May 9, 2014

Peter Dudgeon: brewer, publican & delinquent goat owner

Let me introduce you to Peter Dudgeon. Google won't tell you much about him, he didn't succeed or fail in spectacular enough ways to be remembered or written about. He was known but never one of the leading members of the Van Diemen's Land colony. His story is interesting because it illustrates something of the promise and frustration of operating a brewery in the colony.

Dudgeon was part of the second wave of brewers in Hobart. He arrived in Tasmania in on October 4th, 1825, on board the Triton which had set sail for Hobart from Leith, Edinburgh on May 21st. He was a single bloke and only 21 years old who came out from Scotland with high hopes of 'carrying on an extensive brewery in the colony.'

He soon met Frederick Bell who had shipped out from London and arrived in Hobart just a month before Dudgeon. Soon the new arrivals formed a partnership and bought the Derwent Brewery in January 1826. The brewery had been started by James Ogilvie and included a malting house and kiln and was listed as one of 6 licensed breweries in Hobart in 1823. Ogilvie's stated reason for selling was the burden of managing the brewery on top of his other business ventures, which included the British Hotel and importing goods to the colony. However, the snippet below hints at problems with keeping a regular supply of ingredients, an ongoing problem faced by those running breweries in the colonies and which may have been a factor in his decision.

Hobart Town Gazette & Van Dieman's Land Advertiser,
April 23, 1824.

Ogilvie first put the brewery on sale in May 1825 and it was still on sale in October as Dudgeon arrived on the Triton. Ogilvie was willing to sell the brewery on pretty generous terms with only a deposit, allowing the balance to be paid over time. The sale to Dudgeon and Bell finally went through in January 1826 and in May they started the process of buying barley in preparation for malting and brewing their first batch.

Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser,
June 2, 1826

The brewery got off to a good start, producing ale that was highly regarded if not immediately acclaimed the best in the colonies. They produced a single ale, selling for £6 10s a hogshead of which they sold 15-20 per week in Hobart. The frequent criticism of Dudgeon and Bell's ale was that their beer wasn't high enough in alcohol so in 1827 they began selling a stronger one as well. By April 1827 Dudgeon & Bell's was the standard by which to judge other colonial beers according to at least one NSW writer. It seems to have been regarded as far superior to any of the beers produced in Sydney.

My guess is that some of the success of Dudgeon and Bell was due to their commitment to using colonial grown hops, and being willing to spend quite a bit of money to do so. Those first batches of beer were made with hops grown by Mr. Shoobridge in Providence Valley, North Hobart. Shoobridge himself had migrated to Tasmania from Kent in order to develop a hop garden and by 1826 his hops were beginning to reach maturity. The benefit of using these hops was that they were far superior in quality to the imported hops which were long past their best after the voyage from England.

Hobart Town Gazette, August 19, 1826

Hobart Town Gazette, December 30, 1826

Then in early 1827 Dudgeon was in the news for something else completely. His goat managed to escape and wreck the garden of a poor man called Turner. Turner impounded the goat asking for 10 shillings to cover the damages to his garden. Dudgeon refused but somehow managed to pinch it back from the pound. The goat, in classic goat style, escaped again and this time destroyed Turner's cabbages! Turner locked it up again and demanded 20 shillings from Dudgeon. Then Dudgeon abused him, threatened him and then when the magistrate's ruling didn't go 100% his way, went out and found another who would write an order for the goat's release for him. So he got it back without paying Turner or the pound-keeper for their expenses. Not a classy move.

Still, things seemed to be going very well for him. A few months after the goat incident he was married to Mary Lord at St David's in Hobart. She was the oldest daughter of David Lord, an important and wealthy character from the 1820s through to the 1840s. At this point he's 24 years old and seems like he's becoming an important character in the colony.

Praise for Dudgeon & Bell's ale in:
The Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser,
July 20, 1827

Within the first five months of operation they were successfully exporting a limited quantity of their ale to Sydney and soon after had increased the strength of their beer in response to public feedback. In August 1827 Dudgeon and his new wife sailed to Sydney to secure their export business and to try and find a market for malt among the distillers in Sydney. Although it was small at the time, the prospect of having a successful and growing colonial brewery, one that could potentially challenge the London breweries' export to India was important to establishing a functioning economy in the colony as well as addressing the social problems associated with the consumption of spirits. The newspapers were very excited about the possibilities.

Not just favourably compared to London, but Scotch ale
as well. The Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser,
September 17, 1827

Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser,
October 12, 1827

In November of the same year, soon after returning from the trip to Sydney, his partnership with Bell was formally dissolved. What happened isn't clear but whatever the case was, Bell seemed to do alright for himself afterwards. In 1829 he was importing rum and brandy. In 1835 he'd been granted some land near Ouse and in 1839 he was making a claim for a grant of 2000 more acres of land in a similar part of central Tasmania. He was also made a justice of the peace in 1839. He had an estate in Sandy Bay and in 1840 he made Sandy Bay an attraction by building the Sandy Bay baths.

Dudgeon retained the brewery but after the excitement and acclaim of the first 18 months, the following years appear to have been relatively quiet. The brewery was never huge volume of beer but from 1828-1831 Dudgeon's and other Tasmanian breweries seem to have operated only sporadically. The exact cause is difficult to determine. Dudgeon upgraded the brewery early in 1828, presumably in preparation for a greater volume of exports, which caused a stoppage in brewing over what seems to have been a couple of months but that only explains the first few months of the period. A shortage of ingredients or a glut of imported spirits and British ales are other possibilities, it was probably a combination of both. It's a fascinating little puzzle that I'm trying to work out and I'll post about it when I reach some conclusions.

Colonial Times, 26 June, 1829

Whatever the cause of the stoppages, he was still working on building his business and exporting to the other colonies. At the time the brewery had a copper that could boil 40 barrels of wort along with mash tubs of suitable size, a pump, cooler and fermentation vats. Along with that was the malting floor and a 20 foot square kiln. By October 1830 Dudgeon had added a beer to his lineup and we've got a shipment of an unknown quantity of beer to the Swan River settlement which was just over a year old at the time.

Recorded in The Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser,
23 October, 1830

At this point Dudgeon seems to have changed course. He obtained a license to retail wine, spirits and beer at his brewery in 1830 and in 1832 he's operating Dudgeon's Cellars on Elizabeth St. It seems like he was attempting to diversify and insulate himself financially from the fluctuations of the brewery. Particularly as in 1832 he leased the brewery out to William Adams Brodribb.

This strategy doesn't seem to have worked, he was in fairly constant financial trouble throughout 1832-1836 which culminated in a court ordered sale of the brewery. A notice was put in the newspapers that the brewery was up for sale in September 1835 and while Dudgeon managed to stave it off at that time, when the matter was heard in March 1836 he was declared insolvent and the brewery was to be sold to cover his debts. At just about the same time there was a flood of the Hobart rivulet which ran through the brewery property. It took away a wall of the brewery and some of the brewing equipment and it's possible that this ended Brodribb's time running the brewery.

Hobart Town Courier, 4 March, 1836

Ads for the sale or leasing of the brewery appear in 1836 and it's still on offer into 1838 when it was under the operation of Reeves, Boreham and Co. That arrangement seems to have ended very quickly and an L. J. Prentis & Son were operating it in 1840 or earlier. Charles Bilton is the agent selling the lease in 1848 and through until 1850 when the whole property was auctioned off. The ad for the auction suggests that the brewery plant might be sold separately and since there's no more mention of the brewery, it appears to have ended its life at that point. A sad petering out of what seemed like such a promising brewery.

Map of Hobart pinched from the Parliament of
 Tasmania website. Download the full size thing.

Back to Dudgeon, he and his wife moved to Launceston around 1837 and spent a number of years there, Dudgeon working as a constable in the George-Town district. Following the untimely death of Mary in 1842 at only 38 years old, he returned to Hobart and the pub trade. He took over the Britannia on Macquarie Street in February 1845 and the following year transferred his license and took over the Boar's Head on the corner of Harrington and Macquarie Street and only a month later is listed as the licensee of the Golden Gate on the corner of Harrington and Collins Street. He certainly threw himself back into things.

Unfortunately he didn't fare too well and he was back in insolvency court in 1847. The result of that episode is not clear but he turns up in 1850 as the licensee of The Palace which was later renamed Holyrood House and stood on the corner of Murray & Patrick Streets. He died there in 1852 after a 'protracted and painful illness'. The license of Holyrood House passed to his second wife, Elizabeth Dudgeon who continued to operate the pub throughout the 1850s and into the early 1860s.

In some ways Peter Dudgeon's experience matches the arc of the colony itself. While far from a failure, he never managed to make good on his early promise. The colony had so much going for it but somehow never managed to thrive the way it might have. Whatever else might be said about him, he was persistent and entrepreneurial through setbacks and loss and he brewed a very good ale.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the article. The bit about the goat made me laugh. Poor Turner.


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