In 1825, one James Bibb, an enterprising spirit built a hostelry in a clearing by the stately gumtrees at Abbotsford Point on the Parramatta River, and soon the “Red Cow Inn” ministered to needy travellers by the Great North Road. These travellers, who for the most part consisted of small farmers or fruitgrowers from the extensive Parish of Field of Mars, timber-getters from the wild and practically unsettled region extending north to Wiseman’s Ferry and, perhaps, an occasional regimental guard in charge of a squad of convict roadmakers, came to look upon the “Red Cow” as a veritable outpost of civilisation. In fact, it was the last hotel on the Sydney side of Wiseman’s. The old Inn is probably beyond the ken of most of Sydney’s people today, as also is most likely the Bedlam Punt, which carried traffic across the river at this point. The punt has long since been superseded by the Gladesville Bridge, but the “Red Cow” Inn still stands and its license is extant, although the swinging signboard has given place to a neat brass plate bearing the title, “Sydney Rowing Club Branch” and the license favours club members only.
The old rambling brick and stone structure with its rock-hewn cellar was acquired for the rowing club by Q. L. Deloitte, the father of rowing in this State, in 1872. The old bar-room, now used as a dining-room, is in its original state, except that an imposing array of club trophies above the large open fireplace has deposed a perhaps equally imposing array of glassware. What convivial parties has this old room housed in days gone by? And of nights, when the large table groans beneath the weight of good fare put forth by the efforts of the club housekeeper, and brawny rowing-men range athwart to do it justice, what ghosts of bygone days peep from the shrubberies in through the windows?
A relic of one of these old-time parties stands in the front garden, in the shape of a bogus headstone which bears the following lines:-“Sacred to the memory of Dusky Bill who opened a Jackpot with a pair of ‘sevens’.” Whether “Dusky” Bill was a gold digger, card player, or rowing man of the last century is not definitely known.
Behind the dining-room are two or three bedrooms which are still used for housing crews in training. A touch of luxury has been given to the venerable hostelry by the addition of an up-to-date billiard-room and a boathouse, whilst wraiths of old timers are scared out of the shadows by the searching glare of electric lights.
(Article by W. J. Hansway, appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald: Sat 26 Dec 1925)
Update: There is one wall in the Club preserved as containing the only remaining sandstone bricks of the Red Cow Inn (originally named the Red House and later the King’s Arms) and cottage built in 1837 on this spot. The four corner holding nails of the plaque on this wall are hand-made square nails used in the flooring of the original cottage.