The Robert Burns Hotel


Pioneers and Owners


EWEN TOLMIE  1816 - 1883


THOMAS GRAHAM  1802 - 1871


The Robert Burns Hotel stood on the corner of Summerhill Road and Sydney Road (Hume Highway) at Craigieburn or as the area was known in the days the hotel was built, Kinlochewe.  It was described as Robert Burns Hotel - 17 miles from Melbourne on the Sydney Rd, Kinlochewe in the Argus 16/8/1871 but like others it seemed to have disappeared into obscurity.

The Robert Burns Hotel was owned and built by Ewen Tolmie a Shepherd, Innkeeper, grazier and gold dealer from Inverness-shire in Scotland who owned a number of hotels in Victoria over the years as well as Holland's Run from 1860 till 1877 of 16,000 acres and also held Dueran Station just south towards Mansfield till he died 1883 aged 66.  The gentleman in the cart (pictured left) is thought to be Ewan Tolmie on Dueran Station.

The Robert Burns Hotel served two northward routes the boggy track through Campbellfield (now Sydney Road or Hume Highway) and the track through Darebin (Epping) and the Merri Creek ford at Kinlochewe which headed north westerly to Mt.  Ridley to join Sydney Rd and could take advantage of the travelers on both routes at the same time.

Like the Craigie Burns Hotel the Robert Burns was on the Geological Map of c1860 so we know it existed at that time and began trading in 1848.   The Argus newspaper in 1848 tells that 'extensive improvements were being made at Kinlochewe and Mr. Ewen Tolmie formerly of the 'Bird In Hand' Flinders Lane contemplated the erection of a splendid edifice of an inn to which he purposes to remove his publican's general license' and by the 20th of April 1848 Ewan Tolmie had been granted a new licence for his Robert Burns Hotel at Kinlochewe.  

According to the Port Philip Herald, Ewen Tolmie applied to the General Licensing Bench on the 20th of April, 1848 for a licence for the Burns' Inn at Kinlochewe.  The application was marked with an asterisk and was stated that those applications marked with asterisks were applications for new houses.  

This article appeared in the Port Philip Herald on February 13, 1846

Robbery from a dray.

 In the course of yesterday, as Mr. Ewen Tolmie, late of  The Bird in the Hand, was proceeding to his new destination on Sydney road, had occasion to go into the Kinlochewe Inn, leaving a dray with some valuables outside the door.  Whilst in some light fingered gentleman managed to steal two boxes and open a third, from which they abstracted some property.

This article suggests that Ewen Tolmie may have already 'removed his publican's general license' to his new premises The Robert Burns Hotel which did in fact stand on the corner of Summerhill Rd and Sydney Rd, calling in to see William Budd at the Kinlochewe Inn and was robbed for his trouble.

His new hotel was not only in the position to attract travelers along the new road but some of the Kinlochewe Inns regulars as well who still kept to the old the track through Darebin (Epping) and over the Merri Creek ford at Kinlochewe and by means of  the Port Philip Gazette advertised to 'the public of the Australian colonies generally' of the opening of the inn and hotel 'on the new line of the great Sydney Road'.  The inn and hotel would provide superior accommodation to the traveler, with well watered paddocks and feed for horses, hurdles for the accommodation of sheep droves, and when finished a stockyard for cattle. They boasted 'almost unparalleled views of beauty' which the inn enjoyed from Sinclair's Hill or today as we know it Mt Ridley.

As early as the 1800's a daily mail service existed with Melbourne. The Robert Burns being right on the main Sydney Road between Melbourne and Sydney and like the other hotels, was probably served by coach until the north-eastern railway came.  On Tuesday, May 30th 1848 David Finn the late driver of the Government Mail for three years advertised to his friends 'that he had put upon the road between Melbourne and Seymour a public conveyance (coach) called 'the regulator'.  The journey between Melbourne and Seymour cost  £1 and that any passengers to Melbourne could leave their horses at Tolmie's paddocks at Kinlochewe', which was most likely the 'well watered paddocks and feed for horses' mentioned above.

It was not long before Tolmie, a restless man, surrendered the licence to George Beaver on the 17th of April 1849 and began an erection of an inn at Kyneton where the diggers paid in gold!  It was reported in September of 1850 that Ewen Tolmie owner of hotels in Melbourne was proposing to build a brick inn "on a very extensive scale" in Kyneton and was under construction and opened before the discovery of gold at Kyneton in the latter part of 1851

 The Argus - March 1849
Mr. John Stephen applied for transfer of the publicans' general license held by Mr. Ewen Tolmie, for the Kinlochewe Inn, to Mr. George Beaver, granted

On the 17th of April 1849 George Beaver took over the license at the Robert Burns and in the September of 1849 was charged with 'Breech of Agreement' whereas an agency hired a couple as cook and laundress to work at the inn at Kinlochewe, the couple traversed all the way out there to be told the agency had 'exceeded his instructions' and refused them entry therefore having to retrace their steps through the snow to Melbourne at considerable expense.  The case was proven and Beaver was ordered to pay the couple £2 and £1 costs and in the December of 1849 Beaver was involved in a "Uttering and Forgery Case'  whereas being the innkeeper at Kinlochewe he was defrauded of £14/9s by a man named Saunders. 

 George Beaver did not hold the license for long at the Robert Burns Hotel - 17th of April 1849 to 17th October 1850.  A gentleman by the name of Dr. Stewart was advertising in the April of 1850 that he 'respectfully informs the inhabitants of Kinlochewe and the surrounding district, that he has commenced practice at the above place. Dr Stewart resides at present at Mr. Beaver's Robert Burns Inn, Kinlochewe'.

Sometime after, George Beaver sold the Robert Burns to Thomas Graham and on the 23rd October 1850 the license was transferred to Thomas Graham (pictured at left) and renewed again on the 16th April 1851.  In Jean Field's book 1973 - Grey Ribbon to the Border - a history of the Hume Highway it says 'We read of a Mr. Thomas Graham being appointed postmaster at Kinlochewe 'on the Sydney Road' on 23 October 1850.  Although we note that the Royal Mail travelled from Melbourne to Sydney and stopped at a hotel called the 'Robert Burns'.

In the previous years quite a bit of correspondence between the Treasurer and the inhabitants of Kinlochewe had taken place in respect to having a post office at Kinlochewe and it 'was ascertained that Mr. Thomas Graham proprietor of the Robert Burns Inn, Kinlochewe was willing to accept the office as postmaster and believed him to be a suitable person' and 'considered the Robert Burns Inn to be in the most central position for the district'.

The Argus - 14 November 1850


His Honor the Superintendent having been pleased to approve of the establishment of a Post Office at Kinlochewe, on the Sydney Road, Mr. Thomas Graham to be Postmaster.  No notice is hereby given, that the same will he brought into operation on the 1st November proximal.

HENRY  KEMP,  Chief Postmaster. Post Office, Melbourne.

By 1851 many changes and renovations had taken place to the hotel and in 1851 it was noted in an article in the Argus that, 'The Robert Burns at Kinlochewe is so transmogrified that it would puzzle the originator to recognize it and there was not a more elegantly neat house in the colony, and that it was also managed in masterly style'.

By the 20th of March 1852 Thomas Graham had leased the hotel and transferred the license of the Robert Burns to Thomas Lowe who advertised in the Argus that 'he begs to inform his friends and the public generally, that having obtained the transfer from Mr. Thomas Graham, of the Robert Burns Hotel. He hopes to obtain their patronage and assures parties who may favor him with their custom that he will use every endeavor to make them comfortable. Stables are commodious and airy.   N.B. - The Wines, Beers, Spirits, etc defy competition'.

By 1855 Thomas Lowe has moved on and the hotel and business sold to the McKay Brothers, who seemed to be local residents, as they are on the 1856 electoral roll for the area.  There were three McKay brothers David, Donald and James Gunn.  David McKay took over the hotel at Craigieburn known then as the Carriers Arms and the other two brothers ran the Robert Burns at Kinlochewe but it wasn't long before James Gunn McKay was insolvent and blamed Thomas Graham for the insolvency.

IN RE McKay Brothers

The Argus, 25th of September 1856

A second meeting today.  The insolvents had kept the Robert Burns public house, at Kinlochewe. Mr. Bayne appeared for the official Assignee.  Mr. John McGregor for the insolvents.  The insolvents James Gunn MíKay was examined.  He stated that the firm of MíKay Brothers began business in the Robert Burns Hotel with a capital of between ₤8,000 and ₤4,000.  Agree to give ₤8,500 for good will, stock-in-trade and furniture, as per valuation; and had paid about ₤6,000 of this amount when trade fell off, and insolvency took place in consequence.  A third brother of the insolvents had commenced business at Craigieburn, two miles from Kinlochewe but none of the insolvents property or stock was taken to that house.   The property in the house was seized by the landlord, Mr. Thomas Graham, who also held some bills which the insolvent had given to Mr. Lowe, in payment of goodwill of the business.  The insolvency was owing to Mr. Graham having pressed the insolvents and levied execution on the property.  After some debts were proved, the meeting closed, the third being appointed for the 29th of October.

Even though the insolvency the McKay brothers ran the hotels at Craigieburn and Kinlochewe at least until 1860, we know this by articles in the Argus newspaper.  By 1864 at least James Gunn McKay had left Victoria and was living in New Zealand and was running another hotel, advertising in the Otago Witness on the 28th of May 1864 that his 'Craigieburn Hotel' was in Walker and Princess Streets, he was now proprietor and he was late of Sydney Road, Victoria.  He never returned to Victoria and later died in New Zealand.

North Otago Times, Volume VI, Issue 124, 5 July 1866, Page 4

THE CRAIGIEBURN HOTEL. HAS " GONE TO BATH." JAMES GUNN MACKAY, in removing from the Old Craigieburn Hotel, Walker-street, to the New Craigieburn Hotel (late the "Bath"), George-street, Dunedin, begs to thank his friends and the public for past favors, and re- quests a continuance of the same. J. G. M'K. would invite his friends to rally round him, and "tree a drap o' his real Hieland Whisky," or anything else they wish, and who has no doubt but the verdict will be in his favor. Excellent accommodation for Boarders. Separate Bedrooms. Charges moderate. JAMES GUNN MACKAY.

Next according to the Argus, an Irish Gentleman by the name of William Winter Treacy leased the land and the Robert Burns from Thomas Graham for the payable sum of ₤ 3,000 in 1860 but it was never paid and in the June of 1861 was in the Insolvency Court.  By the July of 1861 Treacy had applied to court to have a certificate of discharge and according to the article Treacy had given the debt out to a money lender and the lender had then let the property out to various tenants to recoup his money of which Treacy had collected for him.

The hotel was unlicensed between 1862 and 1865 and became what seemed to be 'managed farm land' throughout these years.  This came to light in a letter from the State Library of Victoria recently when a character by the name of John Crisp Cuzner who was loosely employed by Thomas Graham in a caretaker role at the Robert Burns was making a claim on the estate of Graham after he died in 1871 for unpaid wages while employed there at the Robert Burns between 1862 and 65.

The Broadmeadows Rate Books began in late 1863.  The Robert Burns was unlicensed from 1862 up until 1865 when Thomas Graham then sold the property.  The entries in the rate books during these years show that it was now house and land and no longer being used as a hotel.  In 1863 Thomas Graham is the rateable owner and occupier, same in 1864 but in 1865 it changed and Neil Turner is now leasing the property with Thomas Graham still the rateable owner.  By this stage Thomas Graham's interests were elsewhere in setting up the Simpson Road brewery one of the forerunners to today's Carlton and United Breweries and put the hotel and and farm up for sale.

By Friday 31st of March 1865, the Robert Burns was up for sale and listed in the Argus under Sales by Auction.


Landed Property for Sale
158 Acres, on Sydney road with good Hotel or Private Residence
M. M'Caw and Another have been instructed by Thomas Graham Esq. to SELL by AUCTION, at their rooms, Royal Horse Bazaar, Melbourne,
On Friday, 31st inst, at eleven oíclock, that well known and very superior property,
The Robert Burns Hotel, Kinlochewe, 17 Miles from Melbourne, on the Sydney Road,
Together with, 158 acres of very rich land, divided into four paddocks,
Thee of which have been laid down in a most superior manner with artificial grasses,
And the other has been sown over with clover. The house (now in good order) contains 14 rooms, besides kitchen, pantry, servants rooms, stables, coach house, and a number of other buildings, and a never failing well of pure water.
The auctioneers particularly invite inspection of this
Very desirable property, feeling assured of the favourable impression
That must recruit from a personal examination of all its advantages
Either as a hotel or private residence.

Thomas Graham sold the property to Q. A Mourltz but just over 12 months later the property was up for auction in The Argus date Tuesday 9 October 1866 and this advert gives the best description of the Robert Burns found so far.

The Robert  Burns Hotel,
With The Estate, Sydney-road,
Adjoining Captain Pearson's and Opposite Mr.
Malcolm's Great Properties.
By Order of the Proprietor Q. A. Mourltz
To Country Capitalists, Farmers, Graziers, Cattle
Breeders, and Others.

MR. STUBBS is instructed to SELL by PUBLIC AUCTION, at his rooms, 81
Collins Street, on Tuesday, the 8th October, at twelve o'clock precisely, That highly-productive dairy, agricultural, and pastoral estate, situate, lying, and being on the Sydney-road, In proximity to the healthy
neighbourhood known to the oldest colonists as Kinlochewe, comprising about
200 acres, subdivided into six paddocks, all enclosed, of which 25 acres are
now growing bay, 60 are laid down with English grasses, 2 in garden and
orchard, capable of carrying 500 sheep all the year round.
This fine farm adjoins that of Captain Pearson, and also that of James Malcolm, Esq., who, as one of the very earliest colonists, selected this neighbourhood as his place of
residence; but independently of its agricultural, &c, advantages, It has others equally
conspicuous, being bounded by the Merri Creek, amply supplied with wood and water, and bounded on one side by the lines of the Sydney and Broadmeadows roads.
The Robert Burns Hotel forms an important establishment In connexion with
the value of the estate, having a verandah 100 feet long, bar, tap, travellers' room, four parlours, 10 bed-rooms, cellars, coach house, eight-stall stable, kitchen,
laundry, stock and milking yards, &c. Terms-Half cash, and the residue may be secured
upon the property until the 1st February, 1869.
Title guaranteed. Note, the spirited capitalist of the present day
will appreciate the advantages of an estate situate
so near to town, and so well adapted for receiving and depasturing stock for
the Melbourne market, whilst the man of retail talent will not fall to look
after the Robert Burns Hotel.

The next few years the property in the rate books was owned by J. K. Bennett and in 1868 Alexander McPherson was leasing the property.  What happened to the hotel after this time is sketchy but it has been stated that 'the last noted publican was Alex McPherson in 1869'

 The Robert Burns was up for sale again by private contract and advertised on Saturday 3 June 1871 in the Argus as 'The Robert Burns Hotel and Land at Kinlochewe'.  It was commented on by Dr John Dunmore Lang 'that by 1879 the Robert Burns Hotel at Kinlochewe had ceased to exist and is now marked by a few ruins'.

We do know that land was taken up by farming after this time and the ruins stood on the corner of Summerhill Road and Sydney Road (Hume Highway) for many years and It is probable they were demolished in the first and second widening of Sydney Road.

Stories have been told by the family who ran the property the Robert Burns Hotel once stood on, of finding many old coins and other bits and pieces in the vicinity of where the hotel once stood.  Sadly any last vestiges of the hotel have long gone and today are well buried under the new Craigieburn bypass road completed in 2005, linking the Hume Freeway near Mt. Ridley Road at Craigieburn, to the Metropolitan Ring Road at Thomastown.

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