The Telegraph Hotel is a beloved Hobart icon. Built in 1858, just 55 years after the establishment of Hobart Town at Sullivan’s Cove, it has been a beloved meeting place in Hobart for more than 160 years. From a meeting place for young political firebrands discussing Hobart’s future in the 1860s and, in later years, wild times celebrating after the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, The Telegraph has a long & colourful history.
Over those 160 years The Telegraph would have welcomed flour mill workers, whalers, sealers and those working in the shops and warehouses along the waterfront who would have wandered into The Telegraph and had a drink, probably a warming whiskey or a rum. They may have taken a room, the windows of the second-floor accommodation looking out across Franklin Wharf and the busy waterfront with ships being loaded and unloaded.
The stories the walls of this pub could tell…
Sitting on the north-east corner of Morrison and Brooke Streets on Hobart’s waterfront, it was originally known as The Electric Telegraph Hotel as it was directly opposite the Chief Telegraph Office. When the first telegraph line between Hobart and Launceston was completed in 1857 the Chief Telegraph Office was located on Franklin Wharf, just a few hundred metres away. The pub clearly felt had a strong connection with this exciting new technology which was revolutionising communications. On the walls of the pub todays sits a photograph of the Tele possibly from the late 1800s which shows a pole carrying electric wires just across the road. In 1877 the name was changed to The Telegraph Hotel.
The Telegraph was a “rough as guts” pub with nicotine-stained walls, “pokey” areas in the front bar and dark reflective glass where you couldn’t see in from the street. In buying the pub then, Stephen and Brendon knew the waterfront area was very quiet, with nightlife activity happening more in the city area. It had a vibrancy, but was not a place for young people. The area was far from the tourism hub it is today.
For a few years the pub was known as the Brooke Street Bar and Café, but later reverted to The Telegraph. Stephen and Brendon renovated it, revitalising the venue and attracting a younger crowd. The Telegraph’s new life began the modern-day era of the waterfront as a popular entertainment hub.
The Tele was a popular pub for those who’d raced in the Sydney to Hobart. Stephen Bourke remembers one year in the wilder days of the 1990s when a yacht’s crew booked out all the hotel accommodation and all walked into the bar. “They put $1000 on the bar and said ‘We’re not going to our rooms for a shower until that’s all gone!”
The Telegraph has undergone a major renovation and was re-launched by Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff on 13 September 2022 after Stephen Bourke had bumped into the Premier at a café next door and asked if he would do the honours. The Premier, whose office is just metres away, told Stephen he’d been watching the renovation and would be pleased to officiate.
The Telegraph’s long, storied history is remarkable. Says Stephen Bourke: “It was built as a very stylish-looking building and had a long list of interesting licensees over the years. The great thing about The Tele is that it’s been operating on the Hobart waterfront since the 1850s and has always operated as a pub. Its transformation over the years, having high and lows, is a bit like the great characters of Australian history who have risen up and come crashing down but never quite been snuffed out. The pub has had those ebbs and flows.”