The Star and Garter Hotel and the Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade


Richmond's Star and Garter Hotel, established in 1845/46 is one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand still operating on its original site and still using (largely) it's original name. 

The Star was originally the home of prominent early settler William Harkness and sat further back from Queen Street, Richmond, than it does now. Harkness' home became the village inn and was jokingly named after a grand hotel of the same name in Richmond on Thames. The Star and Garter was the social centre of early Richmond - a venue for important meetings and local festivities.

Star & Garter Richmond 1940, From Kete Tasman

Star & Garter, 1940 on Tasman Heritage.

By 1866, the Star had been joined by five other local bars. Gold fever had struck the colony, and prospectors moving between goldfields provided a steady stream of patrons for the Star and Garter, Plough Inn (1845-1898), Wheatsheaf Inn (1859-1873), Red Horse Inn (1860-1883), White Hart (1865-1920), and Elephant and Castle (1866-1872).  In 1883 The Railway Hotel (1883-2009) was built on the lower corner of Queen Street and Gladstone Road.

The bars provided a watering hole not just for people, but for stock - farmers would drive cattle and sheep down Queen Street to the sale yards next to the Railway Hotel, with plenty of stops along the way.

"[The Star and Garter] had a horse trough where [people] drove their traps into the pub from the country and watered their horses. There were no houses or shops, just paddocks at the back." Fred Fowler.

Star and Garter Hotel

Star & Garter Hotel, c1895-1903 on Tasman Heritage.

Groups would travel from Nelson for a day's entertainment at the Star, with the old Colonist newspaper advertising day excursions to the popular drinking establishment.

"Sometimes though the road from Nelson to Richmond was blocked at Stoke, because of the Songer swamp... However, they weren't to be beaten. They used to get aboard a boat somewhere near Arrow Rock and make for a jetty at the bottom end of Beach Road, Richmond. Drinking, apparently, was regulated by the tide in those days, not by cops and breath testing." Max Wilkes.

In 1950 the Star and Garter was gutted by fire. The bar itself was saved, but the remaining building was demolished before being rebuilt in 1953 where it stands today.

The Star was rebuilt but other premises were lost forever to fires - including the first building erected by settlers, known as the Surveyor's House. Before a reticulated water network was installed in Richmond, wells, millponds and ditches provided the only water. Fire was a constant danger, and destroyed many of the settlement's early homes, farms and commercial buildings.

"It was a feeling of utter hopelessness that householders were obliged to stand and observe their home or belongings destroyed, unable to do anything to combat the relentless flames." Jean S. Sutton. How Richmond Grew.

The Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade

In 1878, after a spate of damaging fires in the village, residents called a meeting at the Star and Garter and decided to form a volunteer fire fighting force. The Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade received its first big test on 1 December, 1879, when the stables at the Plough Inn caught alight (not for the first time). The stables were razed but the brigade was able to save the Inn. The volunteers worked hard and were able to contain many fires that would otherwise have caused far greater damage. However, their efforts were often limited by the lack of readily available water.

Not surprisingly, members of the brigade were active in pushing for the installation of a reticulated water supply.  In the early 1890s a dam was built at Reservoir Creek and the pipework connecting the reservoir with the township was installed. From 1893 most of the borough could enjoy a ready supply of water and the brigade enjoyed increasing success at containing the flames.

Richmond Fire Timeline


  • 1860       August  Eight stalled stable and stack of hay owned by Plough Inn licensee Mr Cleaver catches fire.
  • 1873       June      The Wheatsheaf Inn totally destroyed by fire.
  • 1878       June      Croucher’s flour mill totally destroyed by fire.
  • 1878       August  Webb boot-makers destroyed. A meeting was held at the Star and Garter Hotel and a volunteer fire brigade formed.
  • 1879       September   Plough Inn stables were raised, but the inn was saved.
  • 1887       August  White Hart Hotel destroyed, later rebuilt.
  • 1888       February  Grass fire at Richmond Park prevented from spreading to the new grandstands by the volunteer brigade.
  • 1890       May       House on Salisbury Road destroyed. Children sleeping inside were rescued.
  • 1890       June      William Songer’s home razed.
  • 1910       June      May’s bacon factory destroyed.
  • 1917       March    Richmond Park grandstand destroyed.
  • 1920       May       Second fire at the White Hart Hotel. The hotel was destroyed and not rebuilt.
  • 1950       May       The Star and Garter fire – everything but the bar was destroyed.

 Text taken from The Star and Garter Hotel and The Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade -  Queen Street Heritage Board 2018

Updated August 16, 2022.

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