Merimbula Old School Museum

Axam Champagne Glass

The Story

Title(s) of Object:

The Axam champagne glass (accession number OBJ2016.40)

Brief Description of Object:

Champagne glass.

Location of Object:

Merimbula Old School Museum, Main Street, Merimbula, NSW, 2548

Accessibility of Object:

This object belongs to the Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc., the organisation responsible for managing the Merimbula Old School Museum.

The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday between 1.30 pm - 4.00 pm and at other times by arrangement.

In line with standard best practice long term preservation procedures, the museum maintains a regular rotating exhibition schedule, so there can be no guarantee that the item featured in this dossier will be on public display at any given time.

History and Provenance of Object:

Champagne glass originally owned by George Axam and his wife Elizabeth and used for the official toasts during the 1888 visit to Eden of the then Premier of New South Wales Sir Henry Parkes.

Affectionately known as “Sis”, Elizabeth Louisa Axam was born in Pambula on 26 February 1848, the eldest daughter of Syms Covington and his wife Eliza (nee Twyford). Prior to immigrating to Australia, Syms had served as assistant to renowned naturalist Charles Darwin during and after the Beagle voyage.

Syms passed away on 19 February 1861 and later the same year Eliza married Llewellyn Heaven, the following year giving birth to a son, Llewellyn Jnr. It was at that time that Elizabeth and the younger Covington children went to live with Armstrong and Esther McCausland, a couple with no children of their own. Syms and Armstrong had been very close friends, a fact recognised by Syms naming his sixth child Philip Clement Armstrong Covington. A farmer at Lochiel, Armstrong also held the license for the Sergeant’s Inn, constructed in 1860 on the property now known as Cobandrah and still standing today.

Elizabeth Covington married George Axam at the Sergeants Inn on 2 February 1876, the Presbyterian minister Reverend William Baker officiating. Three years later, on 25 August 1879, Armstrong died and Elizabeth received £300 from his estate while two of her brothers, Walter and Philip Covington, inherited McCausland’s Lochiel property.

During their early married life, Elizabeth and George Axam resided on their 260-acre farm at Honeysuckle near Wyndham. An enterprising young man, while still retaining ownership of the farm, George opened a general store in Pambula during the early 1880s. Then, in March 1884, he also took over the Great Southern Hotel in Eden, undertaking numerous improvements prior to his license being granted in July 1884.

Just four years later excitement ran high across the district when it was announced that the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes would be visiting with local MP Mr. Henry Clark. Departing Sydney on the steamer Mangana, the group arrived in Eden at 7 am on Thursday 5 January 1888. A welcoming party greeted them at the wharf after which they were escorted to Axam’s Great Southern Inn where they were guests of honour at a public breakfast, the premises having been specially decorated for the occasion by Elizabeth.

Mr. G. P. Keon, P. M., took charge of the formalities and Mr. S. Solomon proposed a toast to the health of the Queen and the Premier. Glasses were raised and it was reported that the champagne was ‘drunk with great enthusiasm’. Mr. Keon then presented the Premier with a welcoming address after which Sir Henry responded, advising those present that he had a long-felt desire to see their district - his married daughter, Clarenda had actually lived in nearby Panbula (now Pambula) with her husband, the Reverend William Thom and their family during the early 1870s when William was the incumbent Presbyterian Minister.

Proud to have played host to the Premier and the local MP, after the formalities ended Elizabeth kept the two champagne glasses used by the dignitaries, ensuring that they were displayed in the hotel for all to see.

The official party then headed north in a four horse drag, stopping off at Panbula and Wolumla, and meeting up with welcoming groups along the way. They were greeted by the brass band as they entered Bega where archways of greenery, flags, welcome banners and floral displays lined the streets. The following day the group visited Tathra and attended a public meeting that evening at Lyceum Hall, the Premier addressing the 600-strong crowd for two hours. Numbugga, Candelo and Colombo also played host to Sir Henry during his visit to the district, during which he was advocating for the railway to be built and extended as far south as the Port of Eden.

On the fourth day of their visit, the official party returned to Eden, arriving at 7.30 pm and again being received by the Axams at the Great Southern. After their whirlwind visit the Premier and Mr. Clarke retired for an early evening and on Monday 9 January 1888 the party was farewelled before boarding the steamer Flora at 8 am for their return to Sydney.

No doubt this visit remained in the memories of local residents for many years and it is clear that it had a huge impact on the Axam family. Elizabeth treasured the two champagne glasses for the rest of her life, carefully packing and protecting them each time the family moved to ensure they arrived safely at their destination. In 1891, the family departed the Great Southern Hotel and by 1900 were living in Waverly in Sydney. Sadly, their daughter Estelle Florence died there in 1902, aged just 20.

After suffering financial highs and lows, the family left Sydney in mid-1904 to take up copra plantations at South Santo in the New Hebrides, once again taking great care with the packaging of the two champagne glasses for this big trip across the seas. The Axams settled on a plantation named ‘Velolo’ where conditions proved to be extremely difficult for people who were used to a very different way of life. On 4 August 1905 Elizabeth Louisa Axam passed away after succumbing to a complaint from which she previously had suffered whilst residing in Bega. Further grief struck the family in 1906 when a son Harold was shot in the head and killed instantly during a melee on board the schooner where he was employed as a steward. George Axam died on 24 January 1913 at South Santo, leaving his son Sydney Covington Axam to run the plantation.

Sydney married Alice Watson, the Australian-born daughter of a neighbouring planter on 7 October 1914. Their daughter Margaret Elizabeth was born on 31 July 1931 and ten years later in 1941, Alice passed away. In early 1949, some years after the Second World War had ended, Sydney decided to send his daughter Margaret back to Australia to live with her older brother and his wife and son. The special champagne glass had survived hurricanes and earthquakes in the New Hebrides so Sydney insisted that his 17-year-old daughter take it with her along with other special family keepsakes. Once again the glass was carefully packaged for the return trip to Australia.

In 1955 Margaret Elizabeth Axam married Ronald Edward Carter at Liverpool and they made their home in Cabramatta. A son, Wayne Sydney, was born to the couple and from a young age he was aware of the champagne glass which was always displayed proudly in his mother’s china cabinet. It was not the only special champagne glass in the family’s ownership however – its matching partner stood just as proudly in his aunt and uncle’s china cabinet.

As a young boy, Wayne had always been told that “the two glasses were used in a special celebration when Sir Henry Parkes came to visit Eden and stayed at your great grandfather’s Hotel.” When Wayne celebrated his 21st birthday it was carefully and proudly used to toast his coming of age.

During a 2015 visit to Wayne by Margaret and Ronald, the subject of family history came up and as Wayne had no children, the trio pondered the fate of their family treasure, then 127 years old. To a stranger it was just an old etched glass but to the descendants of the Axam family it had been lovingly treasured by four generations and held a very special place in their hearts. It had survived two sea journeys as well as numerous moves on the Australian mainland.

In looking for a new home for the heirloom, Wayne made contact with local historian Pat Raymond who suggested that the Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society would be the ideal destination for this important relic, particularly as they already had in their collection Syms Covington’s writing desk. The Carter family were happy to donate the glass to the museum knowing that they would also treasure it.

The glass had just one more journey to make – back home to the area where its story first began. One hundred and thirty years after Sir Henry Parkes’ memorable visit to the Eden/Bega district, this humble champagne glass is the only surviving relic associated with that momentous occasion.


The Great Southern Inn building was originally constructed as a store for local businessman and whaling operator George Barclay in or around 1857, the two storey structure opening its doors as Barclay and Teas’ Twofold Bay Stores. Barclay had previously commenced his commercial activities in Eden during the 1840s, first occupying a slab building in Chandos Street before moving into the brick structure on the corner of Imlay and Chandos Streets.

After Barclay’s death in 1864, his wife Isabella took over and in 1871 a newspaper correspondent noted that “Passing along Imlay Street…the traveller first reaches an immense building in brick, known as the Twofold Bay Stores. These stores are the property of, and carried on by, Mrs. Isabella Barclay…” Although it is uncertain exactly when she closed the business, in 1879 her husband’s estate was sequestered, and during 1880 insolvency hearings were held.

It was at that time that the building became a hotel. In May 1880, it was announced that “Mr. John Hopkins has leased the large premises formerly the property of Mrs. Barclay, and intends to open the same shortly as a first class hotel.” No stranger to the publican trade locally, Hopkins had previously held the license for the Roan Horse Inn at South Pambula (or Yowaka as it was then known) during the 1870s. By June 1880, he had completed renovating the Barclay building and opened the doors to his new hotel, the Bombala Herald reporting that it “…commands a splendid view of the Pacific and it is to be hoped Mr. Hopkins will be repaid for his outlay.” Naming his business the Great Southern Hotel, the Eden Bench issued Hopkins with his license, renewing it in 1881 and in November 1882, the Bega Gazette mentioned that his “…hotel [is] quite full…”

George Axam took over the business in March 1884 and after undertaking numerous improvements, secured his license in July when it was declared that he was “…making great preparations for opening his hotel…”

With few public meeting places available in the township at that time, hotels and inns were often the venue of choice for everything from political gatherings to sports entertainments, and the Great Southern was no different. In 1887, a public meeting was held there in support of the proposed Bega to Eden railway line, and in 1888 when the NSW Premier and father of Federation Sir Henry Parkes visited the district, he was entertained at a public breakfast there.

George and Elizabeth Axam remained in charge until 1891 when, in January, it was announced that James Haugh, “…a gentleman from Goulburn is about to take charge. It is to be hoped that he will prove as genial a host as the present landlord…” In November the same year the venue was advertised for sale or let, it being highlighted that “The building is large and well-built and offers a grand opportunity to make good profits. The climate of Eden is unsurpassed in the colony in summer time. Eden is now a port of call for the famous Pambula goldfield, being only a few miles from it…”

By 1893, John T. Merry had taken over, declaring that the building had again undergone thorough repairs “…including a magnificent balcony…” Then, in August it was suddenly announced that the Great Southern had closed, a claim made that “The building is evidently too large and elaborate for a small country town, unless the place goes ahead more rapidly.”

Just a couple of months later, however, Henry Wellings was granted a new license for the Great Southern and in 1897, Eden was being advertised as “The best sanatorium in NSW…” while “The Great Southern Hotel provides the best accommodation of any hotel south of Sydney. It is admitted by all that the climate and hotel accommodation cannot be surpassed…”

By 1903 Sabina Pike, fondly known to many as “Aunty Pike” had taken over as publican. As the wife of James, a former publican at Eden’s Commercial Hotel, she would have been well versed with the requirements of the job, and it was noted that “…at Mrs S. Pike’s Great Southern Hotel will be found one of the very best conducted houses, not only on the south coast, but in the state, for Mrs. Pike thoroughly understands her business. The cuisine and internal arrangements in this house reflect the greatest credit on the management.” She remained until her new Hotel Australasia opened in 1906 and the Great Southern was again advertised to let, being referred to as “…one of the best Tourist Hotels in the State…” standing on “…absolutely the best site in the town…”

James Haugh had returned by 1909, advertising “…the oldest and best known hotel on the Coast…” stating that boats could be arranged for picnic parties. Mr. and Mrs Len Schafer had taken over by 1914, and in October, with the impending departure of volunteers for the battlefields of WWI, the couple hosted a “…sumptuous…” farewell supper for the young men, including J. and P. Donnelly, J, Ryder, J. and W. Peisley, W. Stewart and P. Aldridge.

Walter James Norman had taken over by 1923, followed by Sam Wilton and then “Steele” Rudd who became licensee in 1926. He eventually sold out to Vincent (“Barney”) and Eileen Welsh in the 1930s, the couple changing the name of the business to the Hotel Eden.

Eventually it reverted to the original Great Southern name and, following the shock 2010 closure of the Australasia, is now the township’s only hotel, a situation that has not been reflected in Eden’s licensing history since the 1840s.

Fabric, design, manufacture and condition:

Champagne glass, etched, with a vine design.



Used by:

Sir Henry Parkes’ and Henry Clarke’s visiting party in 1888; four generations of the Axam family.


Production / manufacturing date:

Before 1888.


Comparative examples:

Collection: Description:

Works depicting/highlighting this object:

Historic photographs of this object:

Photographs associated with this object:

The Great Southern Hotel as it would have appeared during George and Elizabeth’s reign when Sir Henry Parkes visited.

Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

George Axam.

Image courtesy of Wayne Carter. All rights reserved.

Elizabeth Louisa Axam (nee Covington).

Image courtesy of Wayne Carter. All rights reserved.

Wayne Carter (right), next to Jeanette Lamont (a descendant of Alfred Simon Covington, one of Elizabeth Axam’s brothers) and her husband.

Image courtesy of and © Pat Raymond, 2009. All rights reserved.

The particular significance of this Object:

[Currently under development]


Main theme:






Remembering and honouring the people of Bega Valley Shire

Other themes:











Towns, suburbs and villages



Government and administration


Working the land in Bega Valley Shire

Economic survival in Bega Valley Shire

Living in Bega Valley Shire

Pastoralism in Bega Valley Shire

Constructing townships within Bega Valley Shire

Housing locals and visitors to the shire

Working in Bega Valley Shire

Self-government and democracy in Bega Valley Shire

Thematic storylines:

Settling, developing and building the region

Developing the settlements, villages and towns

Governing and civic history·

Business and commercial development

Business and commercial development – Hotels and inns

Housing and accommodation – itinerant accommodation

Labour, working and employment

Women’s and domestic history

Entertainment and social life

Notable people and families

Geographically associated places / sites:

Merimbula Old School Museum building and site

Covington’s writing desk, Merimbula Old School Museum collection

Associated / linked places / sites / items / people:

Elizabeth Louisa Axam

George Axam

Great Southern Hotel, Eden

Former Sergeant’s Inn, Lochiel

Syms Covington

Armstrong McCausland

Former Forest Oak Inn, Pambula

Heritage listings (statutory and non-statutory):

Further information:

Ferguson, B. J. (comp.), Syms Covington of Pambula, Assistant to Charles Darwin on the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle, Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society, Merimbula, 1988

Contributors to this ‘library’:

Angela George, Pat Raymond, Wayne Carter and Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc., March 2019.

Acknowledgements, Rights and Permissions:

Acknowledgement of Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc., Angela George, Pat Raymond and Wayne Carter.

© Angela George and Pat Raymond. All rights reserved.

References and bibliography:

Adelaide Advertiser

AONSW, Bench Books Eden Court of Petty Sessions, 4/5546 -50

Balfe, R. R., (comp.) Shipping in Ports of the Bega Valley Shire Region 1803 – 1846, October 1995.

Bega Gazette and Eden District or Southern Coast Advertiser

Bega Standard

Bench Books Pambula Court of Petty Sessions 1858 – 1868, private ownership

Bombala Herald

Burnie Advocate

Canberra Times

Carter, Wayne Sydney, pers. comm.

Clarke, Patricia, A Colonial Woman – The Life and Times of Mary Braidwood Mowle, Eden Killer Whale Museum, 3rd ed., 2000

Cornell, John Bernard (comp.), Local History Notes, n.p., n.d.


Daily Telegraph

Davidson, Rene, Eden Revisited

Dunn’s 1921 Almanac

Eden Magnet


Greville’s Post Office Directory, 1872

Hobart Mercury

Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company Ltd Illustrated Handbook, 2nd ed, 1912

Illawarra Mercury

Imlay Bros’ Account Books 1837-1838 – Index, Mitchell Library (Microfilm CY Reel 265)

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser

Martin, A. W., Parkes, Sir Henry (1815 – 1896), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Centre if Biography, Australian National University,

McKenzie, J. A. S., The Twofold Bay Story, Eden Killer Whale Museum, 1991

Moore’s Almanac and NSW Country Directory

NSW Government Gazette

Pambula Voice

Perkins Papers, NLA MS 936

Phillipps, G. F. J., Greig, A., and Logan, J., The Founding of the Eden Killer Whale Museum with a Short History of Eden


Shipping Gazette

Swinbourne, Helen, and Winters, Jody, Pictorial History – Bega Valley Shire, Kingsclear Books, 2001

Sydney Mail

Sydney Morning Herald

Twofold Bay and Maneroo Telegraph

Twofold Bay Magnet and South Coast and Monaro Advertiser

Vogt, W. Stanley, (comp.) Picturesque Travel Princes Highway, Bairnsdale to Bega, Bairnsdale, Vic, n.d. [C. 1916]

Wellings, H. P., Eden and Twofold Bay – Discovery, Early History and Points of Interest 1797 – 1965, Magnet Press, 1926

Images courtesy of and © Pat Raymond. All rights reserved.


Main Street Merimbula NSW 2548