The Toohey family, Matthew, his wife Honora and son John, emigrated from Ireland and settled in Victoria, where they raised beef cattle during the goldrush boom. Beef was in constant demand at the diggings and Matthew prospered, supplying the miners with their daily needs. About 1865 the family moved north to New South Wales, where the elder son, John Thomas Toohey, purchased a cattle station near Lismore. The younger son, James Matthew Toohey, then about sixteen, ‘squatted’ on a large station near Coonamble.
During a visit to Sydney in 1869 John was informed that the Darling Brewery was for sale at a very reasonable price, and a year or so later he bought the brewery that stood at the corner of Dixon and Harbour Streets, at the western end of Goulburn Street. He persuaded brother James to join him as a junior partner in the brewery. They traded as J. T. & J. Toohey, and continued to use the name Darling Brewery.
In 1874 the Toohey brothers purchased the site of the old Albion Brewery. It had been started in 1827 by the ex-convict Samuel Terry, but the brewery had been gutted by fire in the 1860s. The brothers set about building a new brewery on the site, and when it was completed in 1875 it was an impressive series of stone buildings covering 2 acres. The main building was six storeys high, complete with an 80-foot tower. There were cellars below and a well, 200 feet deep, was sunk through solid rock. The brothers named their new complex the Standard Brewery, and used the old Darling Brewery as a store. The Standard Brewery was a success from the start, and depots were progressively opened at Newcastle, West Maitland, Goulburn, Orange, Narrandera and Wagga Wagga.
On the death of James Toohey in 1895 his son, John Thomas Jnr, joined the firm in partnership with his uncle, John. A share in the business was also held by Thomas Hughes, a descendant of Sam Terry, as equity represented by the transfer of the freehold of the old Albion Brewery site.
In 1902 the business was floated as Toohey’s Ltd, with members of the Toohey family engaged in various capacities until shortly after the end of World War I. By 1910 the brewery was capable of producing 2500 casks of beer per week. There were 400 employees, and 150 horses in the stables. The chief brewer frequently had to ‘camp’ on the premises, which had a neat, well-appointed office and bedroom on the third floor.
In the early 1930s the company was divided into two separate entities, both reporting to the chairman. There was a manager responsible for administration, but without any control over the head brewer, who also reported directly to the chairman. In those days the actual brewing section was off limits to everyone — even the manager could not enter without permission from the head brewer. When the position of general manager was created, practically everybody reported to him; very little authority was delegated, management was autocratic, and communications within the company were minimal. By the late 1950s profit was in serious decline, and there was growing concern for the company’s survival. Drastic changes were made, and the brewery slowly emerged from its periods of difficulty.
The Standard Brewery in Orange was purchased from Walker & Co. Ltd in 1926 and closed, and the premises were used as a depot. In April 1961 the company succeeded in a takeover bid for the Grafton Brewery, and in 1967 acquired Miller’s Brewery in Sydney, together with trading arrangements related to Miller’s hotels.
Toohey’s built a new brewery at Cardiff, Newcastle. It was called the Hunter Brewery, and was officially opened in February 1971. During that decade the company purchased both Seaview Wines and Wynn’s Wines, with further diversification into the tea and coffee industry with the purchase of Robert Timms.
The year 1978 saw the transfer of all brewing operations to the company’s brewery at Auburn in the western suburbs. It had been officially opened in May 1957, and was first used for the bottling of beer, which was sent across by tanker from their Standard Brewery.
Miller’s Brewery was closed in 1975, and on 23 March 1978 the Standard Brewery closed its doors for the last time. The buildings were subsequently demolished with the exception of some facades under heritage classification. The names of Albion Street and Terry Street are reminders of the precincts of the old Albion Brewery that Sam Terry had started all those years ago.
In March 1980 Toohey’s Ltd merged with the Castlemaine Perkins Brewery of Brisbane to become Castlemaine Toohey’s Ltd, and in August 1985 ownership changed to Bond Corporation Holdings Ltd.
The Toohey’s Brewery, together with the Swan Brewery in Perth and the Castlemaine Perkins Brewery in Brisbane, were all taken over from Bond Corporation in October 1990 by the New Zealand-based Lion Nathan Group. The three Australian breweries were then controlled by the new company, National Brewing Holdings Ltd.
Early in 1993 Toohey’s bought the Hahn Brewing Co., which had been established in January 1988. The acquisition was a positive and successful move, and gave Toohey’s an entry into the growing premium and specialty beer market.
On 21 October 2009, Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd of Japan took over all the Australian assets of Lion Nathan, with the company still continuing to trade as the Toohey’s Brewery.
In spite of the temporary destabilising effects of the changes in ownership, the Toohey’s Brewery today is a progressive and innovative company producing a range of popular beers that are marketed nationally and exported to many countries. It is one of Australia’s great breweries with a long and proud heritage — John Toohey and his brother, James, would be proud to know that the symbol of a stag, head held high, which they had used to promote their ale in 1869, is still used today by the company they founded.