History of the Richmond Hotel - Lismore


The Richmond Hotel in Woodlark Street, Lismore, was opened in May 1899. It was built by contractors Brown and Jolly for its proprietor John Wightman. The first licensee, however, was John Burton, who was granted a conditional licence for the proposed hotel by the Lismore Licensing Court on 20 July 1898. The licence was confirmed by the court on 10 May 1899, upon completion of the building, and a week later, on 17 May, it was transferred from Burton to Wightman. Burton’s brief involvement was a necessary transitional arrangement, allowing Wightman to continue to run the nearby Royal Hotel (which he had leased since the end of 1888) while the Richmond Hotel was under construction. John Burton was a relative of Wightman’s wife (formerly Maria Burton).


The first Richmond Hotel was a two-storey wooden structure, with a street frontage of about 50 feet and a depth of about 90 feet (on a much longer block of land). A balcony 12 feet wide extended across the whole frontage. The hotel did not present a very imposing appearance from Woodlark Street, but visitors were impressed with the large amount of accommodation that it provided; there were seventeen large bedrooms upstairs, all lit with gas, and three bathrooms (two with shower and plunge, and another with shower alone). On the ground floor there were, among other rooms, a bar, several parlours, two dining rooms (one for commercial guests), and a kitchen fitted with a Sam Weller range and a large Eureka gas stove.[1]


At the time of opening of the Richmond Hotel, Lismore had twelve other pubs. The closest was the Royal, already mentioned, on the corner of Woodlark and Molesworth Streets. Opposite the Royal, at the same intersection, was the Bridge Hotel (later the Ryan). In the other direction, at the Woodlark and Keen Streets intersection, were the Commercial and the Imperial (later Gollan) Hotels. Elsewhere in town were the Court House (later Rous), Exchange (later Civic), Freemason’s (later Canberra), Lismore, and Tattersall’s Hotels. Across the river at North Lismore were the Junction and the Queensland (later Northern Rivers) Hotels. The Terminus (later Station) Hotel, opposite the railway station at South Lismore, opened just a few weeks before the Richmond Hotel. Despite the large number of hotels, there was a shortage of good quality accommodation for visitors to Lismore, and this undoubtedly motivated Wightman to build the Richmond Hotel.


John Wightman died in January 1904, at the young age of 50 years, not quite five years after moving into his new Richmond Hotel. His health had been poor for a few years, and he died while on a visit to Sydney. Wightman was sorely missed in Lismore where he had been actively involved in public affairs. He had been an alderman on Lismore Municipal Council, a committee member of the Lismore Agricultural & Industrial Society, and president of the Lismore Water Brigade, and was instrumental in the establishment of the New South Wales Creamery Butter Company’s Lismore factory. He was also an ardent promoter of sport, and a successful trainer and racer of horses.[2]


Maria Wightman, John’s wife, became licensee of the Richmond Hotel briefly prior to a new owner, Daniel Stirgess, taking over in May 1904. The English-born Stirgess set himself up as a plumbing contactor in Coraki, where he married in 1889. He took over the Richmond after running the Commercial Hotel at Casino for a few years. Although he continued as owner of the Richmond until his death in 1931, he was licensee only briefly, during 1904 and 1906.[3] Soon after taking over, Stirgess had two wooden accommodation wings added to the back of the hotel, substantially increasing the number of bedrooms available to the public.


After the death of Daniel Stirgess, ownership of the Richmond Hotel remained with his estate, through the Permanent Trustee Co. Ltd of Sydney. It passed in 1952 to his nephews, Arthur Frederick ‘Fred’ and Daniel William Stirgess. By then, however, Fred Stirgess had been licensee for much the time since his uncle’s death and for several years before it (1925-34, 1935-46); he was followed as licensee by Daniel William (1946-53).


Fred Stirgess was licensee when major renovations took place in 1937-38. Changes included the replacement of the old wooden external walls of the main block, and of one of the back wings, with brick walls; and installing wash basins in all 32 bedrooms, with cold water to all basins, and hot water to 22 of them (being all of those in the brick portion).


Lawrance Anderson ‘Laurie’ Wall became owner and licensee of the Richmond Hotel in April 1953, ending a period of nearly fifty years during which it remained in the Stirgess family. Wall remodelled the interior of the hotel, including altering and adding to the public and saloon bars. Outside, he demolished an old timber portion of the hotel at the rear, and built in its place new lock-up garages, re-using sound materials from the demolition.[4]


Ownership of the hotel changed several times during the 1950s. Wall sold out in November 1953 to William Emery Thompson and Jessie Victoria Thompson, the former becoming the licensee. The hotel changed hands again a few years later, to Mahonga Pty Ltd, and again about 1960, to Ernest Phillips.


Husband and wife Keith and Shirley Oliver took over the ownership and running of the hotel in mid-1969. In 1972 they extensively renovated the place, and greatly enlarged it by adding at the rear a new double storey brick section. This was adjacent to the car parking area that had recently been created over the untidy Brown’s Creek and which provided a second access for the hotel. The extension included the Sportsman’s Bar, and the upstairs Regency Lounge. In addition, the Olivers had the public and saloon bars enlarged and completely redecorated.[5]

[1]   Northern Star, 17 May 1899

[2]   Northern Star, 3 February 1904

[3]   Northern Star, 2 June 1931

[4]   Northern Star, 17 March 1953, 13 May 1953, 22 May 1953

[5]   Northern Star, 16 December 1972

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