peregrine – Medieval Latin ‘peregrinus’ – traveller, pilgrim
Perhaps I should have been an archaeologist; I have a fascination with the ruins of old buildings. I like to imagine who constructed the buildings and who lived in them. I love the mystery!
The other day was I reading up on some Blue Mountains’ history and found out about the ruins of Pilgrim Inn at Blaxland. I was keen to see the ruins and I was surprised to learn that they were in a car park behind a fast food outlet in Blaxland (corner of Layton Avenue and Great Western Highway).
Next time I was driving past I pulled in to the car park to have a look. Sure enough, there was what remained of Pilgrim Inn; three crumbling stone walls propped up with metal brackets and the site surrounded by a fence.
The building seemed quite small but apparently it was originally part of a bigger complex. Seeing the ruins only intensified my curiosity so I went looking for more information and discovered quite a story.
This is what I found:
Pilgrim Inn was constructed on one of the first land grants in the Blue Mountains. In 1825 a 320 hectare site at Blaxland followed by an additional 640 hectare site at Glenbrook was granted to a man named Barnett Levey (1798-1837) who was New South Wales’ first Jewish free immigrant. He named his land Mount Sion Estate.
The dwelling and out buildings that later became Pilgrim Inn were built on Barnett Levey’s estate some time between 1825 and 1828 but it was not long before he became bankrupt. The site was sold to the sheriff, John Wood who subsequently leased it to James Evans. Pilgrim Inn was issued its first licence in 1830. It was the first inn west of Penrith in the Blue Mountains.
Pilgrim Inn was later bought by John Wascoe in 1857 and in 1869 it closed as an inn. The William Deane family bought the site in 1873 living there until a bushfire destroyed the buildings in 1968.
Even though Barnett Levey lived in the Blue Mountains for only a few years, he made a lasting mark on the Glenbrook area where his Mount Sion Estate was located. After he had bought the estate, John Wood made the following comments in a letter,
“The proposed new road cuts the waters of the Brook Kedron from the main body of the land. The road destroys or occupies the principal part of the good land in the Valley of Jehosophat through which it runs. The names seem ridiculous, but they were the names given by Mr. Barnett Levey before I purchased same.”https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/100972025
Although I can’t find any trace of the Valley of Jehosophat on current maps, many street names in the Glenbrook area such as Levy, Barnet, David, Tabor, Kedron, Carmel, Benjamin, Olivet, as well as Mount Sion Park are testament to Barnett Levey’s Jewish heritage and his brief time in the Blue Mountains.
Barnett Levey was an interesting man with a varied career and big dreams. He was a merchant, an auctioneer and later a jeweller, watchmaker and realtor. He is credited with opening the first lending library in New South Wales and he has been referred to as the ‘Father of Australian Theatre’. He bought a warehouse on the site of the current Dymocks Building in George Street, Sydney and lobbied Governor Darling to build a commercial theatre. In those days, the Governor’s consent was required for such ventures. Governor Darling was not keen. In the meantime Barnett Levey turned part of the warehouse into The Royal Hotel, a business to fund his theatre which he began building behind the hotel.
In 1832 Barnett Levey was granted the first theatre licence in the colony by Governor Darling’s replacement, Governor Bourke. In early October 1833, Barnett Levey finally opened his Theatre Royal and on Boxing Day that year, he organised the first professional performance of Shakespeare in Australia – a production of Richard III.
Unfortunately, Barnett Levey was not a great businessman and faced many challenges with his theatre.
Sick, tired and worn out by his efforts to make the theatre pay, Barnett Levey died on 2 October 1837, leaving a widow and four small children in poverty. Acknowledging his bold idealism, The Sydney Times, 21 October 1837, stated that:https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/australian-jewish-community-and-culture/arts-culture-barnett-levey
‘to his spirit and perseverance are the public indebted for the introduction of theatricals into New South Wales’.
Unlike Pilgrim Inn, no ruins remain of Barnett Levey’s Theatre Royal. It was destroyed in a fire in 1840 and subsequently other buildings were constructed on the site.
Next time you are enjoying a stage play, spare a thought for our performing arts enthusiast, Barnett Levey, who fought so hard to bring theatre to the new colony. When you are driving around Glenbrook look for those street names harking back to his brief time in The Blue Mountains. If you feel a hankering for fast food at Blaxland, take a moment in the carpark to see the remains of Pilgrim Inn. Perhaps you will wonder like I did about all the stories those stones could tell.
Photographs of Pilgrim Inn before and after the 1968 bushfires can be found in the Blue Mountains City Library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blue_mountains_library_-_local_studies/27091383856/in/photostream/
You can also see another photo here: http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/129969
I found all my information about Pilgrim Inn and Barnett Levey from these websites: