A mass murdering publican and punting at the Royal Hotel

Royal Alfred Hotel Wollongong 1880s
The Royal Alfred Hotel (second balconied building on the left) Wollongong 1880s. Picture: Wollongong City Libraries
Royal Hotel Wollongong august 1936 ANU
Royal Hotel, Wollongong August 1936. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

By MICK ROBERTS ©

John Makin
Mass murderer and publican: John Makin. Picture: Supplied

WAY before pokies and TAB machines, pub drinkers found other means to gamble, and try their luck at winning a ‘quid’ or two.

Cards, dice, billiards, bagatelle and other illegal lures were often used by publicans to capture the imagination of colonial punters.

Hoteliers accused of allowing gambling in their premises often ended up fronting the local magistrates; as was the case with Wollongong publican, John Makin.

Makin would later go to the gallows after he and his wife, Sarah murdered at least 15 adopted babies. More about that later…

The Royal Alfred was one of Wollongong’s longest operating hotels trading for almost 130 years on the NSW South Coast, before making way for a shopping mall in 1970.

Sitting on the north east corner of Crown and Keira Streets, the pub was first licensed as the Settlers Arms in 1841; later becoming the Royal Alfred in 1872 and finally the Royal in 1931.

The hotel was rebuilt at least three times before sadly its taps ran dry in the name of progress.

Makin fronted the local magistrates to answer charges of gambling after he went for the police to stop a game of two-up in his pub in September 1873. Senior Sergeant Sheridan promptly charged Makin for the offence, even though he tried to stop the game!

Although the publican was cleared of the charge, the loser in the whole affair was punter Alexander McKenny who ‘did’ his money along with his horse, saddle and bridle.

Royal Hotel, Wollongong C1920. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

McKenny called into the Royal Alfred, booking a room for the night, before downing quite a few nobblers until closing time at midnight. After last drinks were called he noticed a game of two up in a room near the bar and decided to try his luck with the six or seven men tossing pennies.

McKenny began placing bets and soon found himself £7 out of pocket. Showing the effects of grog, he pulled more notes from his pocket, dropping £6 on the floor and in the confusion only retrieving a pound. Short of a quid and desperate to win back his money, McKenny sold his horse, bridle and saddle to a fellow player and jockey Thomas Bennet for £13 and 10 shillings. He walked away a loser when local cop, Sheridan broke-up the game.

After maintained pressure from Sergeant Sheridan, John and Sarah Makin left the Royal Alfred in October 1873. They moved to Sydney where they found difficulties earning a steady income. It was at Macdonaldtown, near Newtown, that the former publicans began a dreadful and shocking occupation that what would later earn them the title of “baby farmers”.

The ghastly crime would shock Sydney town, and brought horror and embarrassment to the well-respected Makin family in the Illawarra.

The pair had adopted babies from unmarried mothers for either a one up fee or a small weekly payment. This was nothing unusual during these days when society ostracised unmarried women who had children.

The money from the dozen or so infants that the Makins eventually adopted helped feed their already large family. John and Sarah’s only other income was from a £1 a week inheritance.

The hidden reality of the Makin’s gruesome life was discovered at their home in Burren Street Macdonaldtown in 1893 when two plumbers came across the buried remains of babies. For more on the Makins see: The Baby Farmers.

Meanwhile the long tradition of downing an ale and having a punt at the corner of Keira and Crown Streets, Wollongong came to end in 1970, when Four Milbanks Nominees purchased the Royal Hotel from Tooth and Company to build the Crown Central Shopping Centre.

The Illawarra Mercury reported local businessmen had to find a new place to gather for a few beers over lunch with the announcement of the closure. “We’ll end up at the same place, but not at a club. No poker machines, and chattering women”, one regular commented.

The Royal regular wouldn’t be safe from either in today’s modern pubs.

First published 2014. Updated 2021

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

Royal Hotel Wollongong 1939 ANU
Royal Hotel, Wollongong, 1939. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

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Categories: Illawarra Hotels, Publicans

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