Silo site prep leads to vintage French whisky and brandy haul

Find site: Bathurst Street, Pitt Town, January 1901. Picture: Supplied
Find site: Bathurst Street, Pitt Town, January 1901. Picture: Supplied

Archaeology is synonymous with the Hawkesbury.

The richness of Indigenous and early European occupation in the Hawkesbury, means that it is quite common to encounter uncommon and significant archaeology - evidence of occupation, road construction, artefacts, buildings and structures, boats, even human remains.

But eighty-six years ago, there was something of a sensation caused in Pitt Town when an archaeological discovery of a very different nature was made.

Local resident and farmer Fred Johnston, had hired Patrick Wilson, a labourer, to do some excavation work on his land fronting Bathurst Street in preparation for the construction of a new silo.

Wilson had only dug to a depth of about four feet when his mattock hit glass. Unperturbed, he carried on having taken little notice. Very quickly, Wilson's curiosity piqued when his mattock struck more glass and an intact bottle was found.

Digging by hand so as to be careful, you can imagine his surprise when he uncovered a number of bottles of 'fine imported whisky and brandy'!

Originally, some twenty bottles had been uncovered, but Wilson's mattock had inadvertently smashed seven of them.

It was initially thought that a still had been uncovered and this caught the interest of the local paper.

The rest of the undamaged bottles were recovered and James Greenfield, son of the Proprietor at the then former 'Maid of Australia' ('Bird in Hand Inn'), took one for inspection to the Windsor and Richmond Gazette offices.

The faded label was deciphered, revealing that the bottle contained French brandy, having been bottled by P. Le Roy et Cie, Paris, France.

Undeniably hard to resist the urge to sample the contents, the bottle was opened and the contents bravely tasted. This confirmed the genuineness of the discovery, though it was reported that the 'spirit had lost considerable strength'.

The discovery of the whisky and brandy on Fred Johnston's land had been made near the dilapidated remains of an old shed, which was believed to have been part of the former 'Buckridge's Hotel', of which it was established fact, once occupied Johnston's land.

'Buckridge's Hotel' was originally built in 1825 and was operated by Daniel Smallwood as the 'Bird in Hand Inn'.

Two detailed survey plans of Pitt Town in 1828 (Knapp) and 1843 (Gallaway), show a large building footprint on the western side of Bathurst Street, but the present-day 'Bird in Hand Inn' on the eastern side did not exist at the time.

After Smallwood's death in 1839, Elizabeth Smallwood became the Licensee. Following her marriage in 1843 to George Buckridge, the hotel became known as 'Buckridge's Hotel'.

It is likely that the hotel was demolished soon after and rebuilt on the opposite side as the 'Bird in Hand Inn', which remains today.

The discovered cache of whisky and brandy were believed to have been buried for approximately 90 years, making them at least a c1845 vintage, though quite likely older.

Perhaps someone forgot to check the cellars before the hotel was demolished?