Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Adams, George (1839–1904)

by Decie Denholm

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

George Adams (1839-1904), publican and lottery promoter, was born on 14 March 1839 at Redhill in the parish of Sandon, Hertfordshire, England, the fourth son of William Adams, farm labourer, and his wife Martha, née Gilbey. The family emigrated to Australia in the Constitution and arrived on 28 May 1855. George tried gold mining in Queensland, then worked on sheep stations in western New South Wales. He learnt about 'stock on the hook as well as on the hoof' and set up as a stock dealer and butcher in Goulburn. In 1875 'the chunky, chesty, fiery-whiskered Adams' exchanged meat for liquor when he bought the licence of the Steam Packet Inn at Kiama on the south coast; he also became part-owner of Wellington sheep station.

On visits to Sydney for race meetings and the Royal Show Adams frequented O'Brien's Hotel in Pitt Street, the headquarters of Tattersall's Club. He was 'a man with friends', a good mixer. He also had much business acumen. In addition Adams was either born lucky, or found unrecorded advantages for his start in the gambling and hotel-keeping world. After three years at Kiama three of his Sydney friends, George Hill, Bill Archer and George Loseby, decided to buy O'Brien's Hotel for Adams, since 'George Adams liked O'Brien's and they liked George Adams'. They told him to 'pay when you can'. Within six years Adams had paid off his sponsors and acquired the freehold for a further £40,000. Ten years later he was wealthy, with interests in the Bulli colliery, electricity plants at Broken Hill, Newcastle and Sydney, the collier Governor Blackall, the Palace Theatre in Sydney, 'a mere bagatelle at £40,000', and of course the Pitt Street property with its 'Tin Bar' now converted to a 'Marble Bar' at a cost of £32,000. All this did not come from the bar trade. Tattersall's Club members, meeting at Adams Hotel, subscribed to sweepstakes on race meetings of the kind run throughout Australia every Melbourne Cup day. Hotel regulars began to be included in the sweeps and in 1881 George Adams ran his first public Tattersall's sweep on the Sydney Cup.

Opposition to this form of gambling came from religious bodies and in 1892 they influenced the passing of legislation to prohibit the delivery of letters containing sweep investments. Adams moved his lottery business to Queensland. Similar legislation was passed by the government there, so in 1895 he moved to Tasmania. Six months later the Tasmanian premier, Sir Edward Braddon, overcame all opposition to a bill which became the Suppression of Public Betting and Gaming Act (60 Vic. no. 7), outlawing betting shops but legalizing certain lotteries. Adams had a home for Tattersall's lotteries for the next fifty-eight years. Two members of the House of Assembly and two in the Legislative Council of 1896 were remembered by Adams in his will and were left a twentieth of the annual net proceeds of Tattersall's sweep consultations.

Adams moved to Hobart and made his home there for the rest of his life. He bought several buildings in the city and built others. At his death he had contracted to buy more Tasmanian real estate and arranged to start business as a brewer and maltster. He held no public office and had no apparent political affiliations. He worked very much behind the scenes, making it difficult to assess his influence, although his capacity to finance mortgages and other business activities must have given him substantial indirect power. His interests straddled many areas of Tasmanian business life. The public image was one of a sporting identity, a patron of horse-racing in particular and in a less public way something of a philanthropist.

On 10 June 1858 at St James's Church, Sydney, Adams married Fanny, daughter of Thomas Franklin and his wife Catherine; she died at Sydney on 2 January 1883. On 7 May 1886 at Randwick, New South Wales, he married Norah Louie, daughter of James Malone and his wife Mary Constance. Norah died at Hobart on 14 April 1913. His first marriage and that of his parents were in the Church of England, and his second was performed by a Congregational minister. There were no children of either marriage, and the chief beneficiary by his estate, sworn for probate in New South Wales for more than £50,000, and in Tasmania for £130,000, was his nephew William James Adams. Adams died at Hobart on 23 September 1904 and was buried at Cornelian Bay cemetery under a headstone engraved 'George Adams (Tattersall)'.

A posthumous portrait by William Dargie is in the Melbourne office of the trustees of his estate.

Select Bibliography

  • D. A. Denholm, ‘Tattersalls in Tasmania’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 13, no 3, May 1966, pp 70-80.

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Citation details

Decie Denholm, 'Adams, George (1839–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/adams-george-2866/text4087, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 17 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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