Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Pub on Every Corner

The city block bounded by The Strand, Flinders, Wickham, and King Streets was once home to a hotel on every corner. The Criterion Hotel, the former Queens Hotel and Tattersall’s Hotel are all still standing, while the Imperial Hotel stood on the now vacant corner until 1938, when it was destroyed by fire.
Two horse-drawn vehicles outside the Imperial Hotel, corner of Flinders and King Streets, Townsville, c. 1889.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.

Early hotels played an important role in the development of regional towns, as they offered accommodation and meals for both locals and travellers alike, as well as served as a place to hold community meetings before purpose-built facilities existed.

The Criterion Hotel on The Strand was the first hotel in Townsville, with the first license issued in 1865 to William Ross, who was among the first party of white settlers in Cleveland Bay. The first meeting of the newly formed Townsville Municipal Council was held there in 1866. The Criterion catered to wealthy visitors, while Tattersall’s Hotel on the diagonal corner was more of a working man’s pub, boasting its own bowling alley.
Horse and buggy outside the Criterion Hotel, The Strand, c.1902.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

The first Queens Hotel was constructed for James Evans in 1872. A two-storeyed timber structure, extended in the 1880s along Wickham Street, it was considered one of the best hotels in Queensland and often hosted many important guests, including visiting Queensland Governors.

In 1899 John Henry Tyack took over the hotel and began planning to replace the existing hotel with a much more elaborate building. In 1901 he purchased adjoining land that eventually gave the hotel a 60-metre frontage to The Strand. The final stage of the hotel was not completed until 1925, twelve years after Tyack’s death.
Queens Hotel, The Strand, c. 1900.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

An early rival of the Queens Hotel was the Imperial Hotel, which was built in 1882 for David Buchanan. The Imperial enjoyed a prime position close to the bustling wharves on Ross Creek, which ensured a regular flow of customers.

But in 1900, this prime position proved a disadvantage, when, despite strict quarantine regulations, one of the hotel’s employees contracted bubonic plague. Peter Backland, a 33-year-old yardman at the hotel, died within 24 hours. His duties included collecting and transporting the luggage of hotel guests to and from the wharves – the likely source of the infection.

When Backland was diagnosed, the Imperial Hotel was quarantined and 35 guests, 16 servants, and 7 members of the licensee’s family were isolated. One newspaper reported:

“The Imperial hotel is such an institution in Townsville that its compulsory sequestration for five hours, to say nothing of five days, would be regarded as a calamity.”

The livelihood of the hotel’s licensees, Mr and Mrs Edward Byrne, was threatened because they were unable to trade during the period of quarantine. Mrs Byrne expressed her frustration in a letter to her son:

“For a few days while the fumigation business was going on we breathed phenyle, swallowed nothing else but abominable fumes, and everything and everybody was stamped with a look of sulphury and melancholy dejection.”

The incident was so potentially damaging to the hotel’s reputation that soon they denied that Backland had even worked there. The Health Officer, Dr Row, told the press that the Imperial Hotel had no connection with the case, and that because the plague case occurred in an outbuilding, far removed from the hotel, all the “contacts” had been released.

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