imported whiskies from Scotland and the rums of Jamaica, which were off loaded at the Public Wharf near the present Gasworks Bridge from the clippers that tied up there.

Coming of the Name “Woolpack”

In 1821 however Larra sold his inn to Andrew Nash and the real life of the Woolpack came to be.  Andrew Nash as Englishman began his Parramatta career as a businessman in the tannery trade.  At his Phillip Street lot he treated hides for the Government stores.  He later conducted the “Hawkesbury Settler” Inn in George Street and so obtained his basic experience as a publican.

The first thing Nash did when he took over Larra’s inn was to change the name to “Woolpack”….a most original and appropriate title.  Woolpack were common in and around Parramatta during those days: it was at Parramatta where Australia’s wool industry began, John Macarthur, the Rev Samuel Marsden and Edward Elliot having contributed to its foundation.  Nash struck it luck with that name “Woolpack” for it soon became just as significant as the towns own native name of Parramatta.

….Legend had it that Gov. Macquarie passed by the inn one day and summoned Mr Nash.  The Governor asked why the inn-keeper had not extended the building to cater for the increased population, whereupon Mr Nash answered: “But I haven’t any additional land, Your Excellency.”  Legend and only a legend informs us that the kind hearted Governor arranged for Mr Nash to acquire the adjoining allotment whereupon he joined on a new wing and built the largest lounge room in the colony on the first floor of both the new and old structures, Legend or no legend, Mr Nash did extend his building the adjoining structures making the largest inn in Australia at that time.  And so the real “Woolpack” was born – the rendezvous of wool growers and prosperous men of the interior.  It became the finest inn of that generation, the centre for every social activity honeymoons, balls, conventions and banquets.

….A visitor to Parramatta in 1837 records that:  Parramatta to all appearances is a very tranquil place, yet a stranger must be stuck with the immense number of those places of riot – public houses- which the town is studded all over”  Among the many inns of that time were “Coach and Horses”, “Lame Dog”, “Strong Man”, “British Grenadiers”, “Straggler”, “Hit and Miss”, “Bull’s Head”, “Golden Lion” and  “White Horse” and many others.  And so with the towns expansion the hotels popped up like mushrooms, but the tallest and most spectacular of them all remained unconcerned and undaunted – the Woolpack.

…..The history of the Woolpack went on, new faces came and went, all keen publicans who carried on the great traditions of the picturesque inn.  With the coming of the now gay “Nineties” Parramatta underwent many changes.  The dreaded recession of those days bought about wide-spread reorganization, even affecting changes in hotels.  Many of the old inns had gone forever.  Of the giants only the “Woolpack” remained, but a great change was to take place.  By 1895 the time had come to farewell the old inn.  New plans were at hand.  The original building had served it purpose well and it was decided to vacate the old site, see the land to the Crown and move across the street to the present site.  But this again is another “Woolpack” story.

A copy of this article can be obtained from the National Library of Australia, Canberra ACT.

Record Id: 7098388 (Australian Library Collections)

Author: Rivett, Collinridge.

Title: The fabulous Woolpack story / by Collinridge Rivett ; illustrations by the author.

Also Titled: Woolpack story

Published: Parramatta, N.S.W. : Parramatta Press, 1956.

Description: 15 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

Series: Art in Parramatta series

Notes: Running title: Woolpack story.
First published in the Parramatta weekly press, v. 4, no. 59.