Monday, December 29, 2008

The (first) Whau Hotel

Avondale’s hotels have proved confusing to many historians who have attempted to unravel the tangle of contemporary news reports, photographs, land history and local traditions. Peter Buffet in writing about the hotels thought Palmer had rebuilt his new hotel in 1873 out of brick, and described the photo we have of his wooden hotel as being that of the earlier one at Rosebank and Great North Roads (today, we know this photo is of Palmer’s 1873 hotel, because the early Avondale School is visible in the distance). Challenge of the Whau in 1994 repeated Buffet’s idea of an early brick hotel. While I did discover the 1888 fire which destroyed James Palmer’s hotel built in 1873 (leading to the building of the brick hotel known later as a post office and the Avoncourt until it was demolished in 1967), I was confused and perplexed by the associations between Palmer, his first hotel which burnt down in December 1872, and the earlier Whau Hotel built by John and Charles Priestley in 1862. I had thought that there had been four hotels – but, this wasn’t correct. There were three, and the hotel destroyed by fire in 1872 was the Priestley hotel from more than 10 years before.

I should have paid more heed to an unknown writer who recorded what he or she could recall of the early days of Avondale’s history, called simply “Events in the Early History of Avondale”.
“The first hotel – a wooden building – was built in the early sixties at the corner of Great North Road and Rosebank Roads. It was destroyed by fire early in the seventies. The license was then transferred to a building at the corner where the present post office stands. A new hotel was afterwards built also of wood and that building was burnt down … An hotel was then erected in brick …”
This is almost spot-on.

The Priestleys and their own interesting background are covered in another post. They purchased the site at the corner of Rosebank and Great North Roads in July 1861, and in April 1862 obtained a bush license for their two-storey, 10-roomed hotel, complete with stabling, paddocks and outhouses, all rooms painted and papered, and complete with kitchen, bar and meeting room. No images of this, the first hotel in the district, have yet been found, but it must have been quite a landmark. Only the Presbyterian Church at the five-roads intersection would have rivalled it, but no other buildings in the central area of Avondale at the time are known to have been so large.

Mortgage problems led the Priestleys to sell the hotel and surrounding 4 acres to Samuel John Edmunds in October 1863. He was an Auckland merchant and shipping agent who had been in the colony since c.1833, so he testified in 1865. The Priestleys still held the hotel’s license, however, and appear to have employed temporary managers: Henry Denyer around October 1863, and possibly someone called George Saunders early in 1864. Finally in March 1864, the license was transferred to James Nugent Copland. He remained the licensee until sometime between June and December 1865.

Meantime, however, Edmunds sold the property to one David Henderson in May 1864. At the time, however, David Henderson was the proprietor of the Prince Alfred Hotel. Despite the fact that Copland had long left to run the Waitemata Hotel, Henderson only appears in Whau district references from November 1866, and even then only relinquishes his license for the Prince Alfred to one Caroline North the following month. Perhaps he followed the Priestleys’ example of temporary managers, but that remains unclear.

From May 1866, the main mortgage on the hotel site was in default. David Henderson probably called for help to Thomas Henderson, of Henderson & MacFarlane, the owner of the saw mills which were to give the township of Henderson out in West Auckland its name. While David Henderson had purchased the site in May 1864, it is Thomas who kept the wolves at bay by making a payment to the sheriff’s bailiff and bankrupt estate assignee Henry Vernon. The mortgage, however, ground on. In September 1868, another rescuer, this time hotelier James Palmer who paid the full principle of the mortgage -- £500 – to Auckland merchant and share-broker John Peter du Moulin.

David Henderson remained as licensee under Palmer’s ownership, somehow. During 1869, however, he appears to have gone into the flax milling trade, backed up again by Henderson & MacFarlane. Perhaps he also employed temporary managers, for it wasn’t until March 1870 that his license was transferred to Edward Thornton (it is likely Thornton had already arrived – a child of his was born at the hotel in February). Thornton moved on to the Royal George Hotel in Newmarket from July 1871 – there, he tried to commit suicide by slashing his throat in a fit of delirium tremens, and was sentenced to hard labour for six months.

We now come to a broken link in the story, and here is where I made the wrong assumption about the fate of Priestley’s hotel. No clear record has been found of a transfer of license for the Whau Hotel from Thornton to James Poppleton. Poppleton appears in the story only in April 1872, his license renewed. I had thought that perhaps Palmer, who had purchased the other site in 1866, at the corner of today’s Wingate Street and Great North Road, had finally decided to build his own hotel as the other was fading. But, what seems to have happened was that Thornton probably transferred his lease to Poppleton in July 1871. This was the license renewed a year later, and the first hotel was the one which burned down in December 1872. While the Southern Cross confused Palmer’s mortgage repayment investment as “costs towards building the hotel”, the NZ Herald clearly termed the hotel as “old”, compared to the 1873 or “new” hotel. Later that year, Palmer sold the site of the first hotel to a local settler, William Henry Harper.

Why, if he owned such a prime site as that of the second hotel, did Palmer wait until 1873 to build there? One reason is probably space. In 1866, all he had for his hotel site. If he intended it to be so (and there’s no clues either for or against), two other sections he purchased from Adam through John Buchanan (who was pro-temperance and anti-hotels) was quite a distance down the unformed Wingate Street – inconvenient for travellers. A 7 ¾ acre paddock lay alongside his purchase – but this had been sold before the Windsor Estate official sales to Rev. Andrew Anderson of the Presbyterian Church. I have wondered why, as Rev. Anderson lived in a house on another section of land which would, from 1869, become part of the local school property. One answer could be investment opportunity for Rev. Anderson, but another may have been to block the establishment of a paddock area which could serve a hotel. Unfortunately for Buchanan, if that was the case, Rev. Anderson left the colony in 1867. His property went into default of mortgage – and Palmer snapped the property up, c.1869-1872. Certainly, by 1875 when Palmer leased his new hotel to Henry Leon, the large paddock was part of the agreement. That purchase ensured not only the existence of Palmer’s hotel from 1873 until it burned in 1888, but was also a cornerstone for the establishment in 1890 of the Avondale racecourse (the paddock is today the 1600m straight, behind a 1957 retail development, carpark and the Avondale Central Reserve fronting Great North Road).

If transferring the paddock to a minister of the Presbyterian Church was part of a greater plan by pro-temperance John Buchanan – it led, ultimately, to the establishment of a long-lasting hotel, and even longer-lasting racecourse, complete with gambling. Buchanan can’t have been amused.

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