Albany’s Early Hotels | Albany Historical Society
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Albany’s Early Hotels | Albany Historical Society
Albany’s Early Hotels
An exploration of Albany's early Hotels - many of which still survive to this day.

In March 1830 the newly arrived Digory Sargent Geake bought land east of the site which later became the Convict Gaol where he built a small hotel, known as the Commercial Tavern, described in 1839 as kitchen, bar, cellar, taproom, two parlours and three bedrooms. In 1835 he requested a waiver of the licence fee, which continued to remain unpaid on the grounds that the village of Albany provided so few clients that he could not make a living.

Geake’s health was deteriorating so, in the 1840s, he leased the hotel to John McKenzie and later to John Sinclair. McKenzie took over Geake’s hotel soon after arriving from Newfoundland in the brig ‘Brothers’ at the end of 1840, then in 1843 moved on to open his own hotel, the Ship Inn on the beach at the foot of Spencer Street.

Meanwhile, Thomas Brooker Sherratt had arrived on the ‘James Pattison’ in 1834 along with Patrick Taylor. Sherratt bought several allotments, three on the corner of York Street and Stirling Terrace and another on the corner of Duke and Parade Streets and Stirling Terrace. He then built a two-storey building on the lot on the south-east corner of York Street and Stirling Terrace which served numerous purposes: a home for his large family, offices for various merchant activities and the Sherratt Family Inn. From 1843 Sherratt’s licensee was Hugh McDonald.

There was a fourth hotel, named the Albany in York Street but neither the site nor the name appears to have any connection with the Albany Hotel built fifty years later and still in existence at 244-248 York Street. This earlier hotel was owned by John Craigie who had arrived in Perth and bought land in St George’s Terrace but moved to Albany in 1834. After working in the rural and whaling industries he became the licensee of the Albany Hotel, married Margaret Walker from South Australia at Albany in 1842; three of their children were born at the hotel but in 1846-7 the family moved to South Australia.

Hotel trade in the small waterfront town tended to fluctuate with shipping arrivals and departures while the demand for alcohol was often increased when whalers and sealers were in port. Garden quotes a visitor’s comment that the town in the decade of the forties had four hotels but no bakery. In 1855 John McDonnell moved from Singapore to Albany to establish the Chusan Hotel with the intention of providing better accommodation in the town to supplement the extensive drinking facilities. He erected a large prefabricated wooden building whose height contravened building regulations; permission was granted for the retention of the building if the lower floor was bricked in. Unfavourable conditions meant that this never happened but fortunately the authorities dropped the issue.

The Crimean War had led to the loss of mail contracts with a subsequent decline of shipping so that the hospitality industry remained in the doldrums for a decade or more. The town’s four hotel owners: Thomas Sherratt, John McKenzie, Alexander Moir and John McDonnell, requested a reduction of licence fees to offset the loss of trade but the Governor replied that there were too many hotels despite having already cancelled two licences. The decline continued in the early 1860s when Alex Moir lost his licence and John McDonnell abandoned the industry due to ill health.

The Chusan Hotel survived these vicissitudes, was renamed the London Hotel, finally bricked in and enlarged, securing its career which in various incarnations survives to this day. At the turn of the century the proprietor was H C Sims; photographs taken at that time show a substantial two-storey building with four windows facing the street and doors at either end, full length verandah and upstairs balcony.

About 1920 the London was renovated with an elaborate fretwork façade on both the downstairs verandah and the upstairs balcony; this was removed completely in the 1960s, the present entrance being a few stairs under a covered archway. The inscription ‘LONDON HOTEL 1909’ remains at the top of the building with the current name ‘LIBERTE’. Liberte is operated as a coffee shop, the upstairs area now used as Backpackers’ accommodation.

There was little change to Albany’s hotel scene until the 1880s when Richard Nesbitt obtained a liquor licence for his Spencer Inn in 1884, having opened this business as a boarding house in 1874. It was delicensed in 1925 and traded as Nesbitt’s Cash Store until 1978. The building was totally renovated and re-licensed by new owners in 1988; it continues to thrive as the Earl of Spencer Historic Inn.

The Impact of Social Change

The completion of the Perth to Albany railway in the 1880s and the Coolgardie-Kalgoorlie gold rushes of the 1990s completely changed local demands for accommodation and hospitality with greatly increased numbers of travellers passing through the port and the town.

The first response to these changes was the building of the Royal George Hotel sited on Stirling Terrace where Alexander and Catherine Moir’s family home, Aberdeen House stood; in the 1880s Frederick Watts leased and added to this building calling it the Railway Hotel as it was close the Great Southern Railway Station. Charles Bailey took over the lease from Alexander Moir in 1892 changing the name to the
Royal George Hotel; by 1897 it is recorded that the hotel had twenty-two bedrooms and five sitting rooms, the licensee then being Edward Reynolds. Massive alterations took place in 1910 with the addition of another storey and a balcony embellished with cast iron lacework facing the street; this was later replaced with a cantilevered verandah roof which has led to structural problems. Now Heritage Listed, the
Royal George remains a thriving business and a popular venue.

By 1890 the burgeoning need for accommodation led to the construction of both the Albany Hotel in York Street and the Freemasons Hotel in Stirling Terrace. The need for superior social facilities rather than just liquor outlets also resulted in the creation of the Albany Club, still thriving at 33 Aberdeen Street.

Albany Hotel, 244-248 York Street.

The building was built by John Moir in 1887 as his intended personal residence but leased to the Club in 1894 and later sold to them; the nineteenth century two-storey façade with iron lace balcony has given way to a plainer twentieth century appearance.

The 1890 Albany Hotel retains its original style of two two brick wings linked by a verandah, which is today very popular as an time dining spot. An interesting link with history is a signature by Herbert Hoover in the 1900 guest book. In 1908 it was refurbished by the then owner Mrs McNorrish and since that time has had many licensees.

The Freemasons Hotel (now demolished)
The Freemasons

Albany’s grandest hotel of all time was the Freemasons, sadly demolished in the 1970s. It began as a single storey building in 1890 extended to two and then in 1912 to three storeys; its embellishments included a vast dining room, 62 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, gas and electricity including electric. There are many reports of grand functions including mayora hosted for visiting dignitaries in its eighty-year existence.

There was intentions to replace it with a supermarket, but bankruptcy left the vacant lot, which remains a car park.

The response to increasing population and especially to many more travellers arriving in the town continued until well into the twentieth century. The other important hotel built in the last decade of the 19th century was the Premier Hotel still occupying the site on the southeast corner of York and Grey Streets.

Premier Hotel

The Premier is a two-storey brick building with arched windows and moulded chimney capping; originally its balcony faced York Street but in 1913 was extended along the entire Grey Street façade of the hotel.

Since that time much of this superstructure has been removed.

The first meeting of the Albany Roads Board was held in the hotel dining room in 1896 marking an important development in both local and state administration. From 1912 until his death in 1929 the owner of the Premier Hotel was R R Burridge, the licensee M A O’Grady. It was sold at auction for £6,550 to William Harper, the building described as having 20 bedrooms, a sitting and dining room and two large bar areas; by 1930 this description had been inflated to 26 bedrooms, bars, dining rooms, commercial rooms, bathrooms, hot water service, electric light and sewerage throughout. From 1936 to 1950 the owner was W A Schurer, formerly owner of the London Hotel.

In recent years an alfresco dining area added at the corner of the hotel has been a popular central café spot.

The Premier Hotel becomes a Crime Scene

On 13 May this year a vicious late night robbery took place at the hotel, which was subsequently set on fire causing extensive damage and the closure of the CBD area surrounding the hotel. At 12.45am on Friday, the fire brigade was called to a substantial blaze at the hotel. The licensee, Graeme Cowper, told the Albany Advertiser:

“I was taking the bins out, as we do every night after close… I was grabbed by two guys out the back who half carried, half dragged me down the corridor to the office, made me turn off the cameras, open the safe.

I was punched both in the face and in the ribs and they took a fair amount of money from us. Then I was grabbed and basically forced to watch them while they set the place on fire in front of me. They taunted me the whole time about it, verbally taunted me”

Graeme Cowper

Mr Cowper managed to escape to warn the people sleeping upstairs who escaped from the fire; he was then taken to hospital to be treated for the injuries caused by the assault. There was a lack of witnesses to the crime and police have been unable to establish the identity of the two male attackers without even a precise description of their escape vehicle, possible a dark grey van.

Graeme Cowper and Rumeena Nizam had taken over the hotel as recently as last Octoer, implementing changes including new staff, a new sports bar and refurbishment of the kitchen. News reports have estimated the damage at about a million dollars but one of the building’s owners, Barry Panizza, told the Weekender that demolition was not contemplated. In July some repairs appear to have been carried out and the hotel is trading again.

The police are still working to find the perpetrators of the crime with repeated requests to the public for information on what appears to have been a carefully planned attack.

2022 update: The fire at the Premier Inn was later found to be an attempt to claim a $3 million insurance payout.

Garden, D S Albany a panorama of the Sound from 1827, Nelson 1977
Hardy, Alan the Changing Face of Albany, Nutshell 2010.
Heritage Council of WA – Places Database
Albany Advertiser 17/5/16 plus later editions
Weekender 19/5/16 plus later editions
Judith Swain