Henry Butters was the second publican of the University Hotel, taking over the lease from John Walton in September 1858. He remained there until 1866 when he moved to the Currency Lass on the corner of Glebe Rd and Mitchell St. After that pub’s lease was transferred to Henry Priestley in June 1881, Butters lived in Waterloo House, Mitchell St, until his death in 1892.

Butters’ father, also Henry James, was a waterman licensed to transport passengers around Sydney Harbour at sixpence a trip. Henry junior followed his father’s trade until 1858 when he moved to Glebe from 141 Phillip St. Eight years earlier he had married the daughter of another waterman, Louisa Boucher, who arrived in Sydney from London in1833 aboard the Richard Reynolds with her parents Lucy and Thomas and siblings Mary Ann and Thomas. Unlike Thomas Boucher senior, who was caught overcharging and dealt a hefty fine, the Butters father and son seem to have kept clear of the maritime court.

‘No expense spared’ Butters promised his University Hotel patrons, advertising a wide choice of wines, ales and spirits, and a ‘magnificent’ room for Masonic Lodges and Societies, dinners, public meetings, balls, concerts and private parties. The hotel was a popular venue for political candidates to meet their electorate, for meetings of Free Traders, Lodges (the Ancient Order of Foresters and of Court Harmony) and for those gathering to discuss matters of public concern. In the period 1859-61 there were ongoing meetings of citizens advocating a Glebe School of Arts, a National School at Glebe, and electoral reform. A rowdy meeting on State aid in June 1862 ended up in court when its chairman Jabez Bunting brought a libel action against the owner of the Empire over the way the proceedings had been reported. Hotelkeeper Butters had to restrain people from turning off the gaslights and bringing flour into the building to throw at their opponents.

There were also regular quadrille dance parties and other entertainments. Not everyone approved, one local complaining of police ‘persecuting’ the innocent but turning a blind eye to the behaviour of young people leaving University Hotel balls. On at least one occasion Butters was fined for allowing dancing and music on the premises without proper authority. He was also fined for opening on a Good Friday. In 1862 the Glebe Cricket Club celebrated its anniversary with much eating, drinking, toasting and singing in the assembly room decorated with bats, stumps, balls and fig leaf wreaths carrying the slogan ‘Advance G.C.C’. One hopes an instructional lecture on musketry attended by the Newtown Company Volunteers was a less liquor-fuelled event.

A damaged photo of the road to Parramatta (corner of Bay St) at about the time Henry Butters was publican of the University Hotel. Two horse-drawn omnibuses can be seen. Sydney University is on the skyline.  (image: Mitchell Library)
A damaged photo of the road to Parramatta (corner of Bay St) at about the time Henry Butters was publican of the University Hotel. Two horse-drawn omnibuses can be seen. Sydney University is on the skyline.
(image: Mitchell Library)

Before purpose-built facilities, inquests were held in hotels. In 1861 a finding was made at the University that Glebe apothecary John Chavasse had died because he ignored medical advice. An inquest was held in 1881 at the Currency Lass into the suicide of Samuel Peace who shot himself after playing cards with other lodgers at Mrs Bullen’s boarding house at 42 Glebe Point Rd. There were also natural deaths of hotel residents such as John Petchell in 1864, and publicans’ relatives who lived on the premises. Butters’ mother-in-law Lucy Boucher died at the University Hotel in 1861 and his father-in-law Thomas at the Currency Lass in 1866.

Publicans were identified with their pubs and by their allegiances. During his tenure of ‘Butters’ Currency Lass’, Henry James put his name down as a nominee of builder Ambrose Thornley senior and brickmaker Alfred Tye in the 1878 Glebe Council elections. He helped the re-election campaign of George Wigram Allen, Minister for Justice and Public Instruction, in 1873, providing him with a venue big enough to address an audience of 500 (Mossman, a rival candidate, held his rallies at Tucker’s Hotel). Buses for Allen’s supporters to get to Balmain rallies left from outside the Currency Lass. The hotel’s balcony was a favourite spruiking spot for politicians to address their constituents in the street below.

Agitators who met at the Currency Lass when Butters was licensee included those wanting to do something

about the foul state of the Blackwattle Swamp, and the inadequacy of the Glebe bus service. (Sydney Omnibus vehicles were full before they reached the end of Glebe Rd, forcing people to walk to the city, and changing horses along the route increased delays.)

Louisa Butters died aged 50 in 1879 and was buried in Balmain Cemetery. The next year her widower married Jane Lawson and in 1882 transferred the Currency Lass licence to Henry Priestley. Butters retained an interest in local politics, in 1891 nominating house and land agent Henry Turner for Glebe Council. He died at home on 20 December 1892; and Jane Butters died intestate at 123 Mitchell St in 1912. There were no children by either marriage.

The Currency Lass now operates as a supermarket. The most significant changes to its appearance were made in 1910 (for Michael Toohey) when the external walls were cemented and a parapet erected, and in 1935 for Toohey’s Limited. Its licence was taken to Padstow in 1954 by Kathleen Nora Toohey.

Footnote. Not long before the pub ceased trading three men at the bar discovered they all had the same first name and put up money for a lottery ticket with another drinker W Kroehnert of Campbell St. ‘The three Jims’ won first prize but one of the syndicate couldn’t believe his bad luck when the winning number was checked. James Long had bought two tickets in the same name!

Sources: NSW births, deaths, marriages registry; NSW cemetery records; Sands Directories; Sydney Morning Herald various issues including 14.8.1833, 18.2.1841, 17.4.1860, 1.6.1860, 10.4.1861, 15.12.1866, 15.12.1873, 4.12.1874, 17.9.1875, 22.1.1877, 28.2.1879, 28.8.1880, 2.9.1881, 10.5.1882, 30.1.1910, 7.5.1935, 7.6.1952