Early Licensing in SA

Licensing legislation in South Australia began in 1836, the same year as proclamation, with a licence fee set at £50! Queen Victoria in council disallowed the act and ordered the S.A. Commissioners to reduce the fee. In 1839 new legislation was introduced reducing the fee and creating three classes of license, General Publican’s - £25, Wine, Ale, Beer & Malt Liquors only - £12 and Storekeeper - £5, all paid yearly. The first two were licenced to sell liquor for consumption on and off the premises where as a Storekeepers License only permitted the sale of liquor for consumption off the premises. Publican’s were also required to provide a surety or bond that they would only sell good and wholesome liquors and would not allow illegal gambling and dog or cock fighting.


Firsts in SA Hotels

The first person licensed to sell liquor in SA was John Guthrie who traded in Currie St in premises known as “Guthries”. This establishment is more recently known as the Edinburgh Castle Hotel.

The first person to be charged with a breach of the Licensing Act was Samuel Payne, publican of the Australian Arms more recently known as the Exchange Hotel.

And much later, the first drive-in liquor store in South Australia was at the Largs Pier Hotel in 1953. The proprietor Seymour Matthews had a number of ‘firsts’ including being the first to introduce carpet in a bar and offering the first counter meals (for which he was prosecuted).


Street Lighting

An interesting civic duty and requirement of Publicans in early South Australia was to provide street lighting. This was in the form of lamps burning outside their premises from dusk till dawn for the guidance of travellers, with the only exception for some hotels facing the sea as to avoid confusion for shipping.


The Furthermost Hotels in SA

The most northern SA hotel is the Marla Hotel-Motel, the most southern the Victoria Hotel at Port MacDonnell, the most eastern the Coburn Hotel at Cockburn and most western the Border Village on the WA and SA border.


The 6 O’clock Swill

Some of you might recall compulsory 6 O’clock closing nick-named "The 6 O'clock Swill" which was a slang term for the last-minute rush to buy drinks before closing. South Australia was the first state to introduce this and it came into force in SA in March 1916 during WWI and didn’t end in SA in September 1967. It was subsequently adopted by other states of Australia as well as New Zealand.


Minimum Drinking Age

The first Licensing Acts in South Australia did not include a minimum drinking age. A child could be served a drink of beer, wine or spirits in licensed premises. Finally in 1863 legislation was passed making it an offence for any person below the age of twelve to consume distilled liquor, with no mention of beer and wine. Three years later in 1866 the law was amended to include beer and wine and the age increased to fourteen, but only a few years later the age was reduced to twelve again! In 1880 the minimum ages was raised to fifteen.
It wasn’t until 1967 that laws were changed to force equal responsibility on both the Publican and the customer to observe the law. In the same year the minimum drinking age was raised to 21 and only one year later it was lowered to 20 and finally in 1971 it was lower to eighteen where it remains today.


Breweries in South Australia

In the early part of the 19th Century many hotels actually brewed their own beer for sale and all these years later, small batch and boutique breweries are making a comeback, a return to the past.


19th Century Licensing Laws

Section 23 of the Licensing Act of 1839 required – “If any licensed person being an innkeeper shall without lawful excuse refuse to receive and provide for a traveller and his horse, or a traveller without a horse or the horse of a traveller not becoming a guest at the house, or shall refuse to receive any corpse which may be brought to his public-house for the purpose of a coroner’s inquest being held there, such person shall, for every such offence, forfeit and pay a penalty of not less than £1.0.0 nor more that £20.0.0”. It was not until the 1908 Act that a hotel-keeper was not obliged to receive a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition or of a person who had died of an infectious disease.


Women in Hotels

The first woman in SA to hold a license was Sarah Chapman, of the Joiners Arms Hotel. She took over the license when her husband passed away in 1839 and held the license until she sold the hotel in 1841.

In 1908 legislation was passed prohibiting the employment of women in bars, except the wife, mother, daughter, sister or step-daughter of the licensee. The same legislation prohibited single women from holding a Publican’s or Wine License excepting those who already held a license.


Bona Fide Travellers

The ability for a bona fide traveller to purchase liquor on a Sunday was enacted in 1839 and was repealed 71 years later. A story published in Chris Halls book, “Port Adelaide Sketchbook” tells that in the 1880’s on Sunday mornings the Pier Hotel at Largs was open from 10am, to 11am to cater for bona fide travellers. Coincidentally a train left Adelaide at 9:30am full of fisherman who once beyond the seven mile limit were eligible as bona fide travellers.
In 1932 the ability to purchase alcohol on a Sunday was again enacted for bona fides, though the distance was now 50 miles, with the requirements that they had a bed for the night and signed a declaration.



Sources: South Australian hotel records prior to 21 February 1839 / by J.L. (Bob) Hoad, Wikipedia & Flinders Ranges Research Website


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