Soon after gold was discovered at Lambing Flat shanties and grog shops appeared, almost over night, to quench the thirst of the gold miners and others. These were unlicensed rough bark temporary constructions . Lazarus Cohen, a storekeeper from Goulburn, built the Digger' Arms Hotel near the Main Creek where Main Street is now, in October 1860.
John Vicq, who had married his new bride, Honora Lehane , at St. Augustine's Church, Yass, arrived at Lambing Flat in late 1860. John began running the Digger's Arms and at the same time commenced building the Empire Hotel. By early January 1861 John Allen, a builder by trade, had built his Great Eastern Hotel in Boorowa street. But to John Henry Vicq must go the honour of being the first licensed publican at Lambing Flat .Vicq licensed and named the Digger's Arms and opened it on 5th December 1860.
The Empire was a much larger hotel and was financed and owned by Jeremiah Lehane who was John Vicq's father-in-law. It was at the Empire where the inquest into the death of William Lupton, who was accidently shot during the miner's attack on the police camp on 30th June 1861, was held.
At a special licensing court on 5th March 1861 Vicq transferred his licence for the Digger's Arms to Barnett Phillips, and obtained a licence for the Empire. The Empire's ballroom was a major attraction and was open every evening for dancing.
Jerry Lehane sold the Empire to Charles Quail and Vicq transferred his licence to Quail on the 3rd December 1861. In July 1862 Quail changed the name to the Royal to save confusion with the other Empire at the northern end of Main street. At the same time Barney Phillips was doing a great trade at his Digger's Arms, to which had been added a Theatre.
The Digger's Theatre, as it was known, was reputed to be the largest outside of Sydney and could hold up to 1000 patrons. It was constructed with a stage that had every convenience to allow trap doors to open to the cellar to enable fairies to enter and disappear as required for pantomime, etc.
Phillips obtained the best talent from Sydney in drama, opera and music. He had artists such as Herr Alpin in the orchestra and Madame Cardandini in the opera. At the entrance to the theatre was the bust of a leprechaun, named Barney, beckoning customers to enter. Years later Barney had pride of place on the verandah roof of Little's Arcade , opposite the Town Hall, beckoning customers to the store and today Barney is standing in the doorway of the Lambing Flat Folk Museum still inviting visitors to enter. In the early 1860's Main Street was a street of hotels, besides the ones already mentioned there was the Lambing Flat Hotel, the Grand Imperial Hotel, the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the White Horse Hotel, the Tattersall's Hotel, the Star Hotel, the Commercial and the Albion Hotel. George Douglas had the Lambing Flat Hotel about two doors south of Flemming's Tinware shop, which was on the corner of Main and Cloete Streets. He had a number of loose boxes as the racecourse was adjacent.
William Dollimore had the Grand Imperial Hotel down below Phillip' Diggers Arms near the creek and situated on filled in diggers holes. The Cosmopolitan was opposite the end of Cloete Street established by James Torpy after moving from Tipperary Gully. It later became the workshop and home of NP Neilsen, Undertaker, the forerunner of Patterson Brothers.
The White Horse Hotel was a rough bark establishment opposite Short street with bar trade only and later became a chinese gambling den. The Tattersall's Hotel was on the corner of Main and Short streets, the Federal Hotel was here later. Victor Frank, Harry Minter and George Goodsall were early publicans. Then we come to the Main and Boorowa street intersection with the Commercial, the Albion and the Star on their respective corners, with only the Commercial surviving. Francis Goddard established the Commercial, it being the third licensed hotel on the diggings.
The Albion was built in weatherboard by J. Hawkins Butchart and later improved by Abraham Cohen. It was destroyed by the fire of 1874 but rebuilt as a two storied brick hotel , only to be demolished in more recent times to make way for a supermarket. The Star had many owners and name changes and in the1870's disappeared from memory. The Empire suffered its own fire but was rebuilt later on the opposite corner of Main and Lovell streets.
- Historian Brian James contributes his column to the Young Witness each Tuesday on behalf the Young Historical Society. Inc.